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.
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.”