While I was in school working toward earning my teaching credential, I took a class called “Philosophy of Education.” During this course, we read an article originally published in 1990 by the California Department of Education.1 The article included a graph entitled “Phases of first-year attitudes toward teaching.” (See below)
The article described each phase a new teacher typically encounters at various points during the school year. She starts off on an emotional high, anticipating a great year of teaching her rosy-cheeked, bright-eyed, motivated students. By mid-September, however, her attitude toward teaching begins to take a nosedive, as she enters the survival stage. She realizes that she and her students aren’t quite living up to the unrealistic expectations she had at the beginning of the school year. She is simply doing her best to survive the challenges her students present and make sure she has lesson plans done at least one day ahead of time. She begins to wonder why everything is taking so long and she has to stay up until 2 AM just to be prepared for the next day.
Sometime around December, she hits rock-bottom and is completely disillusioned. This teaching thing is just not all it was cracked up to be. She can’t seem to motivate her students. Johnny peed his pants again. Jessica will not stop talking no matter where her desk is placed. She spends hours planning excellent, engaging lessons and 5 students still fail the assessment. Maybe she’s just not cut out for this? Will she even be able to keep going until June?
After Winter Break, though, she begins to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Her emotions head on an upward trail as she begins to feel rejuvenated. She will make it until June. And you know what? Julio actually did his homework last night. And he finished it. All of it.
Though she still encounters up and downs, her attitude towards teaching becomes increasingly positive through May, when she begins to reflect on her year so far. She sees that the school year is approaching its end and she thinks about how far she and her students have come since the beginning of the school year. She also thinks about what has worked and what hasn’t and makes plans about how she can improve her teaching for the next school year.
The Teacher Attitude Chart almost exactly parallels my feelings my first year of teaching. But you know what? It also resembles my feelings during my subsequent years of teaching. Teaching has become more rewarding, I am much more confident now than I was my first year, and the emotional highs and lows are much less pronounced, but there are still ups and downs. I still start the year with anticipation, dredge through the fall months when perseverance is key, feel rejuvenated after Winter Break, and reflect on how to improve during the spring and summer.
If the average person understood what a teacher experiences each year of teaching, especially in her novice years, teachers would be far more appreciated. They might even be held in the same high regard as those in other more lauded professions.
As you reflect on your last year, I’m sure you will find that there were many ups and downs. Maybe you had a particularly hard year. Or maybe you had one of those rare years where you were lucky enough to get a “dream class.” Either way, you deserve some praise. You worked hard and you’ve touched the lives, to one degree or another, of some young souls. You’re awesome!
Click Here for our free gift to you: a Certified Awesome Teacher certificate. Hang it up. And remember, whether this was your first year of teaching or you’re about to retire, you really are a Certified Awesome Teacher.
1Moir, Ellen. “Phases of First Year Teaching,” California New Teacher Project, California Department of Education, 1990.