This is my seventh year working in high need schools; it’s where my teacher heart lies. I love my kids and am energized (most days) by the challenges of my work. I believe I’m the teacher I am because of the obstacles I’ve faced in my career. I’ve had to be more flexible, resourceful, collaborative and creative.
However, teaching in a high need, often under-resourced school can take a toll on new teachers. Some research reports that new teachers in high need schools are twice as likely to leave the profession. Many transfer to more affluent schools, leaving the most vulnerable kids with a revolving door of teachers.
How we talk to and support new teachers in these teaching assignments is critical to retaining them.
If I was able to send myself a letter as a first year teacher in a high need school this is what I would say;
I love your enthusiasm to change the lives of kids. You are in a place where your impact has great potential.
Now for some real talk since we’re friends…
- There will be many times you want to quit. Throw your hands up, become a barista quit. You will feel like you are completely powerless. You are not. Keep going
- The needs your kids will bring to you will break your heart. But they will also make you a more present, compassionate and overall good person. Keep going
- Parents love their kids and are doing the best they can. School is sometimes very far down the list of crises that must be addressed. Don’t judge, keep going
- You will face an empty classroom that you are expected to transform into an engaging, comfortable, beautiful learning environment with a $100 budget…and 3 days. Keep going
- You will end your school year with an empty desk. You might end up with a hand drawn picture or a rock a student found on the playground. Put these somewhere very special. Look at them every day. They are worth 1,000 Starbucks gift cards and best teacher mugs. Keep going
- Be an advocate for your kids. Always. At IEP meetings, at board meetings, in the airport shuttle. Tell everyone how beautiful and amazing your kids are and what they need. Keep going
- If someone tells you ‘no’ when you ask for something your kids need, you’re asking the wrong person. Keep going
Your work matters and you will have so much joy, laughter and reward in your career.
Your kids need you! KEEP GOING.
The truth is that the needs; emotional, social, financial, medical, and physical needs of the kiddos coming through the classroom door can overwhelm even very experienced teachers. It takes a special streak of stubbornness, a love of a challenge and a lot of support for these teachers to stay working in high need schools.
It is, however, critical that they do. When teachers stay in the same school students can form long term positive and safe relationships with adults. They can have role models as they grow and develop and families can build a trusting relationship with school.
When you see a new teacher in your building, especially if you work in a high need school, offer a word of encouragement or advice. It’s easy to forget how hard it is in the beginning when we don’t have any ‘tried and true’ tricks to fall back on. If you only offer them one piece of advice let it be Keep going. Things get so much better and the hardest things are often the ones most worth doing.