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Starting a new job is always a somewhat frightening ordeal. But frightening does not even begin to describe my first year as a teacher.
Throughout the course of my education degree, I was told countless horror stories about the first year of teaching professionally. If there is anything I have learned this year (apart from the fact that students will never find me more interesting than their iPhones), it is that all of them are true. I work constantly.
However, the difficulty of being a new teacher is compounded by something I never would have initially considered – the treatment I get from the profession itself.
New teachers are given the short end of the stick at almost every turn.
I am one of the luckier ones. My job is actually in my area of specialization. Most of the few new teachers fortunate enough to land a full-time position are given a hodgepodge of courses across different subjects – the stuff nobody wants to teach. Sadly, this also usually means lower-level courses full of students who have learning difficulties and behavioural problems.
This happened to me. Three days into the start of the semester, my schedule was changed to remove a lower-level class from a senior teacher and give it to me because the senior teacher did not want “those kids.” What little planning I had done for the original course I was to have taught was thrown out the window. I had 90 minutes notice to start from scratch.
I have been told time and again that this treatment stems from the fact I have to “pay my dues.”
While I understand that reasoning, I would point out that it is coming from a generation that needed only a bachelor’s degree to enter the profession. To become a teacher today requires at least five to six years of postsecondary education, and often two degrees.
I graduated with more education and a higher debt load into a far more competitive job market.
Like many new teachers, I came to this profession later in life, seeing it as a calling. I have almost a decade of postsecondary education, including two years of teaching at the university level, which my union refuses to recognize. I gave up a career in academia to teach high school. I have paid my dues – just in a different way.
On top of all of this, because this is my first year of teaching, I automatically lose my job at the end of the year. Even though I have received glowing reviews from administrators, I will be pulled from my position so that someone with more seniority within the school board can apply for my job.
My students created a petition to try to keep me. It described in detail why I was an effective teacher. They gathered signatures from more than 200 of their peers and parents, but unfortunately this does not matter. I will have to wait through several hiring rounds in the hope that there will be something left for me.
I am in no way opposed to rewarding experience, but in education, seniority does not always equal merit.
In Alberta, where I live, a teacher who has passed his or her first two years in school receives tenure. Apart from having to submit professional growth plans that are almost never monitored, they are not subjected to performance reviews, their practice is rarely observed, if ever, and the progress of their students is not tracked.
Though disciplinary action does happen, it is practically impossible to fire a teacher. As a result, subpar teachers simply get passed from school to school in what many affectionately refer to as “the lemon dance.”
There is a teacher in my school who has been “danced” through every senior high in the city. He gets to apply for jobs before I do.
Bad teachers cause a ripple effect. There is one in my department who teaches the same course I do at the same time. Most students do not like this teacher, so they switched out of her section and into mine. Her class now has 27 students, while mine has 38. Happy as I am that kids think I am a good teacher, I would argue that no one is going to get a quality education in a class that large.
Despite my tone, I am not writing this out of anger, but out of sadness.
I have never worked harder in my entire life, yet I have never been happier. I love my job and desperately want to keep it.
Lemons aside, I have been blessed to work with many dedicated senior teachers who are determined to continually refresh their practice and put the interests of their students first, all the while helping the newbie down the hall.
I have tried to learn as much from them as I can in the hope that my career will resemble theirs in 20 years.
I am not saying that rookies should be handed everything on a silver platter, nor that seniority shouldn’t be taken into account. What I would love to see is a meritocratic system based on such things as student performance and feedback, one that would reward good new teachers like me, and allow me to keep my job instead of essentially starting all over again next September.
Alex Ventura is a pseudonym for a teacher who lives in Alberta.