Making Sure the "Newbie" is Okay!
By: Robert F. DeFinis, Ed.D.
In the United States, we know that summer is ending when we start to see the “back to school” supplies stockpiled at the local Walmart. Parents and educators are in a frenzy with all the preparation needed to get the academic year off to a great start, and all of this is occurring before one single leaf drops on the East Coast! During this time, I also like to remind administrators and seasoned educators to keep a protective eye on one group of teachers – the NEWBIE! Sure, there is a sense of excitement with obtaining your first teaching assignment and finally putting all that hard work into practice. However, there is a harsh reality as to why many studies suggest that north of 30% of new teachers leave the field in the first five years. This is why it is mission-critical to ensure that your school/institution has adopted best practices to support their needs, specifically their mental health.
As a new teacher, it is crucial to prioritize your mental health and well-being. You can utilize resources like teacher wellness programs, psychological well-being management, stress relief techniques, self-care habits, and professional support networks. These resources can help you maintain a healthy work-life.
Understanding the Challenges
Mental health and wellness are imperative for novice educators, as they can demonstrate a challenging progression from a student (or subject practitioner) to an instructor. As a new teacher, one faces numerous classroom difficulties, such as conduct management, student appraisal/evaluation, and curriculum alignment and delivery (just a few examples). These tasks require noteworthy intellectual exertion and energy that can affect one's mental prosperity.
As a new teacher, taking care of oneself should be a top priority. Establishing healthy self-care routines is essential for maintaining physical and mental well-being, mainly when dealing with the challenges of beginner teaching. Making self-care a regular practice can help manage stress, increase resilience, and prevent burnout. A few simple methods to get started include:
New teachers must create an effective support system to preserve their mental health. Finding the time, energy, and resources to establish relationships with colleagues and mentors can be challenging. Possessing a substantial support system plays a crucial role in dealing with the strains of teaching. One recommendation is to pair your NEWBIE with a mentor teacher early on. Whether there is a formal or informal process to your school’s mentorship approach, a new teacher should be paired with someone who can coach, support, and guide this new colleague in a professional and nurturing way. There are dozens of online resources to establish this process.
Effective Time Management
As a novice educator, it is essential to possess strong time management capabilities to remain on top. Effective time management can help teachers balance their personal and professional lives, reducing stress and burnout. A consistent schedule can reduce stress and improve productivity, allowing educators to perform more effectively.
Here's a helpful suggestion for new teachers who want to enhance their time management skills. Consider making a daily to-do list, allocating fixed times for planning and grading, taking regular breaks, and delegating tasks whenever feasible. Try to group similar tasks instead of multitasking to maximize productivity. I cannot stress enough that time management is a constant moving target. All professionals need to reexamine periodically their commitments and time allocation. It is easy to develop or fall back into bad habits.
Seeking Professional Development
For a new teacher, it's essential to consider the benefits of professional development for your overall well-being and mental health. Participating in professional development opportunities can keep you up-to-date with the latest teaching trends and provide valuable guidance on creating an effective learning environment for your students. It provides access to resources to help you manage stress and work-related pressures more efficiently. Attending conferences, workshops, or seminars is an excellent way for teachers to learn from one another and expand their knowledge base. While many new teachers come right out of college or from a teacher preparation program, there are teachers at the postsecondary level who come directly from industry. Getting these educators started on the right path with support and development in the art and practice of teaching is good.
As a new teacher, it can be challenging to find time for self-care. The demands of lesson planning, grading, and keeping order in the classroom can leave little room to prioritize personal needs and leisure activities. Practicing self-compassion can help you extend kindness and understanding to yourself and others. It's important to remember that everyone experiences hardships occasionally, and embracing imperfections without judgment or shame is okay. Self-compassion can also help you focus on your strengths rather than weaknesses, which can help you develop resilience when facing difficult situations like criticism or struggling with schoolwork. Engaging in self-care activities like meditation, yoga, journaling, or walking can help you develop self-compassion and take a break from work.
Recognizing Signs of Burnout
It's not uncommon for new teachers to experience burnout due to stress, anxiety, and the demands of teaching. Signs of burnout can include feeling overwhelmed and struggling to concentrate on tasks, emotional exhaustion, disconnection from colleagues or students, and a lack of motivation to do activities that used to be enjoyable. If physical signs such as headaches or insomnia arise, it's essential to immediately prevent them from worsening. I strongly recommend speaking with your mentor teacher (or administrator) to determine what internal services are available first. I have seen that a regular meeting cadence between new teachers and their support people/team can resolve many problems early on. It also establishes trust that the school and administrators are here for them and care.
While teacher well-being and mental health are essential for all instructional staff, we must be mindful that, like the new faces in front of them, new teachers are juggling many things with little reference and experience to help them navigate. This is why more seasoned educators and administrators can be of great value to the onboarding and overall retention of those we call the NEWBIE!