Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Help your New Teachers Catch their Breath

A couple of weeks ago, I finished lunch and noticed something strange. I was thinking about breathing. That's weird... I've never thought about that before. As I entered my office, I noticed that I couldn't get a full breath. Now, it was a little bit worse. As the afternoon went on, my struggle increased. I just couldn't breathe. 

I thought to myself. "Am I having a heart attack?  What's going on?"  My wife urged me to go to the ER, but my manly pride argued to suck it up and tough it out. My ego battled with my lungs until I finally gave in and decided to go to the ER. When I told them my problem, they rushed me to the back immediately. After all the tests, I found out that I wasn't having a heart attack. I had pneumonia. 


Well how many times does this happen to new teachers to a new job?  They walk in and start busting their humps learning how to do the "work". They slowly begin to sink, but their pride won't allow them to say a word. The demands of the job, the kids, the personal life and everything else slowly start a water-boarding effect. The pressure mounts and mounts until it's too late. They suffocate from the pressure of No Child Left Behind. 

New teachers to a new position struggle every year breathing in the foreign procedures, unfamiliar language and hectic pace, but there are those who never suffocate.   There are some who are drowning under a tidal wave of red tape, but others are tredding water just fine.   

Why is that?

Schools of excellence don't allow any teacher to drown.  They won't let any teacher suffocate.  They are committed to ensuring that every teacher has what they need to succeed.  That means schools are providing additional time and extra support to new teachers.  Extra time is given to explain foreign procedures.  Mentors do more than remind newbies where office forms are.  Schools of excellence believe in saving kids by saving teachers first.   After all, if the teachers die from asphyxiation due to the "work", then who will be left to teach the kids.

When I didn't know why I couldn't breathe, I was scared and my stress level rose.  After the doctor calmly diagnosed my problem, gave me my prognosis and encouraged me to take time to recover, I felt better.  Over the course of a week, I improved tremendously to my previous form.  In essence, that  is what all schools should be doing for all teachers who are struggling to keep up.

What are your thoughts?


  1. Hey Pal,

    First, here's to hoping that you are well and happy -- and that your daughter is doing better day-by-day. Thinking of you.

    Now here's some push back: You mention that schools should provide struggling teachers with more time and support, right?

    But when does that "more time and support" happen?

    In most of the schools I've worked in, that "more time and support" always comes in the form of "more meetings in the morning, during my planning or after school." And I'm not sure that's productive or helpful.

    Shouldn't a district find ways to make that "more time and support" happen as a part of the work day instead of as an extra burden on teachers who are already struggling? Couldn't there be release days for mentors and mentees to meet once a month? What if principals and other central office/support staffers covered classes for one period a month so that mentees and mentors could work on the clock?

    Shouldn't mentees and mentors be released from other duties and responsibilities so that meeting isn't an additional burden?

    I'm totally into the notion that struggling teachers need more time and support when they are overwhelmed. I just think that extra time shouldn't be an extra duty.

    Any of this make sense?

  2. Bill,

    Thank you so much for the pushback and for checking on my daughter. She is doing better. You are absolutely right that we must provide more support without increasing duties. It should go without saying that we shouldn't require more of people when they're already spread thin, but I guess leaders don't consider that when they are trying to "support".

    Perhaps they should stop giving support through meetings and start giving support through meatings, adding strength to current practices. (New post idea).

    Perhaps I should use a different term than extra time. Leaders should consider evaluating the way they allocate time and start making efforts to make the time more focused and meaningful to teachers. Nothing is worse than going to a meeting where you are wasting your time. Of course this can only happen when mentors and mentees have input in making the time more focused.

    Thank you for pushing my thinking to an even deeper level. It helped in more ways than just this post.

  3. My 28th year in the classroom was my 1st year in the district I now call home. I had a brand new teaching assignment, new grading system, and everything about the year was new for this old teacher! But my principal promised me two things when he hired me. He said, "I will surround you with people who know what they are doing, and I will make sure you have all the resources you need to be successful because we want who YOU ARE in our building!" He has further made a point of regularly coming by my room (all last year and into this) to tell me how glad he is I am on this campus. This is a young man who knows how to encourage the very best out of his faculty! He has kept his promise!
    Our curriculum coach is just down the hall from my classroom. She is a wonderful resource and advocate! [I have avoided curriculum "specialists" for years because most had teachers for breakfast and pushed paperwork all afternoon for snacks!] These two educational leaders and our wonderfully supportive APs go out of their way to make everyone feel needed and appreciated!
    Several times throughout the year, each faculty member has a brief meeting with the principal mad curriculum director to touch base with regard to campus and personal goals, but they did something for us last year that I had not seen in my 27 year career! They asked us to find another teacher that we wanted to plan with, from our department or cross curricular project partner, and they would provide the subs so that we could take a half day to sit down together and plan! Another teacher and I were able to get about 8 weeks of lesson plans on paper for our Juniors, and then I was allowed another half day to plan for my seniors!
    Walking back into class knowing that planning was solid, synchronized, and set down in print was such a relief! Your post made me see how I need to help the newbies on my hall, and it gave me an opportunity to brag on my remarkable administration! Thank you! You may have saved several careers this week!

    1. Virginia, I love your story and your testimony for supporting all teachers, not just the ones new to education. Everyone needs growth and everyone needs support. Your comment makes this post even more powerful because your testimony give people hope and evidence that "schools like that" actually exist.

      Thank you for sharing and have a great day.