Why Your First Year Of Teaching Should Be Difficult Part 2

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In our last discussion, we established that not only should the first year of teaching be difficult, but that the difficulty associated with the first year is crucial for learning.  We understand that mistakes foster creative solutions, failure is a productive process, and self esteem can be managed by rethinking our goals.

In this discussion, we'll consider three important psychological perspectives to help you power through your first year in the classroom.

This article will discuss Carol Dweck's popular concept of the growth mindset, Angela Duckwork's work on grit and persistence, and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's idea of optimal performance and flow.

The first year and the growth mindset

Ms. Sims, in our previous discussion, attributed her lack of success to her intelligence: she pulled the "I'm not smart enough" card.

We know better than that and we'll chalk up her expression as an act of desperation.

Intelligence is not fixed, and a growing body of evidence states that you can increase your intelligence by believing that you can increase it.

Carol Dweck has championed the idea that student achievement can be cultivated if you foster and embody the growth mindset.  Believing that work ethic can overcome deficits in intelligence is the central idea behind her message.  Praising students for their effort over intelligence communicates to them that success and effort are correlated and that success is not dependent on intelligence.

A good summary is offered by Maria Popova on her incredible Brain Pickings website.

We need to take our own medicine- or at least communicate this idea to new teachers like Ms. Sims.  Struggling the first year IS NOT due to your lack of intelligence.  Struggling the first year is due to the fact that learning is difficult, and that you learn everything the first year teaching.

To new teachers I say this: The first year of teaching is supposed to be difficult because it is the first year teaching.  The act of learning everything the first time is overwhelming.  You are NOT struggling because you aren't smart enough.  Your hard work WILL pay off.  Evidence will be seen in how much you learn.

The first year: grit and persistence

Angela Duckworth is reshaping how we think about factors that foreshadow success.  In the past, we (I) though  that ability to work in groups, learn new material quickly, and ability to communicate separate those destined for success and those destined for the couch.

While those characteristics may be important, Duckworth argues that the most important characteristics the predict success are grit and persistence.

Grit is the ability to not only work hard, but maintain focus.  Persistence is to stick with long term goals.

To grit and persistence, I would add resilience; the ability to bounce back after a set back.

Students that grind out long study sessions and accept and learn from mistakes succeed.  New teachers that burn the midnight candle and "get it done" will be successful.

There is a fun wrestling (the sport of wrestling) adage that goes "embrace the grind." It means that the season is a long, painful, emotional tunnel and that success is seen as you embody the "grinding", punishing aspect of the sport.

The first year teaching is no different and each day is difficult and punishing in its own way.

To new teachers I say this: Suck it up buttercup.  If teaching was easy, everyone would do it.  Keep your goals forefront and daily remind yourself of your WHY.

Want some more on grit and persistence?
Watching Duckworth's TED talk and reading this article will provide you with a good working understanding of her research and its implications.

The first year teaching and optimal performance: Flow

The man with perhaps the longest name in all of psychology has perhaps the most pragmatic advice to offer new teachers.  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's seminal book Flow has implications reaching into every facet of life.  Optimal experience, he argues, is about finding Flow.

Flow is defined as the Zen like state where time screams by and you find your grove.

Csikszentmihalyi gives examples of rock climbers and musicians that get lost in the moment.  For others time passes but is not realized.  People exhibiting a state of flow engage in the activity for the sake of engaging in the activity.  The activity is the goal itself.

There are a variety of conditions that need to be met for a practitioner to experience flow.  One, that we'll address, is finding an appropriate level of challenge.

Activities that are too difficult and frustrating.

Activities that are too easy are boring.

Activities that are "just right" keep us engaged because succeeding through a challenge is rewarding.

New teachers can transform the first year teaching by finding flow.  They can find the "just right" balance of challenge.

I can hear what you're thinking: everything in the first year is a challenge!

But it needed be.  Pick and choose your challenges that you have the time and energy to address.

For example: address your curriculum challenges but don't fight the 100% homework submission battle.

What I'm saying is this: a teacher is never without challenges and choosing to address every challenge spreads even the most veteran teacher thin.  New teachers need to devote energy to challenges crucial to succeeding the first year.  By limiting the number of challenges attended to, they find the right balance.

Being completely negligent of everything that deserves attention is boring (and frankly, wrong).  However, by addressing every issue that surfaces, a new teacher is likely to feel overwhelmed and end up frustrated.

To a new teacher I would say this: Pick and choose your battles.  The small obstacles can be tackled with time, focus your attention on issues necessary to be successful this year- the rest will come.

What advice would you give to a new teacher regarding the first year?  Connect with The Pragmatic TV Teacher and share your ideas!

Thanks for reading.

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