You have received your notification for your very first appointment as a teacher. You have feeling of great excitement and some of trepidation. Excitement that after all that time in training and the hundreds assignments you have written have all paid off. You have been recognised by an employer as having the ability to teach.
The apprehension is about your feelings of competence and confidence. Teaching is a highly complex job. You ask yourself questions. Will the students respond to your style of teaching? Will they do as you ask them to do? Will they all learn what you teach them? How will the parents ,who have entrusted you with their children, like what you do to facilitate the classroom learning environment.
Experiences in those first few months last a lifetime. As a young teacher I remember my first class and those first few months as if they were yesterday. At a very small school a few kilometres from my home I struck out on a career in education that has lasted over half a century. I don’t blame my principal for his lack of mentoring skills; rather I know that he did the best that he knew how, given the skills, knowledge and understanding he had at that time.
We have learned so much about the importance of mentoring fledgling teachers since then. However the research is still showing that in Australia and New Zealand as in other countries in the Western world nearly one third of early career teachers ‘burn out’ or resign within the first three to five years.
An article in the Age newspaper in 2011 suggests that until we confront the reasons for these teachers leaving, we will not overcome the chronic teacher shortages being experienced.
It is not pay that early career teachers cite as the reason for leaving. Common reasons are given such as the
· disparity between their preparation and the expectations of the job
· feeling isolated and unsupported in their classroom
The nature of diversity of schools and their students and the perceptions of early career teachers about what being in charge of the classroom is really like can lead to frustration and feelings of being overwhelmed. Coming to terms with this can be learned by experience. If those teachers were supported by a trained mentor, they would deal with this disparity more easily.
Milburn quotes Downes (2011) in saying…
"Teaching is one of the few professions where beginners are put into the deep end, almost thoughtlessly. If governments are serious about reducing attrition rates and improving the quality of teaching, then where are the structured, systematic programs that ease teachers into the complexity and diversity of their work?"
Formally trained mentors whose work is recognised by time and funding commitments would be a good step forward to reducing attrition rates and improving the quality of teaching.
Let’s find ways to keep that initial excitement and enthusiasm going for the sake of our children and for the often idealistic early career teachers.