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Lead from the Start: To a Successful First Year Teacher

Friday, May 23, 2008

To a Successful First Year Teacher

Q: When is a rookie not a rookie?
A: When they don't suffer from Pobrecito Syndrome.

Thanks to Vanessa at Pre-(K)Now's Inside Pre-K blog I finally have a vivid term: Pobrecito Syndrome, to describe when teachers feel sorry for at-risk students. This is a concept I was adamant about with the student teacher I supervised last year. She currently works as a 1st grade teacher in my school. I told her that she had to have high expectations for the students, don't pity them more than you expect them to succeed. If you do you fail and so do the kids.

This is what I told her when she asked me if she should come work at our school.

Our school is one of the 3-4 toughest elementary schools in the entire city. Possibly THE toughest. I am at this school for a reason. I am here to give the most help to the neediest children.
You were successful. Everyone (including principals from other schools and other local school systems) knows that if you can teach at here, you can tech anywhere.
Before our turn-around principal came the kids ran the school. 3 years ago, after spring break there were approximately 2-5 incidents of disruption every day. At least one false fire drill from students pulling the alarm per week.

The kids haven't changed, the school has.
I will give you my best advice, if you want to make a difference, if you think you can cut it, you should give it a try for at least 3 years. If I were you, I would commit totally to a certain amount of time, and then decide after that amount of time if I wanted to stay.
Most of all you have to realize that if you do come to here, you have to buy-in completely to the school and its culture. Don't do it if you think you need to come because you have to change the way things are done. You will only be disappointed. I have seen it many times with young teachers. You have to be comfortable with an authoritative environment. That is what our kids need because many of them don't have anyone in charge at home. They need to know they can't get away with stuff, it makes them feel safe, (and frustrated.)
Most of all I would do it while I was young, while I was still idealistic, while I had a great deal of energy. It is much easier to go from a hard school to an easy one than the other way around.
You will never be bored, you will always be challenged.
What ever you decide I *know* you will be successful and, in a couple years, you will be ready for a new challenge.(Maybe National Boards ;)
Best wishes in your decision. I hope I see you next year, if not, you will make a really great teacher for some really deserving kids.
Have a great summer and get lots of rest, you won't get much next fall now matter where you are.
She has done awesome this year. She totally has it down and her kids... are the best behaved on her grade level. She bought into the authoritative approach, which has got to be hard for a 23 year person, and she made it work. I find it fascinating how the authoritative approach translates into high expectations when it comes to at-risk students. I am so impressed by her I had to tell her in front of the entire blogosphere.

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At 5:43 PM, Blogger john m said...

Very interesting, and it is good to have a name for it. I'm just finishing my 3rd year and I've only just gotten there this year.

At 2:09 PM, Blogger Erik Robson said...

John - great post. One question: You said, "Our school is one of the 3-4 toughest elementary schools in the entire city. Possibly THE toughest. I am at this school for a reason. I am here to give the most help to the neediest children."

I wonder if you could define "tough school" in lay terms. That's the toughness of the challenge the school presents to the kids? Or the toughness the school presents to teachers? Or something else?


At 6:15 AM, Blogger j m holland said...

Erik, thanks for commenting. That is a "tough" question, to define tough. (smile).

The simplest way for me to explain toughness is that almost all of our students are from poverty (98%). This effects all aspects of their lives. Our students and their families suffer from all of the things you hear about the effects of poverty. Many single parent households, family members (including parents) in jail for various reasons, drug use and abuse in the home, poor nutrition, poor health (asthma is rampant), violence in the community spills over into the school, etc. etc. If a teacher allows him/herself to embrace the reality that students bring with them to school it is easy to fall into the "pobrecito" trap of "these poor kids, they (the students, their parents, family, etc.) can't do any better because of the context they come from." It is up to the school and teachers to establish a different context than that of the students' home life while still acknowledging that our students parents and families care about them but may not have the capacity or resources to show that care in a helpful way to the student.
The school context has partially to do with academic achievement and partially to do with socialization into society in so that students see possibility besides the context they come from. The toughness is from the constant weight of poverty impacting the school context necessary for students to be successful.
The toughness in the past has also been due to lack of support from administration, a lack of feeling of efficacy by teachers (efficacy being the how powerful teachers feel to make a difference and achieve their goals with students), and lack of skills, training, and reflection on the part of teachers. The most important change mad by our turn-around principal was to change the context of school from one of helplessness in the face of poverty to one of strength through discipline in the face of poverty.

At 5:41 PM, Anonymous jose said...

I'm feeling this post. I like it especially because we have so many terms for the "Pobrecito Syndrome". Here we call it "Save the Children Syndrome". Nonetheless, you're on point and wrote the post I need to write in a future date. I often think that the edublogosphere is soft on issues of authority / freedom.


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