Becoming an elementary teacher means, at some point, a very first day of school as a teacher...and the first day of school is much harder on new teachers than it is on students.
All students have to do is decide if they love or hate their teacher and make new friends; a new elementary school teacher has to face 30 people - alone - and somehow get them to behave and pay attention, all while acting like she knows exactly what she's doing.
Scarier than they look
First-day nervousness (which may extend for a month or more!) is very hard on new teachers who may not have much experience with elementary classroom management and discipline. Considering that this lack of confidence may continue for a few years after becoming an elementary teacher - especially if the teacher is constantly moving grade levels - the high teacher burnout rate is no surprise.
And what is the impact on the real customers of the education process...the students? How much more does a student get from a seasoned, seen-it-all teacher than one who is fresh out of college and not yet ready for prime time?
The bottom line is the new teachers simply don't have enough hands-on time with children and the school and district administrative system to be truly prepared for how things are done. This is a public school reform issue: They are being failed by the very institutions that are supposed to fully prepare them for their jobs - education degree programs at their colleges and universities.
If we can all agree that there is no substitute for experience when becoming an elementary teacher, and experience only comes from direct student contact, just how much of this valuable contact has a typical education graduate obtained when they get their certificate?
I recall my teaching program very clearly, and I know that it was typical; a few weeks observing classrooms and a few months of semi- and full-time classroom control after discounting days off.
I was extremely fortunate to have previous time working in a school office and volunteering for my own kids, and had a great master teacher who was an absolute stickler for elementary classroom management and doing things right with "her" kids. How many of our up-and-coming teachers get this same benefit?
Far too many teachers enter the classroom who are woefully unprepared for what they will face, especially in the area of behavior management. Teacher burnout in a few short years often results.
Hands-on training is the norm for many professions who face stress on the first day of their jobs: pilot must fly many, many hours before they earn their license; ambulance technicians and nurses practice extensively on real people under supervision; police candidates spend hours on patrol with experienced officers.
These professionals must be able to perform on day one of their jobs because people's lives depend on them. They must have the fundamental of their occupations mastered without question or reservation.
Of course, students may not be at immediate risk like a heart-attack patient, but they can certainly suffer a huge setback in their education career by spending a year with an unprepared teacher. The risk may not be immediate, but it is real and life-changing...especially for kids who are already at risk of falling behind.
Students must advance every year in school or they will never catch up.
Just because we all went to school, we are not automatically filled with understanding of how it works day-to-day when becoming an elementary teacher. Details are important, and every job is important to learn, starting with the basics...like how to set up the lunch room tables and how to manage behavior at recess.
Public school reform truly starts at the bottom and works up!
Frankly, any beginning teacher who can't manage playground discipline as well as a noon aid has no business trying to exercise elementary classroom management...but this ability can only come from doing, not talking about doing.
NOTE: I recognize that implementing this program would require an extensive reworking of teaching institutions...but I also think "reworking" is needed!
Student interns should have plenty of experience in a wide range of job responsibilities and grade levels. The "on-the-job training" for becoming an elementary teacher might look like this:
Assisting in non-certificated areas during freshman year
Assisting in certificated areas during sophomore year
Assisting specialist areas during junior year
"Normal" student teaching during senior year
One this would do is to let a potential teacher know, without a doubt, whether they really wanted to pursue an education career by the time they finished their second year in college.
First days should not be so hard on our new teachers...or the students of those teachers!
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