Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Attention, First Year Teachers!

I have good news for you: What you're feeling right now is normal. If you are like most, you are aching - physically aching - for Christmas vacation. It is 7 days away and time

has slowed






The more experienced teachers around you are also talking about how eager they are for the time off, but in your heart-of-hearts, you know that they don't need it like you need it.

That's normal.

I even have scientific verification: According to the Santa Cruz New Teacher Project, in December of the first year of teaching, the new teacher's energy and attitude hits rock bottom. They call this Disillusionment. You began the year, back in August (remember August?) in the happy state of Anticipation. Before you knew it, you were dog-paddling through October: Survival.

During the survival phase, most new teachers struggle to keep their heads above water. They become very focused and consumed with the day-to-day routine of teaching. There is little time to stop and reflect on their experiences. It is not uncommon for new teachers to spend up to seventy hours a week on schoolwork.

From there it was a steady downward slide, and now you're at the bottom. The days are short. You leave your house in the dark and you come home in the dark. Popcorn and french fries are the only foods you can imagine eating, and you're beginning to wonder if four cups of coffee a day might not be quite enough (I was a four-cup drinker mere months into my teaching career; I'm back to two-ish now; it does get easier!).

But have faith. Ahead, just around the corner in January, lies Rejuvenation!

The rejuvenation phase is characterized by a slow rise in the new teacher's attitude toward teaching. It generally begins in January. Having a winter break makes a tremendous difference for new teachers. It allows them to resume a more normal lifestyle, with plenty of rest, food, exercise, and time for family and friends. This vacation is the first opportunity that new teachers have for organizing materials and planning curriculum. It is a time for them to sort through materials that have accumulated and prepare new ones. This breath of fresh air gives novice teachers a broader perspective with renewed hope.

I love the intimation that you new teachers are not eating, not sleeping, not exercising, and not spending time with their family or friends. I love it because we all know it's TRUE, and because to anyone who isn't a new teacher or close to a new teacher, it might sound utterly ridiculous.

This is what I ate my first year: cereal, coffee, cheap and oily pizza, canned soup, Nilla wafers, melted chocolate chips. Dear god.

So you're rejuvenated by a whole week off. You'd better be. You've still got months to go. But teaching gets easier with experience, and you'll be feeling much more confident come spring. By the time school ends, you're ready for Reflection - and the next thing you know, it's August again, you did NOT quit teaching for a desk job, and you've got that glittering sense of Anticipation.

I'm going tell you a secret: Experienced teachers go through this cycle, too, but the lows aren't quite as low, and the highs aren't quite as high. If you start teaching in a difficult setting, you might go through this cycle pretty sharply for a few years as you get the hang of things. If you teach a new subject for the first time, you might find yourself with a stronger sense of Disillusionment than usual, come winter (I certainly did last year when I was teaching Physical Science). Even now, in my fifth year of teaching, I'm feeling a bit of disillusionment, although it is far less this year than it ever was in the past. I know that the break will be a chance to reflect and get ahead in my planning, so I'm really looking forward to it. And I'm looking forward to the rise in spirits that will infect the whole school when we all return, rested, fed, familied and friended.

Hang in there; it's all (well, mostly) uphill from here!

And for some really, really good writing - and from a NYC science teacher, too - check out Wockerjabby. Thanks, Nancy, for the link; I've found a new favorite!


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