Sunday, September 19, 2010

You are Not Alone - Lisa's Aha Moment

This weeks aha moment is shared by Lisa Dabbs one of the most inspiring and essential members of my PLN.  She is an Educational Coach and Consultant and also a former Elementary School Principal and Fed Prog.administrator. Lisa has a B.A. in Child Development and a M.Ed in Educational Administration. but started  her career as a Kindergarten teacher. She has also worked as a Project Director of a Language and Literacy program. Lisa is also the creator of the new teacher chat on Twitter #ntchat, which is NOT just for new teachers and involved in many other projects.  More importantly, Lisa is a friend and mentor to many and I was honored to have her share her moment with us.  Her blog is a must add to your RSS and she is always a must follow to any new educators that stumbles upon Twitter.  

Teaching  and Mentoring are my Passions!
Sometimes though, good teaching is lost in the busyness of life or due to challenging times, struggling students, feisty kids or tragically; lack of support.

Today is the sharing of my Aha moment. I’m so honored to be asked by Pernille Ripp to guest post on this “moment”. The moment I truly knew that I needed to start a “blog to mentor”. This came in February of this year when I sent a response to a young, new, would be teacher who posted on an education website that she was “Losing hope”…

The teacher will remain anonymous, but the cry for help is so typical of many, creative, enthusiastic  teachers I’ve met over the years. Starting their careers passionate about teaching, only to be cut off at the knees by one simple fact: the lack of a mentor who is willing to support, guide and inspire.

The teacher started the post by saying that they had a dream. A dream to be the best teacher they could be. To be the kind of teacher that students would be inspired by. Unfortunately, there were no clear expectations set for this teacher, and worse, no support. This teacher’s perception was that they would be supported, as a first year teacher. Not an unfair expectation by any means. Instead they were placed in a “sink or swim” position. So this teacher sank. And so did my heart…This is absolutely not what you do to new teachers.

Here is a bit of the response that I posted to this young teacher who asked for “positive and encouraging words”:
When I read your words, “I believe I was under the illusion that I had support and help from all angles, when in reality, I hadn’t felt more alone and lost.” My heart went out to you. I was an elementary school principal for 14 years. During those years, I consistently spent time mentoring, supporting, guiding my teachers. If you read the research on why young people like yourself leave the teaching profession, it turns out that it is exactly for those reasons you describe. A school should work to foster a culture where its teachers collaborate and learn from one another. This is at the heart of how educators grow as professionals. However, some of my administrative colleagues still struggle with this piece. We need to do so much better.

I entered the teaching profession at 24 as a Kindergarten teacher. I was fortunate to have come from a long line of educators. However, even with this “DNA” I still encountered a great deal of frustration and anxiety in my first year. I too am a VERY creative person, and I had many ideas about how I wanted to teach my class. I quickly learned, by observing the culture of my school, and having to share a classroom, that I had to harness that creativity into focused, structured, well designed lesson plans. I did so by incorporating those creative ideas in such a way that measurable outcomes were clear and evident. This meant including, sadly, assessments of my Kinders, even “back in the day.” I used a few highly recommended teaching tools from my Child Development course work, as well as others that were recommended to me. I also asked to “observe” other teachers at my school to get a feel for, once again, the culture of the school and what was going to be expected of me. I lived and breathed “teaching” those first few years, and spent nights and weekends reading, creating, planning, all things “Kinder.”  The kicker is I too felt very alone, as I did not have a supportive principal, or mentor colleague. My kinder team member was a tenured teacher who believed in “kill and drill” for Kindergarten kids and I was mortified!
The bottom line is that my first few years were rough!

What made me stick it out? I held on to my dream, desire and passion. I held on to the knowledge that I knew the research about what was good for children. I didn’t give up, even when 6 of my 8 K teacher team talked about me behind my back. Did I have a mentor teacher? No. Was it hard? Extremely. But I kept pressing forward because I believed in myself and cared deeply for my students.

We know so much more now about how to retain and support new teachers. The research is very clear and you need a good mentor (or two). You don’t have to stick it out alone, nor should you.
So, in the meantime, I extend a hand to you, as a “creative” tenured educator, if you’d like an on-line mentor. This is my passion. I’m here to offer help and HOPE. Don’t let this one difficult experience defeat you. You are not alone in the “tunnel”. The light is just up ahead. It’s time to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back in the game! I can hear them calling your name!

My Aha moment…my desire to “blog to mentor” and chronicle through photos, interviews and a few short words, what amazing teachers are doing to inspire is still evolving. The heartache this young woman felt, still resonates for me. It continues to motivate me to work to inspire, mentor, equip, teachers to “teach with soul.” I also hold fast to the belief that no educator should have to go through the challenges of the early years of teaching alone…ever. Through my blog and also on Twitter, I hope that I can come alongside and Mentor. The work ahead is challenging…but I’m excited to be on the journey!
When you reflect on your early years of teaching, how did you make it though the tough times? 
So grateful to you, Pernille for inviting me to share, my passion.


Mme Chiasson said...

Thank you so much for this inspiring post. I'm a first year teacher and it is so helpful to know that other teachers went through these hard first years as well. Thank you.

Cathy said...

You know, reflecting back on my first year of teaching, I have no idea how I survived! I was placed in a school where I was the newest and youngest staff member where most of the teaching staff had taught over twenty years and some only in that building. I learned pretty quickly that they expected me to experience my own 'baptism by fire' because they had done it that way. I remember a teacher coming into the staff room saying, "That is the 30th time I have done that lecture and that was the best!" When I showed initiative, energy and caring for the students I heard, "You neophyte, you are only doing that for your contract and then things will change." I was hurt and disheartened. I thought I was in the wrong profession and had made a huge mistake of choosing teaching. It got so bad that, at the end of Christmas break, when I said good-bye to my family and my father walked me to my car (I taught in a different city) I broke down and told my father I couldn't go back and that I couldn't do it any more. My father had no idea what to do with a grown-up daughter who had fallen apart. He told me that he believed in me and that he knew I could do it. He hugged me and finished off by saying, "I love you" which he had never said to me before :-)

After that moment I knew that I could pick myself up and keep going and make change one student at a time. I would focus on my relationships with my students rather than my teacher colleagues. I couldn't waste any more energy with them and I would not survive having them bringing me down all the time. I relied on my family and friends to support me when I needed encouragement.

Gladly, when I transferred to my second school everything turned around. Teachers collaborated, helped each other, were willing to take risks and taught for the students. Thank goodness I 'toughed it out' as this is where I should be. My experience is not how it should be for new teachers but I am comforted to know that many school districts are making new teachers a priority by providing mentors and various other types of support. I also realize, as I respond to your question, that I learned about the power of words that we use with students and with each other. After 20 years I can still hear those words directed at me and they still seem as raw as the day I heard them.

Brette Lockyer said...

Cathy, your reflection hit the spot with me. Is that what gets us through, one person who believes in us, and wants us to become the best we can be, just like your father?
This 'baptism by fire' and knocking down of the neophytes that I too experienced led me to vow that I would never treat a graduate teacher like that.
Why was it like this? Time to stop passing on the fear, pain and anger to graduate teachers. I believe that there is more nourishing support now, particularly through online PLN's.
The one sustaining aspect of my early career was my own children's school,
The teachers there were such great examples to follow. Because of them I kept my values and dreams in sight.


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