As the new school year begins, so do the careers of the plethora of new teachers. Whether coming through traditional teacher ed programs or alternative pathways to certification, very few new teachers have it easy. Teaching is not a profession that you can truly at your own pace. The learning curve, in some cases, is more like a learning free-fall. (Sure, those with student teaching experience are a little better off, but student teaching is at best a simulation.) In most careers, the learning curve can be taken slowly and everyone understands; but, teachers are thrown right in. They may get mentors who may or may not have been trained in mentoring. They may be required to attend professional development which may or may not be relevant to the classroom.
So, it is with interest that I read the story about NYC Teaching Fellows in the Village Voice. I was pointed to that article by a new NYC Teaching Fellow getting ready to begin the dreaded first year and hearing not-so-comforting things from those fellows getting ready to begin the second year. It is also sad to see a new teacher, one who has been blogging about her teacher preparation program at the post-secondary level for the past year, quit within the first week. There was no explanation offered, but perhaps one will come after the shock wears off.
Programs like the NYC Teaching Fellows mean well, but I've heard almost all negative things about the program. I've known a handful of really, really good teachers come out of the program, but I've heard the same number of stories about people quitting within the first year. I've also heard many stories about how the preparation is quite inadequate (even from those teachers who have developed into skilled educators) and their university classes are a joke. Teachers coming through traditional teacher ed programs seem to have it a bit easier. In New York State, one must do an entire year of student teaching. But, still, you hear many of these teachers leaving urban school systems and education altogether in a few years.
The problem lies some with the preparation, but mostly with what we do with the new teachers when they enter the system. Too often new teachers get the regular schedule with the students the senior teachers don't want. Once you have enough experience in the system, your tenure and time-in mean that you get the classes you want - and most don't want the students who struggle the most. Then there is the abhorrent thought that a teacher can't get the 'good' students until they've practiced and honed their skills on the 'bad' students. This belief centers on the idea that teaching honors and AP is a promotion based on experience.
New teachers need to have lighter schedules with the students who struggle the least. This gives them the confidence in their skills, as well as the time to practice and gain experience, that one needs to teach the most difficult students. Unfortunately, it is the teacher contracts, as well as teacher attitudes, that prevent this from happening. The fault of so many new teachers leaving, which we often blame on their teacher ed or alternative certification programs, lies with teachers themselves. If we stood up and demanded that our union make the support of new teachers with lighter and easier schedules central to our contracts, the whole system would be better off.