First Year Blunts Teachers' Idealism, Survey Finds

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After spending a year in the classroom, new teachers expressed significantly less faith in their ability to teach all of their students and to make a difference in those students' lives than they had before beginning their jobs, according to a survey to be released this week.

The survey, the ninth in a series on teacher opinions sponsored by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, is the second half of a poll begun last year, when recent teacher-education graduates were asked about their expectations for teaching. (See Education Week, Sept. 26, 1990.)

This year's survey returned to most of the same respondents to find out how a year of teaching had affected their attitudes. Some three-fourths of the 1,007 first-year public-school teachers polled this past spring had participated in the 1990 survey.

Before beginning their teaching careers, 83 percent of the original respondents had said they "strongly agreed" that they could make a difference in their students' lives. But a year later, only 68 percent of the new teachers surveyed felt that way.

Spending a year with students also made a striking difference in the number of teachers who strongly agreed that "many children come to school with so many problems that it's very difficult for them to be good students." Before entering the classroom, 28 percent of the respondents had strongly agreed with that statement, compared with 47 percent of the teachers polled after completing their first year on the job.

Shift by Minority Teachers

The new survey conducted, as was last year's, by Louis Harris & Associates--also found a marked shift in the perceptions of black and Hispanic teachers since the 1990 poll. Before entering teaching, white graduates were twice as likely as minority teachers to agree strongly that students' problems would interfere with their schooling. After one year, black and Hispanic teachers were just as likely as whites to agree with the statement.

The respondents' overall faith in their ability to teach all of their students also fell after their first year of teaching. Of the graduates queried in 1990, 45 percent agreed that "even the best teachers will find it difficult to really teach more than two-thirds of their students."A year later, 58 percent of the teachers surveyed agreed with the statement.

What the survey termed "the sobering effects of one year of teaching experience" also influenced new . teachers' views on what would most help students learn.

Before entering the classroom, 83 percent of the teacher-education graduates said instilling self-esteem and personal growth and development was the one aspect of teaching that would most help students. That proportion fell to 73 percent of the first-year teachers, while the number that cited teaching basic skills and maintaining order in the classroom rose.

Professional Preparation

The new results also suggest that the 1990 graduates had significantly misjudged whether their teacher education programs had prepared them to work with children from different ethnic backgrounds.

Before entering teaching, four in five graduates agreed that they had been prepared to teach diverse students; a year later, only 70 percent of the respondents agreed. There was an especially large drop in the proportion that "strongly agreed" that they had been well prepared for such teaching, from 42 percent of the new education-school graduates in 1990 to 30 percent of teachers completing their first year.

Despite teachers' dissatisfaction with that aspect of their professional preparation, only one-fifth of the respondents to this year's survey said "better training in working with students and families from a variety of ethnic backgrounds" would have been most helpful in preparing them to be better teachers.

Instead, nearly half of the first-year teachers said having an experienced teacher assigned to provide advice and assistance would have been most beneficial. One-third cited additional practical training, such as a year's internship, before being assigned to their own classrooms.

The poll found that the new teachers' responses about their preparation were "remarkably similar" to those given by a national cross-section of experienced teachers responding to a separate Metropolitan Life survey earlier this school year.

Both groups of respondents' preference for working with a mentor teacher, rather than spending more time in an internship, appears to conflict with recommendations made by several groups working to improve teacher education.

And virtually all recommendations for strengthening teacher preparation made by such groups have called for students to receive much broader exposure to diverse types of schools and students.

Despite several years of reform initiatives that have centered on providing opportunities for teachers to collaborate with one another as professionals, only about one-fifth of both novice and experienced teachers surveyed said that having more opportunities to work with other teachers in their school would help them be more effective teachers.

Vol. 11, Issue 06, Page 10

Published in Print: October 9, 1991, as First Year Blunts Teachers' Idealism, Survey Finds
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