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A Journey through Teaching: Breakdowns and Breakthroughs
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As I walked out of the school building I kept telling myself “Hold it together, just a few more steps to the car. Just hold it together.” In my experience with breakdowns, I learned that they are a lot like sneezes. There is a strong feeling that it’s about to happen at any moment and you can try tips and tricks (like saying watermelon 5 times) to hold it off, but sooner or later it will just happen. Frustration, tears, doubt and struggle defined parts of November and much of December for me again this year. I was questioning myself, my ability to successfully lead and inspire my team, to develop their strengths, and questioning our collective impact in general- were we really making a difference? How much can we? Are our students learning enough? Why does it feel like we’re not getting anywhere? It all seemed daunting and much of my motivation went into counting down the days till winter break. I was very much in the Disillusionment phase that new teachers go through, and in my opinion new and returning corps members as well.

Disillusionment Phase

The extensive time commitment, the realization that things are probably not going as smoothly as they want, and low morale contribute to this period of disenchantment. New teachers begin questioning both their commitment and their competence. Many new teachers get sick during this phase. They express self-doubt, have lower self-esteem and question their professional commitment. In fact, getting through this phase may be the toughest challenge they face as a new teacher. (Ellen Moir, New Teacher Center, University of Santa Cruz)


March 7th- 100 days of service left. As I was writing my weekly email to my team emphasizing how much we already accomplished and my hopes for the next 100 days, a sense of calm, energy, urgency, and motivation came over me. I was determined to make this time count; to see our team excel and to see how much more we could accomplish- 5 more events, hitting goals with students, seeing growth on tests and grades, and most importantly preparing our students to be sophomores next year with less City Year support. I had a renewed sense of commitment to the program, our students, our goals, and a lot of our methods. I wanted to make sure we could help our students be confident in their strategies and most importantly in themselves. We started new team traditions, have been collaborating more, and share a lot more joys with each other, even though the workload is the same or greater. I could not be more pleased to be very solidly in the Rejuvenation phase.


Rejuvenation Phase

They seem ready to put past problems behind them. A better understanding of the system, an acceptance of the realities of teaching, and a sense of accomplishment help to rejuvenate new teachers. Through their experiences in the first half of the year, beginning teachers gain new coping strategies and skills to prevent, reduce, or manage many problems they are likely to encounter in the second half of the year. Many feel a great sense of relief that they have made it through the first half of the year. During this phase, new teachers focus on curriculum development, long-term planning and teaching strategies. (Ellen Moir, New Teacher Center, University of Santa Cruz)


Although it is my second year with City Year, I feel like I went through the phases of a new teacher both years. Knowing the phases didn’t make my November, December, or January any easier, it did however make me feel less alone and more aware of what was happening. This allowed me to have more compassion for our partner teachers, corps members, and even for myself. Knowing what to expect makes it easier to spot it in myself and others, especially if I choose to return to the classroom next year and probably will go through all the phases yet again.


For more information on the phases of a new teacher, check out this article.


Aleksandra "Ola" Gawlik, Team Leader at City Year Milwaukee, is a graduate of Pomona College. Ola hopes to teach in a traditional public school after earning her Masters degree. She believes in the power of education to change minds, lives, and circumstances.