Teacher Identity: Expectations vs Reality (Preview)

Part 1: Intro & Objective

Do you remember what it’s like to be a new teacher? The thrills? The angst? This lesson helps mentors understand how a new teacher might be feeling. Their concerns are different from veteran teachers. Their knowledge is different too. This is a short lesson, but don’t miss the video cases—they really highlight how teachers come with different expectations to their mentoring relationship. Great discussion starters!

This module will support mentors in understanding and assisting new teachers in their struggle to develop their professional identity.

After completing the entire Resources section and reviewing the accompanying activities for each cycle, you will:

  1. Identify concerns of beginning teachers
  1. Understand how teacher identity influences decision making and classroom teaching practices
  1. Examine strategies to support new teachers in developing teaching efficacy
  1. Gain an understanding of how new teachers are socialized into the field of education and become acclimated to the teaching profession

Part 2: Real World Case

In these videos, you will see two realities: One is the experienced teacher’s reality—one you are probably more familiar with. The other is the new teacher’s reality—her fears, worries and excitement.

It’s important to remember that new teachers have their own unique concerns that will need to be validated and addressed in the mentoring relationship. It’s also important to know how to create a sense of efficacy in new teachers.

Before you watch the videos, think about your role as a new mentor.

  • What are your concerns? Your goals?
  • What were your concerns when you first started as a new teacher?
  • How have you changed and developed as a professional?

  • As you watched the videos, what did you notice?
  • How do you think the teachers’ feelings impact their mentoring relationship?
  • Lelani has several concerns. As her mentor, where would you begin?
  • What would you do to support a new teacher who feels confident with subject matter knowledge but needs support with adjusting her lessons to meet students’ varied developmental levels?
  • In addition to classroom management, what other concerns do you think new teachers may have?

Mentor reality

A veteran teacher, Susan has been teaching for eleven years. She was asked to mentor a new beginning teacher. Although she feels confident with teaching her students, anxiety surfaces as she considers whether she’s able to support a new teacher along with all of her other responsibilities. She is concerned about what administration expects her to be able to do and how much time is required. She is also concerned about the new teacher’s developmental level, how much support the new teacher will need, and how much training and support Susan herself will receive as teacher mentor.

Mentee reality

As a first year teacher, Leilani is feeling overwhelmed. It is the third week of school and she has finally figured out an effective seating chart for her students and a daily schedule but she needs some support with classroom management as well as planning and pacing her instruction. In grade level meetings, everyone is so confident and speaks about the curriculum as if it’s second nature. She has so many questions surrounding the curriculum and pacing, but is afraid to ask for fear of looking incompetent. Since her mentor is on another grade level, she writes her questions down to ask when they meet later. On top of trying to figure out the curriculum and how to fit “everything in,” her AP has asked her to serve on the International Festival committee, as everyone is required to serve on at least one committee.

Part 3: Building Knowledge

Due to copyright law, several readings cannot be hosted on this site. However, we encourage you to ask for assistance locating materials from your library media specialist. Many library services are freely available to educators.

Here are some articles and expert interviews to help deepen your knowledge about how teachers’ develop professional identities over time. Their concerns change. Their knowledge changes. And their needs for mentoring change as well. Also included in this section, under “Demos,” you can see how a mentor guides a new teacher through this maze of concerns. As she does so, she also helps the new teacher hone in on what’s manageable right now. Be sure to watch the demo and follow up with a role play to practice your own skills.

Two Teachers of Letters

Faced with parental pressure and the temptation of other high status occupations, a prospective teacher seeks the advice and insight from her former, favorite high school English teacher. In her letter she asks, “What does teaching mean to you?” and her teacher responds by writing, “It is passion and paradox, love and hate, routine and excitement — and it always matters.” After two years of teaching, the young teacher writes again to say that she agrees with her former teacher’s statement of “teaching matters,” but that she must leave the profession to try her hand at another career.
Download Full Article

Margaret Treece Metzger and Clare Fox, “Two Teachers of Letters,” Harvard Educational Review, volume 56n4 (November 1986) pp 349-354. Copyright © 1986 President and Fellows of Harvard College. Posted with permission. For more information, please visit http://www.hepg.org/.

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NOTE: Required Reading

Teachers’ Concerns Over the Years

Fuller examines developmental differences across a teacher’s career from the student teacher to the seasoned professional. The article identifies class control, content adequacy, and administrative evaluations as some of the concerns of beginning teachers whereas experienced teachers are more concerned with student progress and differentiating instruction.

Fuller, Francis. (1969). Concerns of teachers: A developmental conceptualization. American Educational Research Journal, 6(2), 207-226.

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Teachers Concerns

Francis Fuller and colleagues wrote another piece about teachers concerns; you can read it here for free: http://www.sciencedirect.com/

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First-Year Challenges

In this study, Canadian graduates from a two year pre-service program and several teachers were selected for case studies. Participants in the study reported administrative leadership, refining the mentor selection process, hiring practices and district level supports as positive factors necessary for them to grow as professionals.

Fantilli, R. & McDougall, D. (2009). A study of novice teachers: Challenges and supports in the first years. Teaching and Teacher Education, 25(6), 814-825.

NOTE: Purchase required.

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What New Teachers Really Need

Mandel looks through the lens of first year teachers to share with readers the disparity between what new teachers really need and what schools currently provide. His practical approach highlights what new teachers want to know as well as how schools and mentors can help new teachers meet classroom challenges.

Mandel, S. (2006). What new teachers really need. Educational Leadership, 63(6), 66-69.

NOTE: Subscription required.

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What do the experts say about these differences between new and experienced teachers?

What might new teachers be concerned about that experienced teachers already have under control?

Betty Achinstein, Ph.D.

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Betty Achinstein, Ph.D., is a researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the author of Mentors in the Making: Developing New Leaders for New Teachers (published by Teachers College Press, 2006).

Betty Achinstein discusses what it means to “induct” new teachers into the teaching profession. She also shares her thoughts on the knowledge base needed by mentors to support new teachers of color.

John McIntyre, Ph.D.

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John McIntyre, Ph.D., recently received the Distinguished Teacher Educator Award by the Association of Teacher Educators. He is a co-editor of Strategies for Career-long Teacher Education (Yearbook VI). He shares how teachers learn and grow across their careers in the videos below.

John McIntyre shares insight on how teachers develop over time and provides specific strategies to help new teachers develop efficacy.

Joyce King, Ph.D.

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Joyce E. King, Ph.D. is a Sociologist of Education. She knows a lot about how societal beliefs and values can influence teachers’ practices. She gives some practical advice about how to make sure that stereotyping and biases don’t get in the way of good instruction. Dr. King is an expert in this area, having published many articles and books on culture, curriculum and teaching, as well as race and education.

Joyce King shares how new teachers’ values and beliefs influence their teaching practices.

Nancy Fichtman Dana, Ph.D.

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Nancy Fichtman Dana, Ph.D., is a Professor at the University of Florida and a Director of the Center for School Improvement. She authored The Reflective Educator’s Guide to Mentoring: Learning and Growing as a Mentor Teacher (Corwin Press, 2007) among other books about Reflective Educators.

Nancy Fichtman Dana shares her perspective on the concerns of beginning teachers and gives advice on ways mentors can support new teachers with developing teacher efficacy.

Elizabeth Wilkins, Ph.D

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Elizabeth Wilkins, Ph.D., is a Professor at Northern Illinois University. Her research focuses on teacher induction and mentoring. She wrote the New Mentor Workbook (published by Kappa Delta Pi).

Elizabeth Wilkins highlights genuine concerns faced by beginning teachers and discusses ways mentors can help beginning teachers become advocates for themselves.

Turning the Conversation Around

It’s not unusual for new teachers to feel stressed and overwhelmed. They’ll need to have someone to talk to about their feelings so the mentor should be ready for some “venting.” But good mentors don’t let these conversations carry on too long.

Instead, after lending a nurturing ear, good mentors eventually move the conversation to focus on an issue (or two) that the new teacher can tackle. This not only helps the new teacher focus his/her energy, but also helps give the new teacher a sense of empowerment and efficacy. Watch this video to see how that “turn around” conversation happens:

Try this activity to reflect upon the different perspectives of new and experienced teachers.

You’ll need to dowload a copy of the article: Fox, C. & Metzer,M. (1986). About teaching and teachers: Two teachers of letters. Harvard Educational Review, 56(4), 349-354. You can find it here:Two teachers of letters

Faced with parental pressure and the temptation of other high status occupations, Clare, a prospective teacher seeks the advice and insight from her favorite former high school English teacher, Ms. Metzer. In her letter she asks, “What does teaching mean to you?” and her teacher responds by writing, ”It is passion and paradox, love and hate, routine and excitement — and it always matters.” After two years of teaching, the young teacher writes again to say that she agrees with her former teacher’s statement of “teaching matters.” Read the article to learn Clare’s final decision.

First, read the letter to Mrs. Metzger. Then stop.

Second, write a response to Clare from your own perspective.

Third, read Mrs. Metzger’s response.

Fourth, write a letter to Mrs. Metzger in response to her letter, again from your own perspective.

Fifth, read Clare’s response. Consider the implications of these letters.

  • What themes are still alive and well today?
  • Why might some teachers stay in the profession? Why might some leave?
  • What has your own professional life looked like?
  • What influenced your decision to become a teacher?
  • How might those influences be different or the same for a new teacher?

Part 4: Review & Reflect

Please answer the questions below. If you have difficulty, go back and review this lesson.

  • At the beginning of the lesson, you learned about specific concerns new teachers tend to experience. Think about your own experience as a new teacher. How were your concerns similar or different from those highlighted in the module?
  • How do the concerns of new teachers differ from those of experienced teachers?
  • Think back to your first year of teaching and some of the feelings you experienced. What advice would you give to a new teacher who confides in you that she feels like she doesn’t know what she is doing?
  • What can mentors do to help new teachers develop positive professional identities?
  • In your own first year of teaching, what were some of the feelings you experienced?
  • What advice would you give to a new teacher who confides in you that she feels like she doesn’t know what she is doing?

Part 5: Glossary


One’s belief that he or she can do something effectively

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