It’s almost here…can you feel it?
The disillusionment phase. That time of year where new teachers start feeling bad about themselves and their performance. The timing of this phase happens about 6-8 weeks after the first day of school. Things are settling in and many new educators feel like they’re not doing as well as they anticipated. Some of the more nerve-wracking events are on the horizon: Back to School Night, teacher conferences, the first observation or evaluation. Since these activities happen closely together, they may feel rather stressed out.
Once they make it through this phase, they’re able to put a little more perspective into how things work and see that they’re actually doing a pretty good job. But that’s later…they are in the thick of it right now, and many are struggling.
What can you do?
If you have new educators in your building right now, we bet you’re seeing this for yourself. You may be seeing that once bubbly teacher turn a little more inward and not ask as many questions. You may hear more frustration in his voice than you have before and may even feel the frenetic energy radiated from him. If you’re a more veteran educator, a mentor or coach or an administrator, you want to help. We’ve compiled a short list of things you can do to support your fellow teacher and ensure that she doesn’t get too stuck in this difficult time of the year.
- Talk and connect. We know that increasing social capital is important for a student to feel connected to others within the school building. Same goes for adults. You can find ways to engage in simple, face to face conversations. Do you have an extra sparkling water to share? Why not see if she’d like it and check on how things are going today? Did you find a great new lesson to use on Glipgrid? That would be great to share. Have you been meaning to ask what podcasts or books he’s reading? Go over and ask. Let him feel like he’s able to share something with you too.
- Commit little acts of operational kindness. Have you ever said, “Weird, I have so much time today. What should I do with all of it?” Probably not. You could probably use several more hours in the day to get through your to do list. New teachers almost always experience this feeling, but they tend to view it as a shortcoming – something that proves they’re not good at this job. Perhaps they didn’t have time to get to the copy room while the students were outside due to a more pressing parent issue. Taking a moment to pop your head in and say, “Hey, I’m going to grab something from the printer, need anything?” could change her entire day around. Can you share a template or a box of tissues? These little acts of thoughtfulness can mean more to someone who’s feeling insecure about how they’re doing than you’ll ever know.
- Share your high and low-lights. You know those students who feel like no one understands what they’re going through, right? Well, new teachers feel like this too. There are so many things happening, good and bad, and it’s easy for a new teacher to turn inward and believe they are the only one who’s ‘this bad of a teacher’ or is ‘totally unorganized or out of control.” You, being on the other side of these self-doubts, know that is simply not true. What usually happens is that we don’t talk through all the things we’ve learned until long after the fact. Being able to anticipate and share your stories about some of the more common frustrating experiences, like creating great lesson plans, pacing students appropriately, communicating with caregivers, etc. is another game changer. Plus, the stories of ‘epic failures’ are usually pretty funny and can give the overstressed teacher the laugh break they need.
We’re all in this together
Being a new teacher is like being a new parent. You swear no one is as bad at it as you are. You swear you are going to ‘break’ this new human. Even though you read the books, and the baby is eating and sleeping and things really are working, you still don’t believe it. New teachers feel like they were ready to hit the ground running and understood what they were getting themselves into until they actually got into the classroom. They didn’t know what they didn’t know.
New teachers need visits and conversations with their leaders and seasoned colleagues. The more they connect with you, the more likely they will successfully make it through the disillusionment phase, which is a great thing for them, the students and your entire school community. We really are all in this together.