Welcome to Language Latte: a conversation about teaching world languages. This is Becky Morales from Kid World Citizen, and I am your host. We finished season 1 at the beginning of the summer, and now this is the first episode of season 2. Today is all about supporting new teachers. From mentors to training, we will discuss what actions new language teachers can take to be successful and also how schools can successfully provide support for them. Treat yourself to a latte, and settle in, so we can start our chat!
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In every episode of the Language Latte podcast, I examine issues that world language teachers face when trying to help our students achieve proficiency. If you go to KidWorldCitizen.org and click on podcasts in the upper righthand corner, you will find a complete listing of all of our episodes along with their thorough show notes, relevant research, and additional resources and links. Also we talk about language acquisition and learning in our Language Latte facebook group. Join us, ask questions, and meet other passionate language teachers from around the world.
In this episode we are discussing new teachers: whether they are new to the profession, new to the school, new to the content, or even teachers who are trying out a new method. What are the key action items new teachers can do to relieve stress, and have a manageable work-life balance? What is the role schools play in supporting new teachers, and the best types of support we can offer our new colleagues? Looking at attrition rates- why is this support important and necessary? Let’s first look at what the research says about supporting new teachers, plus best practices, and then I’ll interview Diego Ojeda- a teacher with 30 years of experience in classrooms from Colombia to the US.
For beginning teachers, the notion of sink or swim has been common. In recent years, however, school-based mentoring programs have been developed to provide in-house support for teachers. Educators know- and common sense tell us- that developing and supporting high quality, engaged teachers ensures a strong teaching workforce. You will have better teachers and lower attrition if new teachers are provided with more training and preparation.
First, many have high expectations. For example, 58% of new teachers report that the number of hours they work is higher than expected. Other gaps between expectations and disappointing realities include lack of instructional time, insufficient resources, and low pay. When expectations are not met, the results can be devastating for the teacher, and can push them out of the education field. Aside from unfulfilled expectations, there is also a loss of quality teachers due to inadequate support.
Discipline and behavior management issues are consistently listed in the top 5 concerns for new teachers. In fact, 20% of new teachers say that they were not prepared to maintain order and discipline in the classroom.
One-quarter of teachers report that they were not prepared to work with children with varying abilities during their first teaching positions.
One-quarter also report that they were not prepared to engage families in supporting their children’s education.
Alternative certification routes have high attrition rates from teaching, and many new teachers coming in through those routes report that they are not well prepared to teach.
New teachers also reveal high levels of stress from many of the same challenges experienced teachers describe—larger class sizes, fewer days in the school year, reductions in the number of reading specialists and tutors, growing poverty and homelessness among children. All of these contribute to and affect the level of learning, and influence achievement gains, and yet learning is often being attributed to the teacher alone. And teachers who teach the highest-need students are most affected by both the unfairness of current education policies and the bias in teacher effectiveness ratings.
We know that teachers who are fully prepared stay in teaching at much higher rates than those who lack these key elements of preparation. For example, those who have done student teaching (which we find in the traditional certification) are less than half as likely to leave after the first year as those who haven’t student taught. Those who have had a chance to study child development, learning, and curriculum are less than half as likely to leave as those who have not had those opportunities.
But the preparation is only part of it. For new teachers in the classroom who have had coaching, been observed in their classrooms, and seen other people teach are less than half as likely to leave within the first year.
Let’s look at proven, effective steps schools can take to retain new teachers through support programs.
ASCD, which is The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development asserts that “It’s really important for beginners to have systematic, intense mentoring in the first year. Having weekly support and in-classroom coaching in the first year for fine-tuning skills, for planning lessons, and for problem solving about things that come up in the classroom ensures that someone experienced is there during the critical moments of the beginning teacher’s first year.”
About three-fourths of new teachers in the US report that they have participated in an induction program and have had a mentor teacher assigned to them. In Australia, the number rises to ⅘.
The 2006 Metropolitan Life Survey of the American Teacher found that having a mentor during the first year of teaching significantly increases the odds that a teacher will stay in the profession. Half of teachers who are staying in the profession were assigned a mentor during their first year of teaching, compared to only 29% of those who plan to leave.
Not having a mentor can cause many new teachers to feel isolated during the critical early years when individuals opt to either remain in or exit the profession. As one former teacher who had not been assigned a mentor commented, “I felt lost and confused and unsupported.”
Did you have a mentor when you were a first year teacher? I did not, and I’m feeling a bit left out. Tweet us with #languagelatte and let us know how your school supported you the first few years, or join the conversation in our Language Latte facebook group.
Aside from mentors, what else has been effective to support new teachers?
Beginning teachers report that greater connection with experienced teachers is desired. What great school teams know is that you support teachers by arranging group collaboration opportunities where teachers can plan curriculum together. By structuring professional learning communities, and by encouraging inquiry into practice, teachers are given the opportunity to grow and learn.
In addition to providing connections with other teachers, principals and directors of schools believe in-house continuing education and training can prepare new teachers to meet the realities of the classroom and narrow the gaps between expectations and experience. Two areas of training that education deans/chairpersons believe are very important for new teachers are workshops that provide training in working with children with varying abilities and working with children from diverse racial or ethnic backgrounds.
The Education Partnership in the UK recommends creating opportunities where new teachers are able to ask questions of experienced teachers, and holding an employee induction program. They also advocate a follow-up from the teachers’ education universities (especially through email or facebook) as a way to bridge the university community from pre-service, into the classroom.
Online communities, such as our Language Latte facebook group, allow new teachers to chat with experienced teachers, but also become a searchable database of FAQs, free resources, links to useful web sites, and online resources.
I think we can all agree that we don’t just want to make sure beginning teachers survive, but that they also become competent and effective—and stay in the profession.
Finally, new teachers thrive when work-life balance is achieved.
The Education Support Partnership in the UK offers a tool for new teachers in the form of a stress test, which I will link to in the show notes. It helps you reflect on how you experience stress and which areas might need some attention.
Their sound advice has three parts, all equally significant.
- Plan your worklife balance- intentionally, purposefully. They found that teachers do 20% of their work before school, after 6pm, or on the weekends. Think about that. Examine all of your work- and determine which patterns can you change. Write specific goals, like “I will finish no later than 6pm on weekdays.” Or set freetime on weekends.
- Get enough sleep. I personally cannot emphasize this point enough. You get your immune system down by staying up late to grade multiple nights in a row, and it is hard to overcome the cumulative loss of sleep. Place a priority on your health. Don’t bring work into the bedroom.
- Finally, say no. Naturally you are trying to impress and share enthusiasm, but the additional workload can cause a lot of extra stress and be a time sucker during your first year. In one case study I read, a school forbid first year teachers from leading any extracurricular, so they could focus on on teaching. You will get to a point in your career soon that you have more time to be an amazing coach, and lead a groundbreaking committee. But for the first year, contrary to the advice I heard as a new teacher “to say yes to everything,” hold back until you are more confident in the classroom.
Interview with Diego Ojeda: Supporting New Teachers
Our guest today is Diego Ojeda, the World Language department chair at Louisville Collegiate School in Kentucky. Originally from Colombia, he has over 30 years of teaching experience. Diego is a frequent presenter at conferences for world language teachers, and also shares his knowledge and experience as the founder and moderator of the popular #langchat and #charlaele1 twitter chats. (See how to join twitter chats here). I am really excited to talk to you today Diego!
1) Tell me about yourself (your background or teaching experience, what you’re doing now)
Hi Becky, my name is Diego Ojeda, I currently teach Spanish IV, AP Spanish language and AP Spanish literature at an independent school in Louisville, KY.
I have been teaching for 30 years, 19 of those in the US and 11 in Bogota, Colombia, where I’m originally from.
I’m also an editor of Spanish fiction books and I have been training Spanish teachers around the country for the last 10 years. I’m a reader for College Board, AP Spanish exams and I love to present at local, state and national language conferences.
2) Can you tell me how your first year of teaching went? Did you have a mentor, or any types of programs at your school to support you during your first year?
Wow! So long ago, I can’t even remember. Just kidding. I do remember very well my first teaching year. I remember that I had no mentor, and while that can probably sound like a bad thing, it really wasn’t. I remember my excitement to finally being able to teach a class, and no one was there to tell me that I should do this or that. Is not that I’m insinuating that mentors are not important but according to my experience as a first year teacher without one, I believe that mentors should be assigned during your second year of teaching, not during your first one. During your second year, you have seen enough to know what kind of questions to ask, and you have seen yourself teaching and probably discovered your strengths and your weaknesses. Sometimes we are assigned a mentor more so the new teachers learn all the clerical stuff at school, things that sooner than later you will be learning anyway.
This leads me to the question of what kind of mentor should a language teacher should be assigned. Many times I have seen administrators choosing mentors based on how veteran they are and very few times I see them choosing other language colleagues as mentors for new language teachers. As language teachers, it’s very important to have a mentor who is more like your colleague and someone you feel confident to exchange ideas and chat about language instruction.
I believe that any new language teacher deserves to have their whole language department as their mentor during their first year. This will increase and accelerate the learning curve for the novice educator.
3) What do you think the biggest challenges are for newer teachers?
That’s a great question Becky, because the challenges are tied to each individual’s experiences. What made them become a teacher? Where did they go to school? What are their connections with the target culture? Is this a first, second, or even third profession for them? Did they get the job at the school they wanted to work for? So many variables that there’s no one single answer to that question. This is exactly why new teacher mentor programs shouldn’t be cookie cutted. They should, like we do in the classroom with our students, programs that consider and are aligned with the individual and personal experience and goals of each new teacher.
With that said, I believe that the biggest challenges for new teachers is to not being able to be themselves. Becky, do you remember your first year teaching? Do you remember your first month? your first week? even your first day? Everytime I ask this questions to our colleagues, they all coincide in pointing at one common feeling: excitement. Sometimes there are mentor programs that cut your wings, so to answer your question again, I believe that the most difficult thing for new teachers is to not lose their identity, their essence, that thing that makes them unique and that is always showing why they became language teachers.
Becky, I know that today we are talking about new teachers, but we must understand that no matter how many years of experience you have, you can always be in a “new teacher” situation, like when you change schools and after 20 years of teaching you are assigned a mentor, or when you have discovered a new approach to teach languages that totally changes the ways you have been teaching. In these two situations, you are a new teacher and you probably could experience the same challenges a young, new teacher can experiment. My answer will always be the same, keep the excitement, be yourself, listen to your mentor but do not trade your identity.
4) There are two subjects that come up frequently when I speak with new world language teachers. First, it is the feeling of being overwhelmed, specifically with trying to speak in the target language during class. The second issue is tied to that: new teachers frequently mention classroom management, especially when trying to stay in the target language. What do you think would help these teachers, to get a handle on these issues?
You are right Becky. Sometimes I think that ACTFL expectations are geared more to teachers with 5 or more years of experience and not to novice teachers. Teaching is not easy and we can’t pretend to learn from a manual or set of recommendations. Language is life, so teaching a second language is somehow teaching about life, but the issue is that no one can teach about life without listening to other ans without being part of a community. So my advice is the same advice that Ben Slavic and Tina Hargaden have been giving to teachers for a while. First create community in the classroom, then start using the second language making sure that anything you bring up is relevant to the students. Show them that you care, but in order to do that, you really need to care. Look Becky, I have not being the same teacher durung my whole life. I have to confess that there was a time when I was teaching just because it was my profession and I wanted money to survive. For awhile I only “cared” about my students while I was at school but when I got out of there everyday, I didn’t want to even ear their names. I wasn’t honest to them and worst, I wasn’t honest with myself. Kids are great at reading their teachers faces and feelings, they know immediately who really cares about them.
My discipline issues stopped the moment my students were able to read in my face and in my attitude that I was more concerned about themselves than about me looking like a bad teacher.
Regarding speaking the target language, I know that ACTFL would love to see us using 90% of the TL during our instruction. That seems almost impossible but we are fortunate to be living in a great time for second language acquisition research and practice. Now we know that comprehensible input allows us to keep even 100% of the class time in the target language as long as we are comprehensible and as long as we make it varied and relevant to their lives. I recommend:
- A Natural Approach to the Year by Tina Hargaden and Ben Slavic (and A Natural Approach to Stories)
- Anabelle Allen’s blog to learn about some of the language brain breaks she uses in her classes
- Sarah Breckley’s classroom videos
- Ashley Uyaguary’s games and deskless classroom ideas
- Listening to podcasts like this one, Language Latte, Inspired Proficiency and We Teach Languages. In each one of them, you will find the advice of many amazing world language teachers who can inspire and guide new teachers.
5) What are some ideas for new teachers to do that can alleviate stress and anxiety?
First of all, be very organized, Know the clerical stuff, know your kids names, ask them about their likes and dislikes, know how to get professional development opportunities, and make a huge poster with the daily schedule to post in their classroom, one of the most common pitfalls of new teachers is to cut class too short or go too long because they are not used to school schedules.
I will also recommend not to burn themselves by staying at school till 7:00 pm! Teaching languages is not about quantity, is about quality and usually less is more. A relaxed and healthy teacher is more important than a stressed and tired one with a bunch of activities that won’t make a lot of sense to students and are not conductive to acquire a second language.
Any teacher could avoid a lot of stress if they are tolerant and open to any kind of questions. It’s very important to remember that we are working with kids, with teenagers who are still trying to figure out how to survive in this society so we can not get easily upset when they say or do the wrong thing. I can give you an example, recently a student texted me by mistake with a very bad word thinking that she was texting to a friend. Well, the first thing that came to my mind was when I sent my principal an email meant to my colleague where I was complaining about some administrative decisions! We must remember that we are all humans and that our students are learning how to be resilient ones.
Also, it’s important to always be an innovator, someone who brings new ideas. Administrators are more inclined to leave you alone if instead of having to tell you what to do, you propose new ideas and show autonomy. Sometimes we wrongly accuse administrators to be micromanagers when in reality it’s our fault for not taking the initiative.
Finally, eat smart, be in shape and make your personal life and example of you want to be as a teacher. Teaching is a life project, not just a profession.
6) Where can our listeners find you, if they want to learn more?
Teachers can find me in every situation they live in their teaching careers, I am another language teacher and we are all here with the same goals. I’m very active on Twitter and I also have a blog for Spanish teachers that you can include in the show notes. I’m available for consulting as well.
Thank you so much Becky first for your amazing podcast and for inviting me to participate in it.
So here we are! I hope that you’ve gotten some great takeaways from Diego whether you are a new teacher, or you have new teachers in your department. If you enjoyed this episode, please share our podcast with your friends and colleagues! I also love reading the reviews at the itunes store. Every time we get a review, Language Latte will come up higher in the search for more teachers. Finally, if you have more questions, or if you have great ideas that work in the classroom, we talk about language teaching 24/7, in our Language Latte facebook group, and I am also on twitter @kidworldcitizen.
I love to chat about questions or hear feedback you have about this episode, and to gather your ideas for future shows. Tell us what you’re doing in your language classroom!
To never miss an episode, subscribe on itunes, or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts. Language Latte is made possible by OneWorldTrek.org: language and cultural immersion travel for teachers in Mexico. It was so nice to meet you all. I look forward to chatting next time, and hopefully collaborating in the future! Until then, ciao!
Additional Resources and Works Cited
Scherer, Marge. (2012). The Challenges of Supporting New Teachers: A Conversation with Linda Darling-Hammond. Educational Leadership, 69(8), pp. 18–23.
Kelly, N., Reushle, S., Chakrabarty, S., & Kinnane, A. (2014). Beginning Teacher Support in Australia: Towards an Online Community to Augment Current Support. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 39(4).
See Wei, R. C., Darling-Hammond, L., & Adamson, F. (2010). Professional development in the United States: Trends and challenges. Dallas, TX: National Staff Development Council, p. 28.
Survive and Thrive as a New Teacher. From: the Education Support Partnership (UK)