Being a new teacher is challenging, even in the best circumstances. Our guest, Kathy Koszegi, not only began her teaching career during a pandemic but also taught her first year in a remote school before transitioning to a face-to-face learning environment during her second year as a teacher. In this episode, we hear about Kathy’s unique experience and discuss how we can support new teachers and help them to remain in the profession long term.
So often in life, things that you regard as an impediment turn out to be great, good fortune.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, late Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
The following resources are available from AVID and on AVID Open Access to explore related topics in more depth:
- Create Community and Nurture Connections to Support Social and Emotional Learning (article collection)
- Accelerate Learning as We Build Back Better (article collection)
- Grow Your Own Teachers (podcast episode)
- Recruiting, Supporting, and Retaining Elementary Teachers (podcast episode)
- Recruiting, Supporting, and Retaining Secondary Teachers (podcast episode)
Growing and Succeeding as a New Teacher
Second-year teacher Kathy Koszegi completed her first year of teaching online before entering this school year teaching in person. Throughout these unique experiences, she continues to have a passion for her students and for teaching. She says, “I keep doing this, even though it’s hard, because I know that I’m with my students only for a short period of their whole lives, but I still feel like the work that we’re doing has lasting effects on them for their whole lives.”
How do we help new teachers retain this passion and optimism? How do we not only support them but also keep them in the profession? In this episode, we explore these questions and more. Here are a few highlights:
- Kathy’s Journey: Kathy gained her teaching degree by traveling a less traditional path. After earning degrees in English and Spanish, raising her kids, volunteering in schools, and working as a paraeducator, Kathy decided to become a teacher. She earned her master’s degree in Education and began teaching in a remote school during the pandemic.
- The Remote Teaching Experience: As a first-year teacher, remote teaching was overwhelming at first. It was especially challenging not seeing faces when students chose to keep their cameras turned off.
- Remote Success: Despite the challenges, Kathy found success teaching online. She says, “I was able to build a very strong classroom community in spite of us being remote.” In fact, at the end of the year, she received a thank-you card from a student. It read, “Thank you for allowing me to be the person I know I am.” It’s powerful that this deep connection could happen in a remote learning environment.
- Being Prepared to Teach Remotely: At first, Kathy didn’t feel like her teacher education program prepared her for the unique experience of online teaching. There was so much that was new, not only for her but for all teachers. Some concepts—such as community building as well as social and emotional support—carried over, but many of the instructional practices needed to be customized for an online experience.
- No One Right Answer: While Kathy would have liked advice about specific strategies and formulas for teaching online, this wasn’t the reality. Teaching is complicated, and the answer she often received when asking for suggestions was: “You know your students.” While this didn’t feel particularly helpful at the time, she grew to realize that it was the right answer. Every classroom is unique—online or in-person.
- Advice for Her First-Year Self: Kathy admits that she was way too hard on herself during her first year of teaching, and if she could go back, she would extend herself more grace. She says she’d tell new teachers to “not take everything so seriously.” She reflects on her own quest for perfection, adding, “I just wanted to do everything right all the time, but you just can’t do everything right all the time.”
- Community Building: Community continues to be important to Kathy. Although this can be challenging online, she found ways to connect with her students. She made frequent use of private messages and chats. She adds, “We spent a lot of time talking about our days or talking about things we liked. . . . I tried to really get to know them as people. . . . I tried to really find genuine ways to connect with everyone.” To support this goal, they regularly took 10 minutes at the end of each day to share with each other.
- Starting Over With In-Person Teaching: While not a first-year teacher anymore, Kathy admits that many experiences feel new all over again now that she is teaching in person. She says, “It’s just so different teaching in person. . . . I almost feel like I’ve had to rethink everything.”
- Challenges for New Teachers: The many obligations and tasks facing teachers can feel overwhelming. There never seems to be enough time. This strain pulls on Kathy, and she frequently asks herself, “How can I serve everyone in the way they deserve to be served?”
- Supporting New Teachers: Kathy feels that one of the biggest support systems she received as a new teacher was having a mentor with whom she could talk regularly and confidentially. They could talk about everything, from daily lessons to how she felt when she went home and didn’t feel she had enough time for her family. During her second year, she has found math and literacy coaches to be a huge help, as well as the support of her PLC team.
- Work–Life Balance: This is a struggle for all teachers. Kathy recalls meaningful advice that she received from her mentor: “Don’t spend longer on planning than you’ll be spending teaching the lesson.” She goes on to reflect on the challenge of finding work–life balance: “You really, really, really need to just have a time where you stop, and whatever’s done is done, and you can pick up the next day. It’s easier said than done, but I really do try to do that, but as far as a magic trick, no, I still work way too many hours.”
Advice for New Teachers: Kathy would tell them, “Be nice to yourself. . . . It’s okay. You’ve never done this before.” She adds, “It’s an experience. Yes, it’s overwhelming, and yes, it feels difficult. It feels that way because you care so much about your students and what you’re doing. . . . If it didn’t feel like that, I’d be worried.”
If you are listening to the podcast with your instructional team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:
- What were your biggest challenges as a beginning educator?
- What were your greatest successes early in your career?
- What support systems were in place to help you as you began your career?
- What additional support systems would have benefited you?
- What are the keys to success for new educators?
- If you could go back in time, what would you tell yourself as you began your educational career?
- What are the keys to achieving a healthy work–life balance?
- What can you or your school do to support and retain new teachers?