Dr. Beth Ray from the department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at The University of Texas at Arlington shares advice for new teachers.
I have mentored new teachers for the last 15 years, and there are a few things I’ve learned along the way. At the beginning of the mentoring relationship, the conversations can be pretty superficial and focused on small issues like transitions or vocabulary wall placement. As the relationship deepens, however, new teachers begin to open up about their deeper concerns and struggles with the huge responsibility of leading learners.
New teachers often struggle to please their teammates and to work collaboratively after leaving college, and interpersonal skills and levels of introversion play a huge role in those relational struggles. But one key relationship that starts at the moment of hire plays a tremendous role in the future success of every new teacher – their relationship with the principal. Often feelings of euphoria and excitement following your hire – “the principal chose me!” fade by the grind of January. The holidays are over and the thought of three months until the next break combined with testing pressure and TTESS observations makes for a difficult Spring. Believe it or not, principals’ brains become strangely divided at this point- they must put all their energy and effort into reading student data and collaborating with teachers toward student testing success for each child and at the same time they must begin planning, budgeting, and staffing for the next school year.
This mix of strain and pressure and effort often leads to fewer hallway conversations and meaningful connections. Experienced teachers have lived this before-they unconsciously adjust their expectations for time and support from the principal. Often, experienced teachers would start asking my secretary the minor questions in January, and they also would preface conversations with words like, “Can I walk with you? I know you are headed somewhere but I need a second…” or “I know you are so busy so I wrote this email – will you just read and sign it?” New teachers don’t have this experience. You have never felt the odd cocktail of energy, pressure, and stress that Spring brings. So, after feeling ignored or after having an email go unanswered longer than you are used to- or after trying to talk to the principal and feeling like you aren’t important, new teachers call their mentors and say, “my principal hates me.”
No, new teacher, your principal likes you. Loves you even. They are so thankful you are there and that you aren’t calling a sub because things are hard and you want to go to Magnolia. Your principal was proud when they walked by and you were teaching your heart out. When you were on duty and the teacher next you was on her cell phone – you leaned down and talked to a student that was alone. Your principal talked to a parent today that was so thankful you took over yearbook and wanted to come thank you but just hasn’t had a minute to do it yet. Your principal saw your email and in the midst of all the other things decided to just answer in person since she hasn’t talked to you enough lately, but then got pulled for an emergency. Your principal likes you. You are appreciated, new teacher. You are loved. It’s just Spring.