Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Dear Beginning Teachers

I've had many student teachers over the years and we always end up having a discussion about how they are going to transition from their unconventional and progressive student teaching experience to a conventional and traditional teaching position.

Since I started blogging in 2010, I've also received emails from beginning teachers asking how they should best go about teaching progressively in a traditional system.

Here's my message for those beginning teachers who want to be the change in the world that they wish to see:

You will need to work on two tracks.

In the short term, do everything you need to do to get a job and set your students up for success in the less than ideal system we have now. You will need to resist rocking the boat until you have some job security. You can only make a difference if you are in the system. If you are too vocal or uncompromising and get thrown out of teaching, you do no one any good.

In the long run, after you get some job security and some experience, you do can do everything in your power to change and improve the system.

In your early years of teaching, I do not recommend you take on the role of a system changer. Rather, you probably should stick with being a system dodger.

Here's how things worked for me:My first 3 or 4 years, I was a system follower out of some necessity for my own sanity.

Years 5-7 I gained the research and experience (plus I got angry and tired of traditional education) necessary to be a system dodger. Years 7 and on I have now gained enough experience that I am trusted and accepted as a system changer.

In your early years, do not try and change the system or it will simply chew you up and spit you out. Until you have some experience and you've had time to read and research more in combination with your experience, focus on system following and system dodging.

Oh and never try and do this all by yourself. You will need like-minded colleagues both in the real world and virtually. Trust me, the more you try and change the system, the more you'll be discarded as an outcast and a troublemaker. You will need a network to collaborate with.


  1. What a sad statement that is about our current education system. The challenge of "surviving" those first five years is daunting. Do everything you can to first get a job. Then you must toe the line for a few years until you have job security or else the system will chew you up and spit you out. Never try to be progressive on your own or you'll be outcast.

    When the teaching "profession" is described like this, why would anyone want to go into teaching in the first place? This is how the teaching profession treats its very own? Distrust, militant compliance, stifled autonomy, mandatory status quo dependence...it's no wonder we have the archaic current system we do. It's degrading (sorry about the pun) and the way in which the system views, thinks about and treats its teachers needs serious ideological reformation.

  2. As a student teacher that's in the midst of applying here, there and everywhere, I recognize that you can't enter into teaching trying to change the world. I just wonder, after 5-7 years of doing what's necessary to survive, how do you rekindle the fire when the time is right? I don't want to become complacent, but I can see it as a potential pitfall.

  3. Great post! I'm a preservice student teacher too. What you're saying does not just apply to teaching it's the same in a lot of other jobs too (I've witnessed some of this in past work). It's really unfortunate and I wonder if this is the reason why many teachers change profession within the first 5 years. The problem with teaching is that many of us have very good idealistic views on the impact of teaching but the system minimizes any efforts in that direction; so sad.

    I think the best we can do is, as you say, follow the system BUT do all you can within your own class(es) that promotes change.

  4. Excellent advice...coming a little too late in my case. As someone who started a secondary school teaching career in her late 30s, I didn't have the patience to play the game. I knew that my students were so much more capable, resourceful, creative, and intelligent than what the existing system was reinforcing. I pushed myself to provide every opportunity and support necessary for students to succeed and to enjoy learning, and sacrificed emotional energy, an extraordinary amount of time, and ultimately, a chunk of passion, toward that end. To me, it wasn’t radical or “changing the world;” I was creating an environment in which students could develop as thinkers and as people.

    But by the end of year one, enough students and parents in that small-town school fought so hard (and dirty) against meaningful learning experiences and student accountability that I was ambushed with a bogus administrative investigation (for which I was denied the opportunity to provide input or evidence). While not fired, I resigned at the end of April rather than sign a document that falsely accused me of failing to meet a laundry list of professional standards. I couldn’t revert to being a system follower under those conditions.

    If I had the ability to go back to 2010, I don't know that I would change much about how I came into my first secondary classroom other than reducing the amount of personal effort invested in attempting to carve out a dynamic learning community with engaged students, supportive families, and a collaborative school environment. Maybe I should have waited for an opening in a more positive and progressive educational setting…but the teaching license is only good for five years, and opportunities are limited in my area.

    In the meantime, I’m still searching for a secondary teaching position and questioning whether I am capable of playing the lecture-worksheet-test game that traditional schools claim they want to quit but continue to promote at the expense of student learning and teacher wellbeing.


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