Friday, October 2, 2015

What if we remembered what it was like to be new?

One of the opportunities we have been afforded in our current roles as instructional coaches is to support new teachers to our district.Our current induction process involves a week long "New Teacher Academy" and then a series of face to face meetings throughout the year. We are also using a district wide LMS to build community between meetings through discussions and sharing.  The make-up of this years group is diverse in experience. We have teachers who are in their first year as a teacher and fresh out of college. We have teachers who are in their second career. We have teachers who are returning to the profession after spending time at home with their family. And we have teachers who have come from other districts in search of new opportunities.

The start of the year can be an extremely difficult and challenging time for a veteran teacher, let alone someone who is trying to establish their role in the culture of a school or district as a newbie. Learning new curriculum, new technology, and building new relationships is challenging. Fitting into an established culture, following through on expectations, and navigating the politics of a school or district is completely overwhelming.  Even under the best circumstances it can lead to many more questions and self doubt than answers and confidence. Many new teachers find support with one another and with grade level or course alike partners and collaborators. Sometimes they are supported by district provided mentors or coaches, and if they are fortunate enough: a building principal willing to invest in them.

A recent meeting with our current crop of new teachers forced some much needed reflection and contemplation. While there were stories of small victories (I finally got logged into this system!) , celebrations of established routines (My kids actually lined up properly after two weeks of practice!!), there were also stories that brought tears and sadness. Sometimes these stories are things we can do little to control. How do we support a teacher when a parent chooses to use Back to School night and social media to openly criticize them despite trying their best.  What can we do differently when students openly mention that they can't wait for the 'regular' teacher to come back?

But what about the things we have control over? Is moaning and groaning about a colleague who pushes into our classroom with a cart to teach, a proper way to treat them just because we can’t use our space for our prep work?  Is it acceptable for us to tell a new teacher in our building that we don't have time to show them where the photocopier is or help them navigate curricular resources? Is it right for us to ignore a new teacher in the faculty room or not say hello in the hallway?  Is it kind or compassionate to openly criticize how a new teacher is running their classroom or teaching?  
We often worry about about our students and the way they treat others. My earliest recollections of school involve learning the golden rule. The truth is that we make our jobs infinitely more difficult because instead of supporting one another it’s much easier to tear each other down. Is it time for us to look in the mirror and acknowledge that sometimes we don't practice what we preach? That sometimes we forget what it is like to be new.

What if we stopped to ask a new teacher in our building to sit with us at lunch? What if we stopped into the classroom of a new teacher and asked how things were going? What if we stopped them in the hallway and asked them if they needed help with anything?  What if we sent a new teacher a note or an email telling them how happy we were to have them in our building? What if we took three seconds out of our day to tell a new teacher that we were excited to learn alongside them? What if we took time each day to remember that  teaching is much more enjoyable when we support one another? What if we committed to 30 minutes a week sharing and collaborating? What if we remembered what it was like to be new?

At the end of our last meeting we asked each member of the group to write down something that they were proud of on a post it note. We asked them to fold it up and put it in their wallet or purse.  And we asked that the next time they felt beaten down, found themselves crying or wanting to quit, that they should get out that note to remind them that there are many things to be proud of. While what I write next wouldn’t fit on a post it note, I do want to share what I am proud of.

So to our new teachers (and new teachers everywhere):

I am proud of you. You wake up every day and come to school with the best of intentions: to help students learn and to grow. You put up with the nonsense and the noise. You put your best foot forward. You work through the tears, the criticism,  the long nights, the loneliness, and the feeling that what you do will never be good enough. You recognize that this profession is not what you expected it to be. You question whether you will make it to December, let alone to the end of the year. You wonder when it will be fun. And yet each day you treat it like it is new again. I am proud of you because you understand grit, perseverance, and problem solving because you know no other way.  I am proud of you because you choose to continue to learn and grow and approach each task as a new opportunity to improve.

It’s ok to recognize the negative, the hurt, and the frustration: but remember this moment. Remember that this is the moment you acknowledged that despite it all, it is completely worth it.  Remember what it feels like to be new. Remember that our students walk into "new" at the start of each year. Remember that next year, there will be colleagues who will be experiencing what it means to be new. Remember that you pulled yourself up by the bootstraps. Remember that it got better (not necessarily easier). Remember that you found the support you needed. Remember that you learned what you needed to because you never stopped trying. Remember that you won over parents and students because of the kindness and compassion you showed them. Remember that you will never be the same teacher you are at this moment.  Remember that despite the heartache and challenge ahead of you each day, what you do is valued by many even though they may not say it or show it nearly enough.  Remember that to each student who walks through your door, you can be their support and their hero. What you do each day makes you my hero. Remember that we are proud of you.

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