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How Do We Treat New Teachers? Do We Baby Them or Baptize Them by Fire?

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I’m new to teaching. Sometimes I wonder if it’s obvious to others in ways other than my optimistic smile and twinkling eyes. Talking with veteran educators every day is one way I test the waters, and feel out their perceptions of me. No matter the level of experience over me, rank, or area of specialty, I’m always treated delicately. They handle their conversation with me as a one might a small child who’s holding up a “picture of you” scribbled in abstract crayon shapes. Compliments and encouragement pour over the work, but I’m not sure they represent the efforts I’ve put forth. I defend what I’ve done and try to explain things, but after a while the kid gloves they hold me with are simply chaffing. That being said, there’s no way I can thank those people around me enough for their support.

Not everyone tries to baby new teachers though. The other camp of veteran educators is more founded in reality (none of that touchy-feely crap!). They walk me to the edge of a cliff and point down. “See that river? It’s full of hungry sharks and crocodiles waiting for a meal.” I don’t get the impression they want me to fail, just that they know I will. They know I’m in for it this year, that I’ll be burnt, scarred, tried, tribulated, and most likely that I will quit in the next five years. They’re only here of course because they coach a sport or maybe their spouse is the “successful” one.

Sheesh! What’s the new kid on the block supposed to think?

Over the past nine weeks, I’ve made at least one thing clear in my mind: the only way to survive is to figure it out for myself. As amusing and true as they are, I’ve got to put all of the optimistic platitudes and pejorative perspectives aside and focus on what is happening in my own classroom first. I certainly don’t plan on turning away the advice and kinds words or warnings of others, but I need to rededicate my focus to my own actions rather than worry about becoming the teacher my neighbor is (or isn’t).

I can’t change who my fellow teachers are or what they say to me, but listening to them is like looking into the future. It makes me ask myself, “where will I be in five years? what will I say to new teachers in ten years?” What they can teach me is invaluable, I know I won’t find their specific experience anywhere else. What I hope is that I will be open and ready to accept what I’m given. I hope not to have chips festering on my shoulder, hoping to spread the promise of tissue damage to the other limbs of my profession. I hope, but I also realize that I have to take action; hope is not enough on its own, however vital a component it is. How are you affecting those around you at school?

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Comment by Hadley Ferguson on October 30, 2009 at 3:37pm
As a veteran, all I can do is give them the best advice and then let them fly. If they fall in love with what is happening inside the four walls of their classrooms, then they will be able to sustain themselves in spite of all the hassles that happen outside of them. It is the kids that demand our best and that feed our desire to bring change.

I survive by always being a student myself. As I learn and grow, then I can pass that excitement along to new faculty and to students. It is when we teach the same thing over and over from rote that our hearts and minds die. When we feed our own intellect, then we can excite others. It is the passion for learning that I want new faculty to have. The skills of the classroom will come from taking the knocks of doing it wrong and learning to do it right. What works for me may or may not work for you. Any new faculty member is welcome to my tricks, but they always come without any guarantees. Take what helps with your practice; thank them nicely and know that to thrive in this career, you must dedicate yourself to having the heart of a learner, learning about each student and learning about each new idea for better pedagogy. (Three cheers to Twitter for providing the resources and contacts to make that so easily possible.)

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