Sunday, November 1, 2015

It's a Slippery Slope!

November is a challenging time of year for teachers.  In my previous work as a mentor trainer, I often shared a graphic with new mentors that identified different phases of the teaching year.  The graphic showed a teacher literally sliding down a mountain, reaching the bottom, and then slowly climbing back up.   Months of the school year were clustered into categories.

As the slope heads downward it correlates with months of the school year.  Each month is not exact for each individual teacher, but the relationships are generally pretty solid. The phases follow this sequence:
  • Anticipation-August
  • Survival-September-October
  • Disillusionment-November-December-January
  • Rejuvenation-February
  • Reflection-April-May 
  • Anticipation-June
Now that November has arrived, we've reached the "disillusionment phase".  The phase when teachers are easily overwhelmed by the job and become disillusioned with the profession due to the sheer mountain of work it requires.  Pile on parent conferences, progress reports, student challenges, scheduling, assessments, budget discussions, little or no time for family and we can easily be done in!  Talk to any teacher, in any building, any state, any level of experience and I think you'd find many are at this phase.

I recently read the results of a survey at This survey identified four teacher "types".
  • The Idealist-Teachers who care about making a difference for students AND society as a whole. This group identifies improving social justice as a key component of their job.  These teachers often choose where they will work based upon where they can make the biggest difference.
  • The Practitioner-Teachers who are focused on the development of their own students.  These teachers enjoy their craft, and are committed to professional development.  When looking for positions practitioners look at the "character" of the school. 75% of practitioners would recommend teaching to their younger selves.
  • The Rationalist-Teachers who joined the ranks for practical reasons.  These teachers believe they can make a difference, but also know they need a good job, and will choose to work at places  that provide a good quality of life.  Rationalists can be on the negative side, "The Guardian" identified  50% of rationalists consider leaving the profession.
  • The Moderate- Teachers who are in the "middle of the road", they typically don't have strong opinions and end up staying in teaching for ideas from a love of their subject matter to the pure need for a job.  There appears to be no one factor that keeps these teachers in the profession, 50% of them would not recommend the job to their younger selves.
So ,what do these two ideas have to do with each other?  Honestly, I've got no scientific connection, but I do think we all got into this profession for a variety of reasons. At any given time we might find ourselves an idealist, practitioner, rationalist, or moderate teacher.  I think it depends on the time of year, and the current challenges we're working on.  As we sit in our disillusionment phase in the dark days of November and December, maybe a bit of reflection is in order.  Why did I choose this profession?  What type of teacher am I on any given day?  How can I make a difference for my colleagues and help pull them back up the mountain?  The possibilities are endless, the opportunities extreme.  I know this next week I'll try to do my best to be an "idealistic, rational, moderate, practitioner" and support my colleagues as we continue this journey together.  If the crampons are necessary, I'll put my own on and then help others secure theirs as well.  My goal will be, that our students will benefit from the effort.

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