For a new teacher, starting a school year is a strange mix of excitement, anticipation, and-to be perfectly honest-even panic and terror. In my first year, I was told I would be given some of the most difficult students in the school to "try a fresh approach where other teachers had failed." I spent the weekend wondering if I could really fulfill those expectations. How well I remember the anxiety of the days before meeting my first classes, when I imagined the worst and believed that accepting that job might have been a dreadful mistake.
I later learned that such fears and misgivings are common among rookie teachers-as we were then called-and my nightmares about losing class control and getting lost in the building were not at all unusual. Although I managed to become a successful teacher with a long career, I have never forgot the rocky start of that first year, and have tried to make those roads easier for the beginning teachers I supervised.
It is estimated that more than two million new teachers will join the ranks in the nation's schools this decade, due largely to retirements, so the need for adequate support affects almost every district. While states such as Connecticut have certification programs that require trained mentors and continuous supervision throughout the first years of a teacher's career, such programs are the exceptions across the country. In fact, new teachers are often given the most challenging assignments in the most challenging schools, and work in conditions that do little to foster success. They essentially find themselves teaching in isolation with little monitoring or guidance, and almost no help for enhancing their skills and techniques. Little wonder that more than a third of new teachers leave the profession within the first three years.
Teaching is a profession where novices carry the same responsibilities and perform the same tasks as experienced professionals. It is easy to start out overwhelmed. New teachers have no choice but to hit the ground running with simultaneous demands to set up classrooms, plan lessons, organize materials, learn rules and policies, prepare student records, administer pre-tests, become familiar with school layouts, follow district schedules, try to motivate individuals at different levels and maintain discipline.
And, since the Internet has become central to K-12 education, they are also expected to integrate technology and Web resources into every phase of their professional lives. As Dan Hudkins, technology coordinator for the Sunapee, N.H., school system puts it, "the most important issue for first-year teachers is survival." Hudkins observes further that since the technology expectations of students drive the curriculum too, support for new teachers is needed more than ever for recent graduates and mid-life career changers.
The Web offers valuable resources and links to communities of beginning, and mentoring, teachers who can share experiences and offer advice to help make the critical first years of teaching successful. These include state-oriented sites such as Mentoring North Carolina Novice Teachers www.ncpublicschools.org/mentoring_novice_teachers and Support for Beginning Teachers from the Kansas National Education Association www.knea.org/resources/newteachers.htm, and the following:
Odvard Egil Dyrli, firstname.lastname@example.org, is senior editor and emeritus professor of education at the University of Connecticut.