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Remembering How It Is to Be New

Do you remember your first year of teaching? All of us teachers have stories to tell of that first year in the classroom. After completing a degree in education (including a modified semester of student teaching) and our diplomas in hand, we walked confidently (or maybe not so confidently) into our first classroom.

I vividly remember my first year of teaching and the many lessons I learned. I will ever be grateful to my seasoned colleagues and the administrator who shepherded me through those difficult months.

After completing almost twenty-four years of teaching, I now have the privilege of working with college seniors who are completing their student teaching and will soon be graduating and walking into their own first classrooms. What will their experience be like? Who will be there to help them "learn the ropes" and guide them around the pitfalls of the first year of teaching? Will they be around twenty years from now to share their success stories?

According to recent studies, 40 to 50 percent of first-year teachers will drop out of teaching within the first seven years of their experience. This trend, combined with the facts that fewer young people are choosing teaching as a profession and increasingly higher numbers of experienced teachers are retiring each year, makes it difficult for schools to keep talented professionals in the classroom.

So what will help first-year teachers be successful and stay in teaching? I am increasingly convinced that the answer is administrators and seasoned teachers who help the new teacher to deal with the many transitions from the college classroom to his own classroom. Instead of depositing him into an empty classroom, providing him with teacher’s editions, and leaving him emotionally and professionally on his own, the administrator and other experienced teachers must help him draw upon his college training and limited experiences to become an effective teacher.

The Professional Transition

Most likely, the only experience the new teacher has had prior to his first year is a modified semester that included several weeks of student teaching. Before he comes in, the school faculty should design a support system to help the new employee settle into his position without becoming overwhelmed. A dedicated orientation program will familiarize the new teacher with the ministry, his professional responsibilities, and the community where he will serve.

A successful transition into the profession requires the understanding of policies and procedures, the development of organizational skills, the ability to plan effectively, the willingness to learn from others, and the growth of the professional confidence that comes only with time. The best help is a caring mentor teacher who can provide encouragement, direction, and accountability. The investment of time and love in the new teacher will pay rich dividends for the ministry for years to come.

The Personal Transitional

The first year of teaching brings personal challenges as well as professional ones. In some cases, the new hire may have just recently been married. In other cases, the new hire may be trying to balance professional responsibilities while maintaining a dating relationship. Other emotional challenges that plague the young teacher may be loneliness, homesickness, isolation, or uncertainty about his place in the ministry. Dealing with these relational issues can sometimes be so overwhelming that a young teacher’s ability to perform his professional duties appropriately is diffused.

Other personal transition issues include finding a place to live, obtaining and maintaining reliable transportation, setting up bank accounts, completing health insurance applications, learning to budget, making responsible purchases, paying back college debt, and managing time. While many of these challenges are merely part of growing up, the administrator and mentor teachers should be willing to extend their counsel and accountability from the professional to the personal issues. Showing this personal interest will not only help the new teacher but will also protect the school ministry from having to deal with an employee’s unfortunate decisions.

The Spiritual Transition

Along with helping the new teacher with personal transition, experienced colleagues need to encourage him in his continued spiritual growth. Administrators and mentor teachers would be naïve to believe that new teachers just out of college are spiritually mature and do not need any motivation or accountability. For probably the first time in his adult life, he is no longer under the direct authority of parents nor in a Christian college environment. Depending upon the depth of his spiritual understanding and the level of his personal convictions, the new teacher may find that his independence brings challenges.

The administrator and mentor teacher can encourage him in his daily walk with the Lord and in faithful church attendance. They may also explore setting up accountability partners to help with issues, such as use of free time, dealing with temptations, selection of friends, and spiritual growth. While some may feel that these issues are outside the scope of the administrator’s or mentor teacher’s concern, I would argue that the school’s leadership should look for ways to positively influence their new teacher’s spiritual direction. Done respectfully and kindly, these overtures can create bonds of trust and compassion. And time spent in molding a young person who in turn will spiritually influence the children in his classroom is never wasted.

 by Brian Carruthers. Updated October 21, 2015.

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