Section 1: Phases of First-Year Teaching
It's alarming but true: studies have shown that 35% of teachers
leave the profession during the first year. By the end of the fifth
year, 50% of teachers have left the field! From Teachers
Helping Teachers, Springfield Public Schools, Springfield, MA
The first year of teaching is a difficult challenge. If you are currently
in your first year of teaching, the graph above probably applies to
you. And you are most certainly not alone! Whether you are currently
feeling extremely overwhelmed or abundantly triumphant, other first-year
teachers are going through the same thing. The University of California
Santa Cruz New Teacher Project has worked to support the efforts of
new teachers. They have identified phases through which all new teachers
progress. The phases are very useful for mentors and new teachers as
they work together the first year. Teachers move through the phases
from anticipation, to survival, to disillusionment, to rejuvenation,
to reflection, and then back to anticipation.
The anticipation stage begins during the student teaching portion
of preservice preparation. The closer student teachers get to completing
their assignment, the more excited and anxious they become about their
first teaching positions. They tend to romanticize the role of the teachers
and the positions. New teachers enter with a tremendous commitment to
making a difference and a somewhat idealistic view of how to accomplish
their goals. This feeling of excitement carries new teachers through
the first few weeks of school.
The first month of school is very overwhelming for new teachers. They
are learning a lot at a very rapid pace. Beginning teachers are instantly
bombarded with a variety of problems and situations they had not anticipated.
Despite teacher preparation programs, new teachers are caught off guard
by the realities of teaching.
During the survival phase, most new teachers struggle to keep their
heads above water. They become very focused and consumed with the day-to-day
routine of teaching. There is little time to stop and reflect on their
experiences. It is not uncommon for new teachers to spend up to seventy
hours a week on schoolwork.
Particularly overwhelming is the constant need to develop curriculum.
Veteran teachers routinely reuse excellent lessons and units from the
past. New teachers, still uncertain of what will really work, must develop
their lessons for the first time. Even depending on unfamiliar prepared
curriculum such as textbooks, is enormously time consuming.
After six to eight weeks of nonstop work and stress, new teachers
enter the disillusionment phase. The intensity and length of the phase
varies among new teachers. The extensive time commitment, the realization
that things are probably not going as smoothly as they want, and low
morale contribute to this period of disenchantment. New teachers begin
questioning both their commitment and their competence. Many new teachers
get sick during this phase.
Top 5 Concerns of New Teachers
1. Classroom arrangement and management
2. Curriculum planning
3. Establishing a grading system that’s fair
4. Parent conferences
5. Personal sanity
Compounding an already difficult situation is the fact that new teachers
are confronted with several new events during this time frame. They
are faced with back-to-school night, parent conferences, and their first
formal evaluation by the site administrator. Each of these important
milestones places an already vulnerable individual in a very stressful
During the disillusionment phase, classroom management is a major source
of distress. New teachers want to focus more time on curriculum and
less on classroom management and discipline.
At this point, the accumulated stress of the first year teachers, coupled
with months of excessive time allotted to teaching, often bring complaints
from family and friends. This is a very difficult and challenging phase
for new entrants into the profession. They express self-doubt, have
lower self-esteem, and question their profession commitment. In fact,
getting through this phase may be the toughest challenge new teachers
The rejuvenation phase is characterized by a slow rise in the new teacher’s
attitude toward teaching. It generally begins in January. Having a winter
break makes a tremendous difference for new teachers. It allows them
to resume a more normal lifestyle, with plenty of rest, food, exercise,
and time for family and friends. This vacation is the first opportunity
that new teachers have for organizing materials and planning curriculum.
It is a time for them to sort through materials that have accumulated
and prepare new ones. This breath of fresh air gives novice teachers
a broader perspective with renewed hope.
They seem ready to put past problems behind them. A better understanding
of the system, an acceptance of the realities of teaching, and a sense
of accomplishment help to rejuvenate new teachers.
Through their experiences in the first half of the year, beginning
teachers gain new coping strategies and skills to prevent, reduce, or
manage many problems they are likely to encounter during the second
half of the year. Many feel a great sense of relief that they have made
it through the first half of the year. During this phase, new teachers
focus on curriculum development, long-term planning, and teaching strategies.
The reflection phase, beginning in May, is a particularly invigorating
time for first-year teachers. Reflecting back over the year, they highlight
events that were successful and those that were not. They think about
the various changes that they plan to make the following year in management,
curriculum, and teaching strategies. The end is almost in sight, and
they have almost made it; but more importantly, a vision emerges as
to what their second year will look like, which brings them to a new
phase of anticipation.
It is critical that we assist new teachers and ease the transition
from student teachers to full-time professionals. Recognizing the phases
new teachers go through gives us a framework within which we can begin
to design support programs to make the first year of teaching a more
positive experience for our new colleagues. — Ellen Moir, New
Teacher Center, University of California, Santa Cruz
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