‘Tis the Season… Share Your Stuff and Pass It On

12 Sep

“Student Management”, “Classroom Management”, “Positive School Culture” etc… After years of “doing it myself”, a big part of my current role is to teach this stuff to other people. For the past 16 years, I’ve worked for a company that operates alternative schools all over the country (impacting literally thousands of students and staff each year).

We work with young adults (16-24) who have frequently experienced extensive school failure. They come to us with all kinds of goals, for all kinds of reasons… to get started, to start over, to catch up, to get by, to grow up… Some are really driven to finish their high school education or start a career path. Others just want to get their parents off their backs. Most don’t have the education or life skills to do any of those things when they enter our program. It’s our job to change that.

So we remediate. We redirect. Sometimes, we even rebuild. But we wouldn’t be able to do anything at all with the students that I work with, if we weren’t first able to provide the framework… the parameters, the rules of the game.

I understood that early on; I couldn’t help but understand… the importance of being able to manage behavior becomes impossible to ignore when you are really, really bad at it, and I really, really was. Luckily, I’m also really bad at being bad at things… it doesn’t sit well with me, and more than anything else, more than I wanted to be “right”, more than I wanted to look good, or smart or be in control, more than I wanted to BREATHE, I desperately wanted to make a difference.

So from my very first experience working with kids, learning to set limits, define expectations, create relationships, and shape the environment and conditions that were most likely to make a difference became my mission in life. Eventually, I got to be really good at it, and that skill set ultimately blazed the trails of my professional journey.

My own drive to read, study, self-assess and self-correct and the mentoring I received early in my career had everything to do with my success. There were definitely times when I was “on my own”, and developing professionally was up to me. There were other times when others really pushed and helped me to grow. I’m not sure I would have made it to this point if either piece had been missing for very long.

Maybe that’s why I always feel the “call to action” when I see an article or blog documenting the trials or lamenting the struggles of “new” teachers… and there are SO many of them out there, together, but feeling so alone. It kills me to know that good, smart people, who really want to make a difference are so often, so QUICKLY driven to despair because they lack the skills or support they need to effectively manage student behavior and classroom logistics. After all these years, I still remember how that feels, and it’s nothing nice.

Perceived “failure” can be especially traumatic for new teachers, who are so often used to being “good” at things. They’ve been great students or have already established themselves in successful careers. They aren’t used to fully investing without getting results. These frequently idealistic, overachievers don’t view the challenge of building their classroom management style as a “process”; they feel every failed lesson or rowdy period of every hectic day as it’s own, unique failure.

Teaching can be a lonely “gig” once the classroom door closes, especially when things aren’t going as planned and you don’t have years of experience and networking to fall back on. Most of us “veterans” know that the toughest part of the struggle is to find your own, most effect management style and stick to it.

The reason that’s so tough is that once you’ve “lost it”, you are already in the hole and that’s where many new teachers quickly find themselves with no one to lead them out. Sometimes it takes a herculean effort just to stop digging, and sadly, many new teachers never fully recover in their early years, and some of them just give up.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m not justifying quitting. But does it really have to be SO hard, SO lonely, so…tragic? Wouldn’t more teachers stay under different circumstances? And isn’t this a problem that we (educators, leaders, business owners, people who CARE) can solve or at least begin to address? Shouldn’t we try?

In this job market, we’re talking about smart people who really want to teach… they have often gone through a grueling and frustrating hiring process, they go in knowing they are going to work really hard, and aren’t going to make a lot of money, and they aren’t expecting it to be easy. Lots of them have significant debt from the student loans they took to prepare for a career that will never pay them what they would have made in another field. We are talking about people who just really want to teach and go in believing they can be great at it.

Clearly, our kids, ALL of our kids, need great teachers and clearly, we aren’t there yet. There is no avoiding the fact that many of the students I’ve served for my entire adult life wouldn’t NEED an alternative program if they would have or could have succeeded in their original schools. Can we really afford not to support our teachers from the very beginning?

On August 24th, Shelly Terrell, who has been a driving force in my own professional development this year, tweeted out the following challenge, “Can we set a goal to provide PD (Professional Development), support, or resources to at least 1 teacher who seems lost? #edchat” . I responded by re-tweeting her post and adding ” Love This & YES. I’m all in.”

Since then, I’ve been playing around with a number of ideas for ways that I can help. Then tonight, I read several articles and ANOTHER new teacher’s blog and realized that the time is right now. Before another week goes by, before another week even starts.

For starters, I’ve revised an older post full of Classroom Management and other resources for new teachers. You can find it here. Please add additional resources in the comments section and pass it on to anyone you think might find it helpful.

Here are some additional thoughts, ideas and suggestions:

  1. Let’s make a point to reach out to “new” teachers every day. Speak to them. Stop by and say “hi”. Give them a minute. I have vivid memories of a Professional Development Retreat a couple of months after starting my 1st teaching job. It was there that the other teachers apologized for barely speaking to me for my 1st two months on the job and explained that it was because they were sure I wasn’t going to make it, so why bother. WOW. I was 23 years old. Let’s not be “that” veteran teacher.
  2. Let’s plan something. A happy hour. A pot luck… something that welcomes and includes “everyone” and especially the new kid on the block.
  3. Let’s remember. I know some of us have blocked them out, but we’ve all had those moments (hours, days, weeks…) when we were filled with doubt… scared… unsure. Let’s not scare and further discourage new teachers with our “war stories” but let’s share our experiences in a way that helps them see the light at the end of the tunnel.
  4. Let’s use our relationships with students to facilitate a new teacher’s progress. When we share students in common with a new or struggling teacher, let’s be especially sure to focus on developing self-management skills and good character in kids instead of simple compliance. Let’s look for ways to develop constructive behaviors that students can transfer to other areas. We can invite the new teacher to collaborate with us on this to create a win for everyone, especially the students.
  5. Let’s share resources and offer help. So often, one person’s smallest effort might save someone else hours of work or frustration.
  6. Let’s follow New Teacher Blogs and offer support for the challenges they face by commenting and offering resources. If you know of any New Teacher Blogs, add them to the comments of this post as I am going to compile a list.
  7. Let’s ask rather than assume, coach rather than criticize and give the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. So many new teachers share the feeling that they “can’t do anything right.” Let’s help them reframe that and lead them out of the “hole.”
  8. Let’s help connect new staff with resources from our PLN… I live outside of DC and am open to connecting with and supporting new teachers through Twitter, my blog, and other tech mediums and am exploring the possibility/interest in starting a “Meetup Group” for new teachers in and around DC, Maryland and Northern Virginia. There is also a new teacher whose blog I’ve just stumbled on who I am going to refer to several Math teachers in my PLN for support.
  9. Let’s keep this discussion going… tweet about it, blog about it, TALK about it… let’s get our Twitter and “real life” PLNs engaged in reaching out.
  10. Let’s be part of developing a culture that embraces and welcomes new teachers into the profession, while still valuing the experience and contributions of veterans.
  11. Let’s keep this issue on our radar… permanently.

Thanks so much for reading! I look forward to hearing your thoughts.


11 Responses to “‘Tis the Season… Share Your Stuff and Pass It On”

  1. Shelly Sanchez Terrell September 13, 2010 at 12:15 am #

    These are incredible tips and advice! I like that you detailed the Edchat challenge and provided practical steps. Sometimes 140 characters just isn’t enough. I hope educators heed your call and begin implementing these tips because I believe they will help teachers.

    • thenewtag September 13, 2010 at 8:51 pm #

      Thanks so much Shelly. I’ve been really moved by some of the new teacher experiences I’ve been reading about lately. So much of the “suffering” is so unnecessary and I’d really love to find a way to have a real impact, because ultimately, when teachers don’t make it, kids don’t make it. I’d still love to talk to you about ideas to use formats like reform symposium to support new teachers, urban teachers, any teachers in need. Let me know when you have the time and thanks again.

  2. Mr Brown September 13, 2010 at 4:21 pm #

    Great post! I wish I had more coworkers like you…this is all excellent advice.

    • thenewtag September 13, 2010 at 8:42 pm #

      Thanks so much Matt. You were one of the teachers I thought about when writing this. Loved hearing about your adventures in the classroom and still love your writing. What’s next?

      • Mr Brown September 15, 2010 at 5:08 pm #

        Thanks! I kinda took the summer off from blogging. I’ve been working a political consulting position (in part for research for a later writing project), and will be working as a freelancer in Chicago. Hopefully I can find a way to help out schools in a different capacity….

  3. woojm September 14, 2010 at 5:43 am #

    I passed this link to a NST at my school via email. She read it thoroughly and really found it useful…and enjoyable. She is finding teaching a challenge, and is trying hard to develop new strategies, particularly in the area of classroom management. Well done.

    • thenewtag September 15, 2010 at 1:08 am #

      I’m so glad! There are so many new (and sometimes, not-so-new) teachers that really struggle for lack of classroom management and organizational skills. I’ve been thinking a lot about ways to tackle those obstacles and really think that it starts with just having this conversation. It seems like there is a stigma attached to being a teacher who struggles with those issues, which is just so counter-productive. Acknowledging the challenge opens the door for dialogue and collaboration and I truly believe that is what will make the difference – for the struggling teachers and the kids they serve. Thanks so much for reading, commenting and passing it on!

  4. Lisa Dabbs September 20, 2010 at 9:23 am #

    Nice post! I’m in complete agreement with you, that’s why I started my blog last year. It’s also the reason I created the New Teacher Chat on Twitter! http://newteacherchat.wikispaces.com/ and why I’m fortunate to support new teachers here: http://www.edutopia.org/groups/new-teacher-connections It is my passion to mentor. All the best to you as you support this important challenge!

  5. ktenkely September 20, 2010 at 4:46 pm #

    Excellent post Melissa. I have such a heart for new teachers because I remember how often I felt like giving up the first few years. It is hard getting started in teaching, and yes lonely, disheartening, and frustrating. All you want to do is be the best you can for the students that have been entrusted to you every day. There are a lot of outside forces that can make that difficult. Those of us who are “veterans” need to make it a point to help those who are new, to encourage them. Thanks for the great reminder and call to action!

  6. Leslie Walker September 29, 2010 at 9:57 pm #

    If there’s one thought that could sum up the way I think about New-Teacher-ness, it would be “People seriously DO this? And keep teaching? Why haven’t we found a way to make this easier?”

    I keep thinking about that magical point I hope to reach eventually, when things are finally doable and I feel like I’m going to make it–and the FIRST thing I’m going to do when I get there is to find four or five new teachers to completely devote myself to. A lot of it is hard just because it has to be lived and practiced–but way too much of it is hard because I feel like I’m still doing everything completely from scratch.

    • thenewtag September 30, 2010 at 7:17 pm #

      I hear you, lady. I really do, and believe it or not, there are so many educators who feel exactly the same way. New ones, who are frustrated and discouraged (and also excited and fired up!), and old ones, who remember what it was like for them, and are STILL fired up, after all these years, and would love to be able to make it a little easier for the next person to do good work on behalf of our kids.

      I hope you saw the other piece with all of the resources, and not just the one about passing it on. Also wanted you to know that a group of Educators from all over the world is putting on a free UN-conference for new teachers on December 11th (Sat). It will be online starting from early in the morning until really late at night. I’ll let you know more as the details get flushed out…

      Hang in there, Leslie. I’m rooting for you!

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