Part of being a new teacher in my district is going to a certain amount of new teacher support group “classes,” where seasoned veterans talk to you like an elementary school student and tell you what you are doing wrong. The meetings are once a month and include all first year teachers in the district (from Kindergarten through High School). Most of the time, these classes devolve into complaining sessions muttered under-breath or whispered out of the sides of mouths.
The last of these meetings involved a photocopied packet that explained the “Phases Of First-Year Teaching.” We were to read the packet and with our table groups, discuss which phase we were currently in. According to the California New Teacher Project, there are five phases (a similar format to the well known five stages of grief). These phases are labeled as the Anticipation Phase, the Survival Phase, the Disillusionment Phase, Rejuvenation, and Reflection.
The Anticipation Phase is self-explanatory. This occurs during student teaching, where future teachers romanticize about the profession. They start off idealistic and are committed to making a difference. Full of hope. This phase is supposed to last through the first few weeks of a teacher’s first year. The Survival Phase occurs when the first month becomes overwhelming. Teachers scramble to learn everything they can as fast as possible. Once the reality sets in, teachers become overwhelmed with the day-to-day business of teaching and spend all their free time planning and grading papers. Because it is their first year, teachers in this phase don’t have previous lesson plans and find themselves drafting entire units from scratch, sometimes daily. According to our handout, teachers in this phase maintain a high level of energy, although they feel overwhelmed.
Next is the Disillusionment Phase. This is supposed to kick in after six or eight weeks. This is where new teachers question their competence and commitment, and they have to deal with parent conferences, administrative evaluations, and a significant drop in self-esteem. This, fortunately, is followed by the Rejuvenation Phase, which takes place after Winter Vacation. According to the article, teachers are able to get back to a normal life on their vacation and accept the realities of teaching. The final stage is Reflection. This occurs in May. It’s a time to look back and see what worked and didn’t. It’s a gateway into a new Anticipation Phase. You see, it’s cyclical.
After reading about my scheduled phases, I was unable to determine which stage I was in, if any. Honestly, I go through all five of these stages daily. At some points of the day I feel disillusioned and frustrated. An hour later, I may feel rejuvenated, ready for whatever the students throw at me (literally). Without warning, I can shift into survival mode, just trying to make it to the bell without packing a dry erase marker into the eye socket of a fourteen year old. Soon, I am reflecting and anticipating. Some days I end with disillusionment. Some days I end with hope.
To think that any teacher’s experience can be boiled down to five phases that gradually and steadily unfold between September and June seems too limiting, too short sighted to accurately encompass the experience of being a new teacher. It overlooks the little joys and the tiny tragedies that you have to field minute by minute. It downplays the implacable challenges of truly knowing any student enough to crack the surface, while sticking to the game plan well enough to prepare them for standardized tests. It ignores the battle for rapport and the tension between being stern and being lenient.
I can’t imagine that any other teacher’s experience is just like mine, or mine like theirs. There are teachers that I longingly admire and teachers that I know in my heart I can outdo. In another six months I’ll be able to reflect on my first year as a whole and in six years I’ll be able to have enough context for any reflections to matter. Until then, the phase I’m in is irrelevant. It’s a day to day, minute by minute thing, and right now I’m happy to have a vacation, but even more thrilled that I have this job—this career that’s a mere four months old.