Why is the first year so difficult for new teachers? It doesn’t have to be.

Ellen Moir
New Teacher Center Founder and CEO

We all have a story of an amazing teacher who made a difference, or at least know of one. For me, it was my high school Spanish teacher, Miss Hayward. Miss Hayward was deeply committed to her students. She helped me to be the first in my family to attend college. Yet, I never thought of the challenges that Miss Hayward faced herself as a new teacher.

As a new teacher, Miss Hayward had to put into practice the many lessons learned in her preparation courses and experiences to reach a group of students she had never met, each with their own skills and needs. Imagine the stress of making sure 20-30 individual learners absorb your lesson of the day, let alone inspiring them to reach new heights.

Sure, Ms. Hayward was able to make a profound impression on me and address my needs as her student, but I wonder if every student felt the same impact. Did Ms. Hayward struggle in meeting my needs, let alone the needs of the 20 other children in my class?

As teachers across the country recently headed back to school, some for the first time, they faced entirely new classroom dynamics. With new students come new challenges, new opportunities, and new teaching methods that must be employed or even learned. Classrooms change from year to year—sometimes consisting of students facing extreme poverty, other times not—and teachers must also be able to shift. They must not only understand their own social and emotional competencies, but also their students’ and how it impacts classroom instruction. New teachers are unprepared for many of the challenges they will face in the classroom, but these challenges can be overcome with the proper supports.

From my nearly 20 years of working at New Teacher Center (NTC), in addition to my time teaching pre-service educators at the university level, I have seen these challenges first hand. I saw brilliant teachers leaving the classroom early in their careers at an alarming rate. They were overwhelmed and discouraged, and even worse, students were losing the best and brightest teachers.

I became convinced, through my own work and research, that new teachers everywhere lacked the support they needed to survive in the classroom and, subsequently, were failing and leaving the profession. Traditionally, feedback on how a teacher’s performance comes from sporadic classroom visitations, high-level insights into instruction, and little focus on how students are performing aside from standardized test scores. So, what do teachers actually need? Strong supports from teacher, school, and district leaders to feel confident in the classroom and better help students succeed. We need to build teacher and school leaders, instructional coaches, and teacher mentors who can provide evidence-based, consistent feedback on classroom instruction and a system that allows for such support.

We know that these supports work. The U.S. Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation (i3) Validation analysis shows that the New Teacher Center’s teacher induction model increases student achievement by up to 5 months of additional learning. This model promotes:

  1. High-quality, trained instructional mentors
  2. Frequent job-embedded feedback focused on instruction and delivered face-to-face
  3. Small mentor caseloads (no more than 15 teachers per mentor)
  4. NTC’s formative assessment system to guide instruction and student supports
  5. Consistent data for program improvement

Miss Hayward was not offered such supports and, sadly, wound up leaving the profession early in her career. These supports that are proven to work, proven to increase student achievement and teacher retention, are critical to helping teachers feel confident in the classroom, stay in the profession, and better reach their students. At NTC, we partner with states, consortia, districts, and schools, particularly low-income districts, to build such a system that prepares PreK-12 teachers to fulfill this role and prepare all students, everywhere.

To read more about what new teacher experience during their first year in the classroom, download NTC’s free resource, “From Surviving to Thriving: The Phases of First-Year Teaching.”

Collect Content