I recently left the public school where I had taught for almost 15 years, the public school where I started my first teaching job ever. Though I learned so much working there and grew professionally every year, I was ready for something new. I was ready for more of a leadership role.
So I when I was offered a new gig as a Lead Instructor with Michigan Virtual University, I jumped on the opportunity. I had already been teaching with them part-time for a year, so I knew a little of what to expect. And though I’ll very much miss being in the classroom with students face-to-face, I’m excited to expand my reach as an online teacher. I’m looking forward to learning and mastering new ways to connect and teach students in a new environment. I’m thrilled to be leading a department of amazing teachers from all over the state.
Starting a new job is not easy for anyone. I was really good at my old job, and now I feel like a first-year teacher again with so much to learn. While I have a well-developed tool belt of teaching strategies at the ready, it’s different to apply those skills in an online setting. I’m learning, which is wonderful, and I do love it. The experience reminds me of what it’s like to be a first-year teacher again.
Some of my first interactions with the Michigan Virtual team members left me amazed. Upon meeting me, several MVU employees shared a phrase that I keep replaying in my mind. Are you ready for this?
They said, “You’re going to love it here!”
That’s exciting to hear for sure, but it got me thinking about being a first-year teacher in a Michigan public school. In all my years of teaching, no one EVER said “You’re going to love it here!” No matter how wonderful my previous teaching colleagues are, that is not something that veteran teachers say to new teachers. In 15 years, I never spoke those words to new teachers! I offered my help and assistance, guidance, mentorship, and lesson plans . . . but I never once said “You’re going to love it here!”
And isn’t that a huge problem?
I love teaching. Most teachers I know are truly passionate about teaching. The best parts of being a teacher — without question — are the relationships you develop with your students. I loved the kids in my room. I loved planning lessons that would connect with my students. I loved helping them consider new information in new ways. I loved the challenge of making my subject meaningful to them. I loved helping them through difficult patches in their lives. I loved being a part of their stories, their stumbles and their successes, even if only for a short time in their teenage existence.
No one says to new teachers “You’re going to love it here!” because they know the truth, and the truth is this: you are going to love the kids, and you’re going to love teaching those kids, but you’re not going to love all of the other parts that have been hoisted onto the shoulders of teachers.
Spending hours analyzing data, more hours preparing evaluation materials (I’ve seen teachers cart in their evaluation files and portfolios on carts with wheels!), and even more hours sitting through professional development that doesn’t apply to you will take valuable time away from the part of the job you love. Mandated writing assignments that require a minimum of 20 hours to grade during exam week might cause your head to spin. And even the most devoted teachers start to crack when several weeks of the year are spent rescheduling lessons so students can take part in district mandated testing that is separate from state mandated testing. You will feel powerless as a professional while decisions are made that affect you and your students, and you are not once given a place at the decision-making table.
Please know that these are not issues affecting one district in Michigan. I connect with teachers around the state, and I hear the same stories everywhere. Teachers love teaching, but teachers are unhappy with their jobs. And around the country, other teachers feel the same.
How can we take the job of teaching and make it again about teaching and learning? What can we do to make new teachers love it here?