Teaching Profession Opinion

The First-Year Teaching Roller Coaster

By David Ginsburg — August 20, 2011 2 min read
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At an orientation before my first year of teaching, one of the speakers referred to an article titled, Phases of First-Year Teaching, in which Ellen Moir identifies several phases first-year teachers typically go through. And, according to Moir, they go through them in the same order at roughly the same times, as depicted in the following graph:

What jumped out to me when I first saw this--as it has to pre-service teachers I’ve shared this with--is how early and abruptly new teachers feel disillusioned. Just six weeks or so after entering their classrooms with high hopes, they’re questioning whether they’ve chosen the right profession. No way would this happen to me, I thought, as I listened to the speaker at orientation.

But alas, it did happen to me, just as it has for many new teachers I’ve known since then. And from what I can tell, first-year disillusionment isn’t limited to teachers in certain schools or even the U.S. Last week, in fact, I brought up new teacher disillusionment as I addressed a group of educators from Georgia--the country--and could tell from their smiles and nods that they could relate.

The good news, if you trust the graph, is that most teachers get beyond their disillusionment within a couple of months and end the year feeling hopeful again. But given new teacher turnover rates--50% gone within five years--I’m not so sure. The reality from what I’ve seen is that disillusionment lasts far longer for many newbies than what’s reflected in the graph, and is debilitating for some of them.

For others, meanwhile, the first-year roller coaster ride includes many more dips and drops--if not derailments--than what you see in the graph, thereby zapping riders with emotional whiplash. That’s why, I believe, some first-year teachers get off the ride in June (or sooner) and never get back on for a second year. And those who do return often do so with low morale rather than high hopes.

The real issue, though, isn’t what happens to teachers after they descend to the depths of disillusionment, but rather why they get there in the first place. It’s fine, on the one hand, for veteran educators like the speaker at my orientation to advise new teachers to brace themselves for first-year disillusionment. But wouldn’t it be better to help them prevent disillusionment than prepare them for it?

Of course it would be, but is first-year teacher disillusionment preventable or is it simply inevitable? I’ve been thinking about this question ever since I felt disillusioned as a new teacher 18 years ago. And I’ll be sharing some of those thoughts in my next post.

Fasten your seat belts!

Image provided by GECC, LLC with permission

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