Sink or Swim?

Each year, I host teaching interns or student teachers (or both) as they move through teacher-preparation programs through local universities. During this process I am able to “pay things forward” by coaching other inspired people to be the best teachers they can be – and I get rejuvenated in the process. (It’s really a win-win situation).

Each year as the Instructional Leader for my department, however, I see not-so-winning situations as teachers leave their teacher-prep programs to enter their own classrooms and discover that there is no real “mentoring” program available to help them during their first few years due to budget cuts and/or the constraints of a bigger, public education machine.

In other words, they are left to sink or swim.

When I think back to the support available when I entered the profession about 8 years ago, I have to admit that I was subjected to the same mode of survival; I was hired at an education fair the week before students arrived, was given a teacher textbook, was shown a room that would be mine for a few periods a day (I had to travel to a few different rooms to teach) and was given a set of keys. For everything else, I was on my own. I remember attending some “newbie” classes from 4-6pm a few times per month, but remember wishing that I was in my classroom getting more done and/or wishing I could use the time planning with another teacher so that I knew whether or not I was on the right track.

Things I remember the most?

  • Feeling overwhelmed because I was only one day ahead of the students.
  • Never leaving my classroom during lunch because I had too much to do.
  • Crying a few times per semester after my last class left the room for the day.

Every teacher-leader-bone in my body knows that this kind of treatment for the newest members of our profession is wrong. I know that I was treated wrong. And I know that we are still treating our newbies wrong no matter how many after school classes we schedule for them to attend or how many times our one Instructional Coach can pop into their classrooms to hang out for a few minutes.

The more involved I get in education transformation efforts (I hate the word “reform” these days), the more I see power in the voices and stories of teachers. . .

So I turn to you members of society: what was your first teaching experience like? If you aren’t a teacher, maybe you know one? What was their experience like? Sink? Swim? How can we craft support structures to train and retain quality teachers?


Alaina Adams

Dr. Alaina Adams

Phoenix, Arizona

My name is Alaina Adams and I am a Board Certified educator who has taught a variety of English Language Arts classes in middle school, high school, and higher education contexts for the past 12 years. I am currently working as a leader in full-time training in the Phoenix Union High School District and love the new perspective it brings for teacher leadership development in my urban, secondary setting. In addition to working in an administrative capacity, I also coach teachers on my campus, district, and across Arizona as they engage with the National Board Certification process.
When not working towards total world domination, I am the mother of a teenage daughter, enjoyer of live music, and am an all-around text-messaging, Twitter-following, and Facebook-posting human being.

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