Tuesday, September 08, 2009

CELEBRATING TEACHING, DAY THREE: SUPPORTING NEW TEACHERS BY JEN ALLEN

(This week, as many of us are in the midst of "beginning of the school year" stuff, we thought we'd spend the week celebrating teaching and teachers in different ways. Each day this week (through Friday), we'll have a post related to teachers--book reviews, reflections, etc.)


So much of who we become as teachers has to do with our first few years in the profession. I was lucky to get my first job in a great school with a great staff. My mentor and team of teachers were supportive and I always felt like I had a voice--that my ideas were valued. I started teaching long before we had any formal mentoring program but my mentor was the best--she brought me plants, shared ideas, gave me advice on challenges I was having, helped me get over the mistakes I made, asked for my ideas, and supported my ideas. She treated me as a colleague--a colleague who she enjoyed working with--from Day One. But more important was the fact that she got to know me as a person. She invited me to dinner, stayed after school to chat and shared her own struggles and challenges with me. I really couldn't have had a better mentor those first few years. Now, I oversee the Entry Year Program in our district so I have been thinking back to my mentor and my first team of colleagues. I could not have known then how lucky I was to be able to find my professional voice with such an amazing group of people. I have learned, over the years, that it is the relationships we build and the professional voice we find those first few years that sometimes mean the most in terms of our future as teachers. As a veteran teacher, I hope that beyond the formal mentoring programs that are now set by the district and state, I hope I can be the kind of mentor to new teachers who helps them feel valued, gives them a voice, and supports them along the way.

As part of my thinking about new teachers, I have found books to help me think about my work with them. One of the first books that I loved was TENSIONS AND TRIUMPHS IN THE EARLY YEARS OF TEACHING. Susi Long and the early career teachers who wrote the book spoke at a summer institute that I attended. You can hear a bit of their talk here.
I continue to learn so many valuable lessons from this group of teacher researchers. I learned that we often, unintentionally, silence our new teachers and many of them leave the profession because they don't get the support they need to make the vision that they had when they entered the profession a reality. It has been a book that I go back to as I think about how best to support new teachers.

Another book that I am VERY excited about is a new one by Jen Allen called A SENSE OF BELONGING. If you know Jen Allen's work (BECOMING A LITERACY LEADER), you know that she is a brilliant coach--working for years to learn how best to support teachers at all levels in their teaching. In this new book, Jen Allen focuses specifically on the needs of early career teachers. Jen knows that there isn't one thing that we can do to help teachers find their voice in the classroom. Instead, she has learned that there are several things that can work together to support new teachers and she shares each of these strategies in depth.

Jen starts the book by reflecting on her own first year in the classroom. For many of us, we haven't thought about that first year in a very long time, but for most of us, it was not an easy year. Jen is honest in her struggles and the questions she had about whether she wanted to stay in the profession. Luckily at the end of her second year of teaching, she was invited to join a group teachers who were working together to create a school within a school and was then able to feel energized by her work.

Jen uses her own experiences as well as the experiences of other new teachers and her work as a literacy coach to design routines to support new teachers in her district. She sees the issue of teacher retention as an important one and one that can be fixed with the right supports. This book shares the strategies and stories that have worked for her. She takes us through all of the ways that she supports new teachers--from building relationships to analyzing assessments to planning curriculum. She understands the kinds of things that new teachers are feeling at different points in the year and has learned to support them through some of these stages. Jen believes strongly in beginning teachers and she also believes that they deserve support those first few years in the classroom. She says,

"Teaching is too hard to go about it alone. It is too easy to lose momentum for our new ideas and become discouraged with the profession that at one point were were so excited to join. I believe that built in layers of support within schools can make a difference in our ability to retain new teachers within districts and our profession."

Jen also has a DVD set called LAYERED COACHING that ties into the work in this book. You can view a clip of the book on the Stenhouse website.

Jen Allen is committed to supporting new teachers. She knows that new teachers can't do it all alone and that there are ways to build a community that supports these new teachers in a school. For anyone who works with new teachers, this is a must read. For administrators, teacher mentors, people in state departments who work to design programs for new teachers, this is an amazing resource. We can all learn so much from the experiences she's had learning from and with new teachers in her schools. This book is invaluable.

(You can read Jen Allen's entire book online at the Stenhouse site. You can also join an online study group that Stenhouse is offering on the book.)

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