Today’s guest author, Angela Adams, is the Lead Coach for the Carolina Teacher Induction Program (CarolinaTIP), which is an initiative out of the University of South Carolina aimed at increased teacher efficacy and teacher retention by meeting the evolving needs of new graduates through their first three years in their own classrooms. 

Angela taught middle school science (and a little bit of social studies) for twenty years.  She has a B.A. in Elementary Education from Clemson University, an M.Ed in Teacher Leadership from Southern Wesleyan University, and is National Board certified (and re-certified) in Early Adolescence: Science.  She is a former school-level and district teacher of the year, the wife of a public school teacher, a busy mom to two of her own public school students, and an advocate for teachers everywhere.

 

My newest Netflix obsession is a reality show called Indian Matchmaking, which chronicles the journeys of Indian and Indian American young adults as they solicit the help of a legendary Mumbai-based matchmaker in their attempt to find a spouse. After meeting with the young people and their families and consulting astrologers and numerologists, the matchmaker presents her clients with a list of potential matches. They choose the ones they want to meet, which sometimes involves a long flight and always involves bringing along family members, and then their first date happens. These first dates are intense. After the families meet, the couple spends time alone and inevitably ends up discussing topics that, while important in spouse selection, are unusual first date fodder. Recently, I saw an episode where a couple stormed off upset because they disagreed about potentially homeschooling their children. This happened on their first date! While it seems unorthodox to an American viewer, those tough, slightly awkward conversations are essential when the first date is a serious step in vetting a life partner. 

Yes, Indian Matchmaking has made for compelling summer viewing, but now the time for Netflix has ended. 

It is August and the new school year is upon us. School supplies are on sale, the aisles a gleaming kaleidoscope of pencils, notebooks, lunchboxes… and masks. The year 2020-2021 is going to be a strange and unfamiliar one. 

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Teachers will be required to be more flexible, creative, and brave than ever before. They will create a classroom environment where both respect and wearing a mask are valued. They will monitor both noise level and social distancing in the hall. They will figure out how to make their content meaningful both in person and through a virtual format, perhaps being ready to switch on short notice as schools respond to rising and falling rates of infection. They will support students through the commonplace struggles of adolescence and will also have students who have lost family members or who are dealing with unprecedented levels of anxiety. They will help a class full of children who instead of “summer slump,” have had six months of wildly varying home experiences from which to recover. It is going to be a tough year! 

“There is potential for this year to be doubly hard for this crop of educators, at a time when retaining teachers is already a crisis in many places. And yet… it could also be amazing.”
—Angela Adams

Now envision being a first-year teacher in 2020-2021. Spending time with young teachers in my job, I can report that they are eager and nervous and energetic. And they are walking into the most uncertain school landscape of our lifetimes. They are barraged on social media and in conversation with passionate feelings about virtual learning, in-person school, masks, herd immunity, vaccines, isolation, and more. They likely have their own opinions but not the professional footing to know if, when, and how to express them.  Imagine all the nervousness of being a first-year teacher combined with all the nervousness of being a teacher during COVID-19. There is potential for this year to be doubly hard for this crop of educators, at a time when retaining teachers is already a crisis in many places. And yet… it could also be amazing. These teachers could come through this year with more resiliency and grit than any other cohort of new teachers in recent history. They will be battle-tested and will have a whole new set of experiences from which to grow. At the end of this one year they may have the diversity of strategies and tools in their toolboxes that most people earn by teaching for five years or more. This group could become the backbone of the teaching force and could even be the beginning of a new wave of educators who can outlast the stressors that have recently driven some from the classroom because compared to coronavirus, everything else seems manageable. The difference between this year making or breaking these young teachers will be the support they receive. 

 

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“Instead of providing them with solutions, we allow them to find their own. We do this not only because fixing things for a young teacher erodes their confidence and hope by sending the message that they can’t handle it themselves, but also because none of us is an expert in how to navigate teaching in the current situation.”
—Angela Adams

So how do we support them through this? We listen to them. We acknowledge and validate their concerns and fears while sharing our own joy in our chosen profession. We make room for things to go better than planned, remembering some of the silver linings we have all found in quarantine, and we make room for things to go worse than planned. We open ourselves up to being friends with them, even with fewer opportunities for socializing.  We allow ourselves to be vulnerable about how unprepared we feel too, making it clear that their fears or feelings of failure are not just them but all of us this year. We remember lots of them are going home to empty apartments and may have been for months. We respect the fact that they may have different parameters for safety in their lives outside of school. Most importantly, instead of providing them with solutions, we allow them to find their own. We do this not only because fixing things for a young teacher erodes their confidence and hope by sending the message that they can’t handle it themselves, but also because none of us is an expert in how to navigate teaching in the current situation. Remember, these first-year teachers student taught in COVID-19 this past spring. Their cumulative classroom experience may be far less than a veteran educator, but they have just as much “teaching-during-a-pandemic” experience as anyone. They have a lot to learn and they also have a lot to offer.  Abundant in any crop of novice teachers are energy, fresh ideas, flexibility, optimism, and an intuitive incorporation of technology. Is there another year in memory in which these attributes could be more essential? Perhaps we should be the ones ready to learn from our least experienced colleagues.

 

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You know, in addition to those currently searching for a mate, each episode of Indian Matchmaking also includes interviews with match-made couples who have been married for decades. Clear in those interviews is that while arranged marriages may be unfamiliar to us, the resulting partnerships appear strong and long-lasting. 

In 2018, the divorce rate in America was 45.8%. In India it was 1.1%. Furthermore, while their first dates may have included difficult conversations, there is a level of lightness, relaxation, and fun apparent in these long-married couples. Could this be due to having already worked out potentially divisive issues in the courting process? Extending this comparison to novice teachers begs the question: Could 2020-2021 be the unorthodox, slightly awkward “first date” that will lead our least experienced colleagues to a long lasting, strong “marriage” to our profession? I can’t imagine anything I would wish for novice teachers more than a joy-filled, lengthy career in the classroom, even if it required a tough beginning. 

Some of the success of Indian marriages is also attributed to the fact that marriage in India is between two families, not two individuals. May we all spend 2020-2021 becoming a part of the families of new teachers and therefore perhaps a part of the reason their “marriage” to our profession lasts longer and provides more joy than we can imagine, especially considering the school year in which they are starting. Like having difficult conversations on a first date, that investment in these colleagues, and in education as a whole, is worth it.