Teachers who worked in teams and with mentors, or who had continuous contact with other first-year teachers, relished the camaraderie. For many teachers, however, professional isolation proved difficult.
These teachers spoke wistfully of the need for more guidance and support from veteran teachers as well as opportunities to work closely with colleagues.
"I was surprised how isolated some teachers are. I believe that sharing ideas is what teaching is about."Colette L. Born, 5th grade, Idaho
"I felt alone. It was my challenge, my work. There was no one else to help me meet a whole array of new challenges. I had to meet them by myself."Catherine McTamaney, 9th-12th grades, Tennessee
"We are limiting ourselves by not being able to learn from each other."Michelle L. Graham, kindergarten and 1st grade, Minnesota
In contrast, teachers who received the attention and support of their veteran colleagues found the experience indispensable.
"I wouldn't be here today without my mentor. He's a math teacher, and we bounce ideas off each other. I didn't know what to expect, but I'm glad to have a mentor who is a lot like me."Jeffrey Nyhius, 9th-11th grades, New Jersey
"Mentors are very important. Every new teacher should have a mentor teacher who can help her or him to break in. It would also be helpful to connect first- and second-year teachers. The second-year teachers would have fresh memories of experiences that first-year teachers would encounter and would be able to give them some forewarning and suggestions regarding how to best handle those experiences."William C. Smith, 7th grade, New York
"Mentors are great. Our state mandated a mentoring system for first-year teachers. When we met we focused on one topic or need. It helped me to get concrete ideas, to know ahead of time what to expect, and to come to the learning activity well prepared."Rebecca Baumann, 9th-11th grades, Michigan
First-year teachers who worked in teams say the experience broadened their perspective.
"My team of teachers met every week and shared ideas. Sometimes we switched classes and taught portions of each others' classes. I had a lot of colleague support."Michelle L. Graham, kindergarten and 1st grade, Minnesota
"We paired fifth grade and kindergarten students together as Reading Buddies, which gave the teachers the opportunity to plan activities together and to understand each others' challenges."Colette L. Born, 5th grade, Idaho
In addition to creating work teams and assigning mentors, administrators can help first-year teachers by fostering a supportive atmosphere and convening teacher meetings.
"Have meetings that bring first-year teachers together. You find out that you are not the only one." Grace D. Clark, 9th-11th grades, Virginia
"All first-year teachers in my district meet three times a month. We wrote a journal every week with problems and successes. I was able to start using other teachers' ideas for my own classes. I bonded with the other first-year teachers. A total of about 80 to 100 teachers met in a school auditorium, broken into groups by grade level."Neal Downing, prekindergarten-6th grade, Washington, D.C.
"New teachers broke up into support groups at the same grade level. We were excited and upset about the same things."Michelle L. Graham, kindergarten and 1st grade, Minnesota
"Support from colleagues. Couldn't have survived without their help. Constantly went to colleagues and drew upon their experience and expertise. I never felt alone or stranded for ideas. I learned that teachers are a generous lot."William C. Smith, 7th grade, New York
Schools and districts that help teachers work productively with parents and foster parent cooperation reaped generous benefits.
" `Community Involved in Schools' is the slogan for our entire town, it's a banner as you enter the town. Parents are very involved. Parents get upset if a teacher doesn't call. It's easier for me to call home because I know I have parent support. The kids learn that, `Here's one person who cares about me for one third of the day, here are other people who care about me for the other two thirds of the day.' The parent/teacher/student triangle is easier to deal with."Sebastian C. Shipp, 9th-12th grades, North Carolina
"In our first-year teacher meetings we did practice telephone calls to parents and prepared for PTA meetings. We learned what we should discuss and how to approach different issues."Neal Downing, prekindergarten-6th grade, Washington, D.C.