How to Lay the Groundwork to Stop New Teacher Burnout
Guest blog post by 7th-grade teacher, Scott Sterling
My first year teaching was the second most challenging of my life (I decided to follow the first by having a baby in my second). I experienced controversies, unsettling circumstances, and 120 seventh graders.
Of the seven new teachers who started the same year, four made it to the second. Only one other educator and I made it past Year Three. If the profession is going to survive, that cannot be the case. Luckily, there are things education leaders can do to help make new teachers’ first years less challenging—and none of them have to do with gift baskets.
The following tips are based on my experiences as a seventh-grade teacher. While my experiences may not be universal, these are the things I wish I had suggested or had been introduced to early in my teaching career—and recommend to any educational leader.
- Throw a mentoring mixer
Mentoring is incredibly valuable for new teachers, but this value can be compromised if newbies' personalities and teaching styles don't mesh with those of their mentors. For instance, my mentor taught science, while I teach language arts. She would stop in occasionally to ask how I was doing, and although she meant well, the last thing newbies want to do is admit they are feeling lost or overwhelmed—especially to a veteran.
Instead, give new teachers a couple of weeks to find their bearings, then get them together with veterans who are interested in mentoring. By then, the new teachers will likely have already met some of the veterans and developed an idea of who might be a good fit for them. Make it known that while new teachers cannot decline having a mentor, they do have the power to choose one from whom they will enjoy learning.
- Get creative with scheduling
Contractual restrictions typically limit creativity when it comes to teacher scheduling, but there's usually something that can be done without breaking the rules.
For instance, in my first year, my first period was devoted to planning. Keep in mind that new teachers may need some extra time to prepare themselves, and try to schedule their planning periods as early in the day as possible.
Additionally, I believe that the more preps a new teacher has, the better. Again, there may not be much you can do to increase prep time, but if you're able to figure something out that helps guarantee a dedicated amount of time, the new teachers will thank you!
- Provide lesson-planning help
It seems as if virtually every administrator and/or school has different ideas about lesson-planning—particularly the formatting of the plans themselves—so the training that new teachers received in school may not apply. Aside from classroom management, this may be the biggest challenge for new teachers.
Instruct mentors to address lesson-planning expectations in a one-on-one setting, or hold group trainings that review some best practices that are specific to your school. If you know a teacher who's an all-star lesson planner, have them run the training or put together a list of pointers.
- Solicit ideas often
In my experience, first-year teachers are extremely unlikely to come to their bosses with ideas about how to improve things, but making it known that their input is welcome can go a long way toward establishing a productive culture.
Around the holidays, send out an anonymous survey that asks newbies about their mentors, how the school runs as a whole, and if there are unanticipated or challenging aspects of the job. You may not receive responses right away (after all, they’re busy!), so it's important to follow up and make sure they know their opinion counts.
Nobody graduates from school and is automatically a perfect educator. In fact, both new and veteran educators must continuosly learn about new and innovative methods to adapt to an evolving society. For new teachers, though, jumping into a new and demanding profession can lead to burnout without the proper support. In the aforementioned tips, the common theme boils down to one thing: Communication. If you want to retain the best talent and avoid teacher turnover in your school, take a critical look at the value of clear communication between teachers and leadership.
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