Putting Education Reform To The Test

Before Thanksgiving Comes The “Disillusionment Phase” For New Teachers

Courtesy of Roxanna Elden

It’s that time between Halloween and Thanksgiving when first-year teachers start losing some of the initial excitement they had at the start of the school year, and when students (who haven’t had a school break in a while) start pushing new teachers to see what they can get away with.

Roxanna Elden, calls the month of November the “disillusionment phase” for rookie teachers.

Elden is the author of See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers and a National Board Certified high school teacher in Miami.

Below, she tells us about her first-year teacher breakdown, and offers some tips for new teachers, friends and family members of new teachers, and people who help train new teachers. 

“This Halloween marked the ten-year anniversary of my first-year teacher breakdown. I spent the afternoon in my car in a Burger King parking lot, crying too hard to drive. According to many of the teachers I interviewed for my book, I was right on schedule.

The period between Halloween and Thanksgiving, also known as the “disillusionment phase” is often cited as a low point for beginning teachers. The “honeymoon period” of student behavior – if there ever was one – has long ended. The hours of lost sleep have added up, and many rookie teachers are feeling particularly sensitive about the trial-and-error nature of their teaching.I wrote my book with the disillusionment period in mind, and November is still the month I most often hear from new teachers. This month also brings an uptick in speaking and writing requests from organizations that recruit, train, and support new teachers, plus the occasional family member wondering how to cure rookies in their lives of the November blues.

Courtesy of Roxanna Elden

Here are some quick tips for helping the beginning teachers in your life make it to Thanksgiving break – and into a successful teaching career beyond.

For non-teacher family members and friends of new teachers: New teachers often hear advice from non-teachers who say things like, “If I were a teacher I’d make learning fun and let my students know I care… like in that one movie, where the teacher finally got through to her students, and then they taught her to dance!” Friends and family mean well when they offer suggestions based on movies, their experiences as students, or the type of teachers they think they would be if they were teachers, but this type of advice can be difficult for rookies to digest. After all, they were well-meaning non-teachers themselves not long ago. In November, many have doubts about their ability to make learning fun, show students they care, etc… and they’ve figured out that teaching is not like the movies. Instead of trying to solve specific classroom problems, remind the new teachers in your life of the skills and character traits that you believe will make them good teachers in the long run. That, and let them sleep late during Thanksgiving weekend.

For organizations that recruit, train, and support new teachers: Today’s rookies are beginning their career in a complicated political climate. Their every move is monitored for effectiveness data, and there is tremendous pressure on them to not only become successful teachers, but to be successful from day one. This added pressure doesn’t prevent the disillusionment phase, and may make it worse. It can be tempting to push teachers just a little bit harder in response to flagging energy levels, or to ask for just a little more effectiveness data – but it is probably not wise. In November, the treadmill has been turned up high for nearly three months. Rookies don’t need the speed turned up higher. They need to catch their breath.

For new teachers themselves: As a beginner, you have to lay the tracks as you drive the train, and you spend most of the year feeling like you’re about to crash. For now, you just have to believe there are moments ahead of you that are everything the movies suggest they are, just a little less cheesy and scripted  - and without the background music. Your job is not to be a perfect teacher your first year. It is to keep working at it and get better so on a November day years from now, when you’ve (mostly) figured out this whole teaching thing, and you (usually) love it, you can offer guidance to some newer teacher about to burst into tears in a parking lot.”




  • I’m in my 6th year teaching and November is STILL the month of disillusionment. The honeymoon ended sometime in October (when approximately 50% of nearly every class decided to quit doing homework entirely or even pretending to care what they made on the quizzes and tests I give them) and November is spent mostly counting days to Christmas vacation. And before the buzzards swoop down, NO, I don’t quit teaching, I don’t start giving busy work, and I do keep trying to find new and “fun” activities to keep (or get back) their attention…and most of them DO pay attention in class and do what they’re supposed to do…in class. But without being at home with them and forcing them to do their homework and/or study (and most of them apparently do not have parents who do this), I have little control over their mastery of the subject…if I have to slow class down to the pace it would take them to get it in class alone without doing any written work, then we would spend about 3 months on each chapter, and the kids who actually do their work and study would want to slit their wrists and would feel punished.

    But I don’t really expect non-teachers to understand…after all, when kids don’t do what they’re supposed to at home, and when parents don’t make them, it still comes back on us.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for sharing your experience Jennifer.

  • Alex Le’long

    That was awesome. Thankyou. Am nearly at the end of my first year and it sure has been a roller coaster ride. Am always wondering whether it will level out and also, just maybe, get easier. Even with all the support I’m so very lucky to have at my school, I still feel down, still get dissapointed with myself, my abilities and inabilites to teach “well”, and of course that ever changing shift in learnimg and teaching. For a first year teacher I’ve had a Lot of downs but am beginning to see and appreciate the many ups I have too. Thankyou for your column! Alex from NZ.

    • Alex Renai Le’long

      Just Googled myself and found this comment from a couple of years ago. Pleased to say I’ve figured out how the rollercoaster works and am now enjoying the many ups and the few downs that come with teaching.

      Thanks again for your blog post. It obviously inspired me to keep going back then too.


  • Andres

    I am a first year teacher–teaching 8th grade ELA–and I am currently causing myself some (more) anxiety. Our benchmarks (PBAs), which were originally scheduled for January 2014 were suddenly rescheduled from 11/18 – 12/12. Then, the day after I ditched my already drafted plans and pulled some emergency practice lessons outta my bunny hat, I get an email that tells me the rescheduling of the benchmarks was an error. So there I was last week, with plans that were nonsensical and rushed–fearing the principal would walk into one of my classrooms (because I had received an email that he would be dropping in for an unplanned evaluation someday during the week).

    I am running on empty and cannot wait until Tuesday evening. This article made me feel a bit better, so thanks!

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