Reducing Worry For New Teachers

by Coletted A. Henley, Mentor Teacher, Naperville Central HS, Naperville, IL, USA

Jerry A. Ligon's March 1988 article in the American School Board Journal entitled "Four Ways to Reduce Worry for New Teachers" is the work of one who has obviously been there. Only a teacher himself could be so in tune with the problems that face the new teacher or any teacher new to a system. Ligon does not rely on his personal experiences alone to make his points. He cites the results of a survey conducted on recent graduates of Eastern Illinois University who are now first or second year teachers in Illinois. The top five problems experienced by beginning teachers in his survey were low salary, stress, lack of adequate classroom materials and supplies, inadequate school equipment and a heavy teaching load.

The statistics that I found most striking were the ones showing the number of lesson plans required of someone teaching a subject for the first time. Most of us have a collection of things that have worked well before and with some modifications could be used again. That new person in the system is starting with an empty file drawer. If he or she is to teach two classes each day for 176 days in the school year, the teacher must prepare 353 lesson plans in that first year. Some beginning teachers are given assignments that require more than two different preparations resulting in 700 to 900 daily lessons in that first year. It's no wonder that many beginning teachers are lost to the profession.

Ligon is quite clear that there are many things that individual school systems can do to get the new teacher off to a good start. He shares four simple ideas that I will summarize.

1. Make sure that every new teacher gets an "even break".

The new teacher should be given a classroom that she/he may use as a home base rather than being forced to teach in multiple locations. The classroom should be equipped with the materials that were used to teach that course the previous year so that the new teacher can become familiar with the equipment. This is particularly important in a science course where several labs are run per week.

2. Make assignments carefully.

New teachers should not be given potentially troublesome classes in systems where there are multiple sections of a course or grade level. Veteran teachers should be willing to tackle the more challenging students.

3. Don't overload new teachers.

Extra curricular activities are important. Instead of being in charge of the yearbook, or coach of the basketball team, the new teacher should be asked to "shadow" the teacher who is currently doing the job or to help a veteran with the program before being "thrown to the lions."

4. Provide a support system for new teachers.

A mentoring program with time built into the school day at least once a month is suggested for guiding the new teacher in his/her period of adjustment.

Colette Henley is a science teacher and a new teacher mentor at Naperville North High School, Naperville, Illinois, USA.

Editorial Note: The role of the mentor is invaluable for new as well as experienced teachers new to a system.