Beginning teachers don’t get supported like they used to.
This might sound like I’m yearning for a time I never knew but I’m feeling pretty confident about this one. It used to be that you got a job in a school, you were going to be there for a while, so everyone kept an eye on you and made sure you were going to work out.
But now, we’re living with this awful “contract culture”. When I graduated, I was given a 4 week, part time contract. Followed by a full time 10 week contract. Then another 10 week contract. This continued and I lived in contract limbo for three and half years!
When teachers are in this “permanent temporary” state of employment the effects are two-fold.
The beginning teacher can’t/won’t get comfortable in their school. With the end of every term potentially the last time you’ll set foot there, why bother? I’ve heard it said that teachers will work harder if they’re on contract because they’ll try to impress, hoping for permanency. But they’re beginning teachers! They’re not trying to impress, they’re trying to survive. The added pressure of not knowing how long you’ll have a job for is not helpful.
Schools have become terribly ineffective in training and mentoring beginning teachers. I don’t blame them. Why invest the time it takes to look after beginning teachers when that investment won’t yield dividends? If a beginning teacher isn’t performing well from day one, it’s far easier for leadership to say, “that one didn’t work out, lets terminate their contract and grab someone else”.
So either you’re up to scratch and we’ll keep you for a bit longer, or you’re not up to scratch and you get turfed. In both cases, there’s a lack of support at the time teachers need it most. Is it any surprise that beginning teachers are dropping out at an alarming rate.
Tips for Beginning Teachers
This may seem unfair but I’m going to put a lot of the onus on you. Although the system is at least a little against you, in the end this is your career and your formative years. Just like a child with their training wheels, you’re all alone and you’re going to have to turn the pedals. So here’s a few tips.
When you’re not sure about anything, ASK! I know it’s your first job or first-time at a new school and you want to impress. Pretending you know everything is not the way to do it though.
Teachers are born helpers (that’s why we’re teachers). If you’re in a staffroom and you say “I’m not really sure how I’m going to teach this?” I promise you teachers will rush to your aid with their favourite activity, worksheet or lesson plan. If you say “I’m having trouble with Joe Bloggs, his behaviour is out of control”, I promise someone has taught Joe Bloggs before and will have some ideas, or at least commiserate with you.
Ask for a classroom visit
I know this one is super scary but it’s important. Think of these first years as an extension of your university degree. If your school has a “head of professional development” seek them out and ask for a meeting. They’ll be helpful in organising a classroom visit. Ask your Head of Department for a classroom visit. It’ll give you an opportunity to grow, and it will make your HOD aware that you’re a beginning teacher and you want to get better.
Twitter is not just for following the Kardashians (that’s what I honestly used to think). There is an incredible community on twitter who will help you out as a beginning teacher. How do you find them? Join twitter, then follow @joelbsperanza (that’s me). Then tweet at me saying “Hi Joel, I’m a beginning teacher”. I’ll introduce you to all my twitter buddies and you’ll have your PLN (Professional Learning Network) in no time.
If you’re reading this, there’s every chance you’re on twitter already. If that’s true, why not send this blog post to the beginning teacher in your staffroom. I’m sure they’ll appreciate you for it!
This has taken me way longer than I care to admit. Every resource you find or create needs to get saved somewhere. Digital, paper, whatever form it comes in just hold onto it. It won’t make your first year easier, but it will definitely make your second, third and tenth year easier.
But What Can Schools Do?
This one is harder. Organisations are complicated places and no two are alike. Schools are busy places and it’s easy for these beginning teachers to be overlooked. So I don’t have a laundry list of ways that your school can support beginning teachers. But I will say this.