Q: My daughter is a young teacher in a tough middle school. She's taught for two years. She still loves the kids, but the stress is taking a physical toll. I hate to see her leave a career she's always wanted. The district doesn't have a program to mentor new teachers. Is there anything I can do to help pull her through this?
A: You're doing some of the most important things by providing an ear and perspective. Up to half of new teachers leave within their first five years, according to research by University of Pennsylvania professor Richard M. Ingersoll, Ph.D.
Chances are good that your daughter has gone through the toughest phase. If she can stick it out, the experience will make her more resilient. Most teachers say they only start to get comfortable with what they're doing in the classroom in their third year, explains Jane Close Conoley, Ph.D., dean of the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Does your district offer structured support? Many do. The University of Miami Support Network for Novice Teachers offers practical advice and mentoring. The American Psychological Association has adapted the network's approach in a module for new teachers on stress management. Check out the APA Teacher Stress Module at www.apa.org/ed/schools/cpse/activities/teacher-stress.aspx.
The lack of a formal program shouldn't deter your daughter from finding the support she needs, says Russell Bourne, Ph.D., president of the Florida Psychological Association's Palm Chapter. "Mentors are where you find them, and that is usually wherever you look," he says. "Often the new teacher is limited to those who know her world of the classroom."
Encourage her to also have conversations about the importance of her work with folks outside of education -- others in the community who value commitment and excellence in our classrooms. Scott Trumley, a New York educator, recalls speaking to a local Rotary Club during his first year on the job. "I was raising money for a field trip," he says. "I told the group of my hopes for these kids and all my frustrations. One member, a judge, said to me afterward, 'Call me after your worst days.' Those talks helped me grow.
"I'm now an assistant principal helping new teachers stay in the profession."
Beyond the advice inherent in those conversations, your daughter will benefit from articulating her thinking. Paraphrasing German novelist Hermann Hesse, Bourne says: "'Everything becomes a little different once it is spoken out loud.' So, maybe the new teacher simply needs to have more conversations with those she trusts."
For any novice, the performance of seasoned colleagues can appear magical, says Bourne. "Remember Malcolm Gladwell's notion of 10,000 hours to perfection? Three years can seem like an eternity if it is all a struggle and full of stress. Advise your daughter to share with others, stay patient with herself, and remain committed to success.
"Remind her that what we are to be, we are always becoming."
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)