Monday, October 03, 2005


There are several distinct stages a first-year teacher goes through. Not all teachers go through each stage, and teachers go through each stage at different times but having now worked with three groups of first-year teachers in our program I've come to the conclusion that most of our teachers go through seven distinct stages at roughly the same time.

They are:

Stage One: Anticipation
June through August 15th

This is the summer and the first week or two of school. During the summer you are excited and anxious to start teaching. You are empowered by your motivation to teach, to work with kids, to make a difference. You are excited about living in a new place and you enjoy getting to know the rest of the Teacher Corps members. Once school starts the kids come and they are on their best behavior. The first few days are new and exciting. This lasts for a week. Then...

Stage Two: Survival
August through October

On average the survival stage lasts about two months. Teachers are overwhelmed the first few months with: grading; lesson planning; paperwork; coursework; living in a new place; working in a new place; meeting new coworkers; working for a new boss; finding your way around school; finding your way around town.

Oh, and standing in front of kids all day (who you don't know) and teaching, managing, and generally being responsible for them while they are with you. 70 hour work weeks become the norm. Situations that you didn't anticipate or weren't trained for occur. There is no time. You are completely overwhelmed and just try to keep your head above water.

Stage Three: Apathy
October through December

Apathy covers several things. After about two months you generally become apathetic about your students and your school. "Why do I have ninth graders who can't read? How did this happen? There is nothing I can do."

Or, "The students are so behind. There is nothing I can do."

Or, "Why is this school like this? Things are so disorganized. The bells don't ring on time. There are constant interruptions. There is nothing I can do."

Furthermore, it is at this point that things really get tough. You start to run out of lesson plans and have to stay up late or get up early just to stay one day ahead. Homecoming week happens and that is always a mess. The days get shorter and the weather gets colder. From the weather change and the stress you might get sick. Morale is low. You start to become apathetic about teaching and the Teacher Corps. "I can't do this. It's impossible to make a difference. I could be doing X. Why am I killing myself for kids that don't care about me in a place where I can't make a difference?"

This is your crucible. This is your test. If you make it through this phase you will make it.

The bad news: Apathy generally lasts through December. If a first-year is going to leave it is over Christmas break.

The good news: Apathy doesn't last. After Christmas break it starts to get easier. Things get better.

Stage Four: Comfort (A little bit)
January through March

After Christmas break you start to feel comfortable, a little bit. Several things happen. First, you go home for Christmas break and get recharged. You are with friends and family who love you. You eat. You rest. You start to reflect on some of the things that did go well, and also on some changes you can make.

Second, when you return you find that you have an idea of how the school works. You know who to talk to and where things are.

Third, the kids come back from break on good behavior. They start to become comfortable with you. You are now a known quantity.

You start to feel comfortable. This stage lasts through spring break. All along this stage there are little setbacks. Two steps forward, one step back. But the tide starts to turn.

Stage Five: Caring
April through May

This stage starts after spring break, when the school year starts to fly by. You start to realize that you care about these kids. You like them. You might even miss them over the summer. You can't believe the year is almost over. It all seems to have gone by so fast. This is your school now. These are your kids. You want them to be successful. You see the potential in so many.

Potential they might not even see in themselves.

Stage Six: Reflection

The school year is finished. You exhale. You reflect. You think about what went well and what you can change. You are amazed at your growth and at everything that happened in the past year. You start to think about what you will do differently next year. This leads to...

Stage Seven: Anticipation

Around July you start to anticipate the upcoming year. You plan activities. You think about lessons. You look forward to seeing your students. You're excited for school. You think back and are amazed at how far you have come.

The second year then becomes a progression towards mastery. As I've told many people, when you finish this program you can go anywhere in the country, to any school, and be successful.

Again, not everyone goes through all of these stages and not everyone goes through each stage at the same time. Some of our teachers will stay in the survival stage for awhile. Some in apathy for awhile. Some might be all the way to the caring stage right now.

But there is a general cycle that most people in our program go through. It may only be when you finish that you can step back and recognize it.

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