The Phases of Teaching Every Teacher Experiences

Sometime back when I was reading about how to better help new teachers, I noticed a study done by Ellen Moir. In her study, she had observed the various phases that all new teachers experienced in their first year of teaching and used it as a method to assist teachers who are mentoring. What I found interesting as I read it was that all of the phases I thought very much described me as a teacher year after year in the classroom. After talking to many colleagues on the topic, I discovered that these phases are actually common phases for nearly all teachers each school year. Of course, not all teachers experience these phases, but I’m interested to hear whether these phases are dead-on with you, too! Either way, I think you’ll find it’s quite interesting!

Did you know that there are phases of teaching? A recent study showed five phases of teaching that new teachers tend to experience, but in my opinion I think that nearly every teacher experiences these phases of teaching most school years! Read about the phases and what happens during each one, and use the information to help mentor yourself or another teacher who is struggling.

The Phases of Teaching (Nearly Every) Teacher Experiences

1.)  Anticipation Phase – The first phase of teaching is at the beginning of the school year, just before it starts. It often involves pre-service preparation and carries into the first few weeks of school. Teachers are often excited and nervous about the new school year. New teachers tend to romance the role a bit and enter with a great deal of commitment to make a difference in the world and somewhat of an idealistic view of how to accomplish goals.

2.)  Survival Phase – The second phase of teaching is the first overwhelming month of the school year when things are happening at a rapid pace and there are a variety of problems and situations. New teachers often feel a bit caught off guard with the realities of teaching, because they did not anticipate many of the issues, and they have to move at a rapid pace in many areas. All teachers (new and veteran) feel like they are constantly running, trying to keep their head above water and are consumed with the day-to-day routine of teaching. While veteran teachers likely have reliable curriculum that they have used year after year (if they are lucky enough to work in a district where it isn’t constantly changing – most are not), new teachers are uncertain of what curriculum works (even when left with a cabinet full of curriculum or approaching online lessons) and, therefore, spend a large amount of time preparing lessons and curriculum to “find their style.” (And, with the bandwagon constantly changing, along with the curriculum…)

3.)  Disillusionment Phase – This phase of teaching is usually after 6-8 weeks of nonstop work, but the intensity and length of this phase vary a bit. New teachers start to question both their commitment and competence as a teacher. In addition, because they are stressed and vulnerable, many get sick during this phase. Many teachers start to realize that things aren’t going as smoothly as they would like. And, to make it worse, typically around this time, events such as back-to-school night, parent-teacher conferences, and first formal evaluations occur, so an already vulnerable person becomes more stressed.

Let’s take a moment to discuss those from the viewpoint of a new teacher, shall we?

The Parent Teacher Conferences – New teachers often start with the idea that parents are partners in education and are often not prepared for parents’ concerns or criticisms. This often throws them off guard a bit and hits them when their self-esteem is already at a place of feeling a bit incompetent.

The Back-to-School Night – The back-to-school night is typically different than an open house. At the back-to-school night, teachers often give an overview for the entire year, but since they are new, they may not know yet. In addition, some parents are uneasy with a new teacher and feel as if they aren’t experienced enough to handle a classroom (which is not true at all!). Because of this belief held by some parents, they can sometimes ask questions or make demands that can intimidate the teacher.

The First Formal Evaluation – Again, the new teacher is already feeling a bit anxious about their competence and ability to perform, in addition to not knowing what the principal is looking for, and the pressures of feeling the need to have a sensational “showpiece” lesson plan.

Keep in mind that veteran teachers can experience these issues, too, when switching districts or schools, even sometimes from year to year with the culture changing. Some parents just don’t have as much respect as they used to, and if you are changing principals, you also don’t know what they are valuing more than others.

4.)  Rejuvenation Phase – This phase of teaching typically begins in January after a long winter break. That break allows for a chance to have a normal lifestyle again, and the break allows the teacher to regroup on planning and organizing. The teacher’s attitude has renewed, and for the new teacher, there is a new understanding of the system, along with a new acceptance of reality. Teachers have gained some new ideas and strategies over break, along with some skills to prevent, reduce, and manage any problems they will likely encounter along the second half of the year. This attitude usually lasts until spring, with some ups and downs along the way.

However, toward the end of this phase, the teacher feels tired but is plagued with the fear of getting everything done before the end of the year, along with the pressure of standardized testing (if teaching a testing grade/subject), and wonder how the students will do on the tests.

5.)  Reflection Phase – This final phase of teaching usually begins in May. The teacher begins reflecting back over the school year and highlights events that were successful and those that were not. He or she begins to think about the changes for the next school year and may even visualize what will be different. Thus, the cycle begins again — the new phase of anticipation.

I can personally tell you I have been through all of these phases multiple times in my 12 years of teaching, and I’m pretty sure I could write another post very similar regarding the phases of students through a school year! 😉

The point of this post, whether you are a new teacher or a veteran, is that you are not alone and that it’s completely normal to go through these phases each year. It’s completely normal to feel like you are overwhelmed at the beginning of the year, like teaching just isn’t for you at one point, or worry about if you’ll complete everything in time. (And if you don’t experience these phases of teaching, find someone around you each year who likely is and help them through it!)  Just know there is light at the end of the tunnel, and before you know it, you’ll be fantasizing about how much better you’ll be next year!

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