One particular group of people was more nervous on the first day of school than even the most bashful first graders. No, not the parents of first-graders. I’m talking about new educators, those who are just beginning their adventures in the best profession on earth.
When I reflect on my first days (and weeks and months) as a teacher, I remember that unsteady feeling—sometimes bordering on terror—that someone would notice I had a lot more questions than answers. Like most newbies, I knew deep down in my soul that education was my calling. But in my first year, that felt like the only thing I knew for sure, and I held onto it the way Linus clung to his blue security blanket. (In this picture, I’m in the second row from the top, right in the center.)
I wanted more than anything to connect with all my students. I wanted to make the light come on for them, to be the guide who went beyond the lesson plan and taught them to believe in themselves. That’s when the magic happens—when we play a role in turning students into explorers whose own curiosity fosters learning and discovery.
The reality was that as good as my intentions were, I had a rough time at first. Caring for my students was never a struggle, but some days I felt totally on my own in my classroom—sort of like this.
Thank goodness for the colleagues who befriended, listened to, advised, and supported me! Thank goodness for Mr. Rasmussen and Mr. Poulsen and Miss Alvey and Miss Dobson and so many others throughout my Orchard Elementary career. Here’s your golden opportunity to be that person for the new colleague at work.
Each year, 200,000 new educators join our profession. No matter how brilliant, energetic, and committed they are, for some of them the very first year on the job may also be their last. That is partly because they are overwhelmed at the beginning and don’t know how to reach out for help.
More-experienced educators have an important role to play.
First of all, get to know the new teacher, guidance counselor, school bus driver, custodian, or school nurse at your school. This point in the school year is a good time ask how they’re doing, to offer tips or help with lesson plans, and to serve as an informal mentor.
Recounting your early days on the job would be helpful. Admit how overwhelmed you felt, and be sure to let your new colleague know that although the first few months are really hard, it does get better. Don’t make it a one-time conversation. Put a reminder in your phone to check in with them. These can be quick conversations—but the most important thing is to listen and connect, to be there for them. Make time for these “appointments” by remembering your own early experiences and how helpful it was (or would have been) to talk with someone who understood what you were going through.
Point your new colleagues to the resources designed just for them on NEA’s School Me site, including a podcast with tips from educators.
Second, ask these new educators to join you in your NEA state and local affiliate. Invite them to the next meeting and introduce them to the building rep. Let them know that their association is simply a team of people who support each other, and that no question or concern is too big or too small.
Emphasize that alone, individual voices are easy to ignore. But when we join together, we have a bigger and more powerful voice. That voice gives us a say in school- and district-wide policies that affect resources that schools and students have.
Coming together means we can also make a difference in demanding—and getting—the salaries, benefits, working conditions, and respect we deserve. Just look at #RedForEd and the progress educators in states from Oklahoma to West Virginia made because of it.
The strongest predictor of a new educator’s job satisfaction is how supported they feel, and in truth, the same goes for more seasoned educators. Forming friendships is especially important for newbies, as is figuring out how they can make a difference and have an impact on what happens in the workplace. Informally mentoring your new colleagues and encouraging them to join the union will let them know someone has their back.
By checking in and connecting with newcomers, you’re showing them that you have their back. In fact, you just might be the one who saves the day.