A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

What to Expect Your First Year of Teaching, September 1998

Image of apple Challenges Image of apple

No one said it was going to be easy

And it wasn't. Shortages of money, supplies and planning time were commonly cited as obstacles to learning. Teachers also lamented overcrowded classrooms and stacks of paperwork that diverted their attention from their mission to educate.

Frustration took its toll on many teachers—the result of a nagging sense of deprivation. And teachers felt the pinch of limited resources in a number of ways—not just financially. Many teachers told stories of colleagues and parents who were stingy with their support, encouragement and involvement.

Another challenge was the diversity of student achievement and ability levels. Teachers often responded by trying to develop lessons that could reach all students, whatever their level of proficiency.

"The greatest difference between my expectations and actual classroom experiences has been the arduous task of balancing lessons that target the high achievers and low achievers in the same classroom. . . . During the first six weeks of teaching pre-algebra, I altered my teaching strategies to reach those students who counted on their fingers, those who multiplied and divided on a beginner level, and those who have surpassed all eighth grade objectives."—Lori G. Rich, 8th grade, Texas

"Every whole-class lesson I teach must account for James (who doesn't recognize half the letters of the alphabet) and Jessica (who is a very fluent reader)."—Amy D. Weber-Salgo, 1st-3rd grades, Nevada

"By October, I discovered that my students' developmental levels ranged from pre-primer reading, writing, and math levels to that of third grade. To accommodate the various levels, daily planning has required extra care and consideration to ensure that each child's needs are met. I constantly ask myself. . . . `How can I keep `Gabriel,' a very bright student who always manages to finish his work before the rest of his classmates, occupied for the last ten minutes while the rest of the class is still working and I'm still teaching a reading group? How can I continue to challenge and stimulate students who are at third grade reading and math levels while allowing students who are at pre-primer to second grade levels to keep their pace?' "—Phu N. Ly, 2nd grade (inclusive), Massachusetts

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Teachers spoke of demoralizing budget cuts and spending several hundred to over $1,000 of their own money to buy the books and other supplies they so desperately needed. One teacher created many of her own texts.

"Schools need resources! . . .We had to cut six teachers. They are cutting the library, cutting extracurricular activities. . . . What do you expect from us? We know why kids aren't learning!"—Kari A. Peiffer, 1st-4th grades, Montana

"The students are so needy. And, there's no budget. I had to do everything without money and beg, borrow or steal."—Lisa M. Shipley, 7th and 8th grades, Missouri

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Class size remains a vexing issue

"I have 38 kids and 34 desks. I hope they don't all show up for school!"—Katharine L. Hager, 7th grade, Hawaii "

Class size must be limited to 20 students. We are set up to fail with classes of 30-38 students. The kids feel ignored."—Grace D. Clark, 9th-11th grades, Virginia

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Teachers want more time and less bureaucracy

"We need time to plan. In my district, we only get 20 minutes before school and 30 minutes after school. It's simply not enough time. I think we should receive an hour and a half of planning time daily."—Melinda J. Stull, prekindergarten-5th grade, New Mexico

"Mountains of paperwork took away from teaching time and added to the level of stress. I'm in an affluent district, but the central office has lots of bookkeeping and we have to fill out forms in triplicate when we could do it on the computer. . . . I came from the business world, so it's even more frustrating."—Thomas R. Leinheiser, 3rd grade, Alabama

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Parents were a problem if they didn't participate in their children's learning. Sometimes, they were a problem if they participated too much.

"Lack of parental support was an issue. I didn't hear from my parents all year. . . .Why? I guess because the students are needy, parents are working, and the schools are intimidating."—Kerry Kapper, 5th grade (inclusive), Vermont

"My district is very political and the parents are horrible, asking to change grades, etc. I have no support from the administration. For example, one parent, a local doctor, called regarding his daughter's 89.3 and the guidance counselor stepped in and said he wasn't telling me what to do, but said it would be in my best interest to raise her grade. I didn't do it. I left the district after my first year because of the administration. Eventually, the parents backed off when I didn't bend. Administration constantly promised action and didn't follow through."—Jeffrey Nyhuis, 9th-11th grades, New Jersey

"The lack of parenting. Many parents were afraid to tell kids no when they needed to be told no. Many parents were in crisis and thereby placed their kids in crisis. It was so distressing. Teachers can only do so much if parents are not there to help. I grew up spoiled—I had great parents. So I was not really prepared for the problems I encountered that were the result of students who had not received good parenting."—William C. Smith, 7th grade, New York

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Mandated tests often set students' momentum back and ate up valuable classroom time.

"Some of my most serious problems related to the basic tests that were administered to my students. Some were not able to qualify for special education, others were not able to qualify for bilingual education. In other cases, I would build up the confidence of students to where they felt good about themselves and then the state slapped them down with a required proficiency examination that was too difficult for students at their stage of development."—Rebecca Baumann, 9th-11th grades, Michigan

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Sometimes new teachers felt like upstarts, bringing an infusion of energy and new ideas that were not always welcome.

"When you try to implement innovations, some people resist and it is no good. Much innovation is bottom-up driven—upper grade teachers are resistant to collaborating."—Scott D. Niemann, 3rd and 4th grades, Alaska

"It's depressing to be around people who've lost their love of teaching."—Sarah E. Drake, 9th-12th grades, Illinois

"Most veteran teachers are terrific. But it only takes one in a group to turn up the negativism."—Catherine McTamaney, 9th-12th grades, Tennessee

"My first year of teaching had some horrible moments. I was the youngest on the staff by 15 years, a man in a school with a staff that was 90 percent women, and everyone else was over 50 years old. I was new on the faculty, and I was also working as an administrator. My colleagues called me names, they couldn't believe a man my age had authority in the school. It was a complete surprise. In this school all the teachers had 20-plus years experience teaching. I didn't go through that system, so the teachers resented it."—Mark L. Bode, 9th-12th grades, Louisiana

"You may encounter negativity. Be ready for it. Remain focused on the positive others have to offer."—Sara M. Hagarty, 10th grade, Delaware

"All of us are here because we are who we are and we love what we're doing. Close the door, ignore whoever's giving you negative energy right now and be who you are."—Michelle L. Graham, kindergarten and 1st grade, Minnesota

[Introduction] [Table of Contents] [Tips and Strategies from First-Year Teachers]