A “new teacher” is defined in many ways. You can be “new” entirely to the profession, “new” to a school, network, or district, or “new” to an assignment. There are many firsts for a first-year teacher.
Regardless of what kind of “new” you are, the work of a teacher is challenging, difficult and every other synonym you can imagine. I started my career as a middle school math and science teacher in Merced. Like every other “new” teacher, my classroom and my students were both my professional and social life that first year.
I planned all weekend long but that usually only got me as far as Tuesday. Then it was “night shift” for the rest of the week, only to be followed by another weekend of planning and learning. That’s what beginning teaching is like and it doesn’t change until year 3 or 4. But planning, learning, trying, failing, and trying again is what teachers do and it’s why the profession is such a noble and dignified one. It is “service over self” and the joy that comes from making a difference for young people and their futures.
In today’s pandemic world, every teacher is a “new” teacher no matter how many years of experience or accolades are under their belt. The newness is in developing a fluency with distance learning, adjusting to interacting with students over screens via Zoom, Webex, or Teams, and fostering connections amidst unstable connectivity. Educators are teaching young people through a screen where you can see their parents and siblings walk by, with students seeing that many of their teachers do have lives and families of their own – and with teachers’ own children seeking answer while they are teaching others.
So now it’s a stretch of night shifts for the 3.3 million teachers across our 50 states. They are all “new” and working under the most challenging of conditions. Imagine those who are “brand new” in multiple ways, as in “first year teacher in a new school teaching a new subject in a virtual setting;” that’s a degree of difficulty no Olympic diver would try. But we expect it of our teachers because we believe in the power of public education.
So let’s be real. Let’s be patient and let’s celebrate teachers and their unwavering commitment to their craft and their students. Perfecting distance delivery takes time. Let’s acknowledge that the more you work at this delivery, the better you get and so will your students’ learning. That’s our reality.
Don Shalvey is the CEO of San Joaquin A+, a nonprofit organization of educators, business leaders, active citizens and philanthropists based in Stockton that works to improve local schools.