Our topic during this module centered on adult learners, how they learn differently, and what research says about the role of peer coaching. While this information definitely applies to learners in every stage of their teaching career, I have been particularly struck by how the research impacts the experiences of new teachers.
As I think back on my first years of teaching in 2000 and compare the new teacher support then (or lack thereof) with the new teacher support offered today, I see a huge discrepancy both in the support available as well as how that support is structured. I was assigned new teacher support person during my first two years of teaching but I had no idea as to what the structure of this support was supposed to look like or how to utilize the support resources that were offered. I was definitely in the survival stage and concerned primarily with basic survival and emotional safety as described in Zepeda’s Career Stages chart and the comparison chart of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Teacher Career Stages (Zepeda, 2012, pp.56, 59). I also had a unique first year situation in that I had graduated with my teaching degree 14 years earlier. During those interim 14 years my life took a different path that included working in a variety of environments – none of which were in education. I had no teaching experience, no substitute experience, and no teacher professional development whatsoever.
As I read and discussed Zepeda’s writings about authentic learning (2012, p. 60) I now realize that the learning I experienced during those first years was not authentic in regards to structure and appropriateness. I was not aware of any clear choices available to me in regards to what my learning should look like (structure) nor was my learning differentiated to accommodate my unique experiences (appropriateness). As a result, I believe that I experienced a first year learning curve that was unnecessarily stressful and nearly resulted in my decision to not continue on as a teacher. Considering how blessed I feel right now to be a teacher, this would truly have been a tragedy!
This module has allowed me to reflect on my own past learning as a new teacher in light of current research on adult learners. As I interact with new teachers today, I am able to see firsthand how the application of this research is beneficial and can result in teachers that are more confident, empowered, and better prepared to tackle the day to day challenges we encounter in the teaching profession. In this SPU cohort I am fortunate to interact with teachers that I respect and admire, several of whom are in their first couple years of teaching. I hear comments regarding the tremendous support they have received from their mentor teachers and how this support extends into subsequent years. They also recognize that this support is not uniform across districts. Hopefully new research in this area will make the practice of mentoring new teachers more of a rule than the exception. I appreciate this opportunity to better define where my struggles were as a first year teacher so that I can, in turn, be a better support to my peer teachers who are in the formative years of their careers right now.
Zepeda, S.J. (2012) Professional development: What works. Larchmont, New York: Eye on Education