New Tweecher Induction

Alison Blank:

Everyone out there seems so full of love for the students and the job that it carries them through the long hours, but it hasn’t been enough for me to break out of the vicious cycle of frantic work and procrastination I’ve been stuck in since first grade.

This is as good a description of teaching’s tumultuous first year as you’ll find out there on the blogs. It also summarizes:

  1. teaching’s great deception – “love your students and the rest will follow.”
  2. teaching’s jarring transition – from sleepwalking into your 08h00 MAT 180 class to teaching your own classroom of sleepwalkers where every bad work habit you’ve accumulated over your entire life pays off huge negative returns.

Let’s table this post for a few years. It took me five years to feel even a little put-together in this job, to feel like I wasn’t just scrambling to keep pace, but I give Alison half that.

Had I gone to grad school this year, I would have put some time into a collage of new teacher profiles. Not my kind of new teacher. Not the traditionally inducted teacher, two mentors assigned by his district over two years, mentors who in all likelihood teach an unrelated subject. The sort of new teacher aptly described by statistics like “50% attrition rate.”

Rather, scan the list of commenters at Alison’s blog, scan her Twitter crowd (Twitter account required, sorry), and tell me you don’t think she’s going to bend the induction curve upwards.

Let’s assemble a control group. We’ll have the experimental group spamming questions at jackieb, jdyer, dcox21, colleenk, samjshah, k8nowak, sweenwsweens, dgreenedcp, et al, while blogging the experience as time permits.

I don’t know if it’s any kind of model. I only know it would’ve made me a much happier teacher, much sooner.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. Tweecher made me laugh. Better than Sam’s “blog buddies.”

    I’m a bit confused. If the experimental group are the twitter people plugged into the network, who are we looking for in the control group?

  2. “… the traditionally inducted teacher, two mentors assigned by his district over two years, mentors who in all likelihood teach an unrelated subject. The sort of new teacher aptly described by statistics like ‘50% attrition rate.'”

  3. I’m sure the “guest blogger” from your past really could have benefited from the same kind of support and meaningful advice I’ve been privy to. Strange that an online teaching community can be so much more targeted to my needs than any teacher I am physically in contact with. I’ll have to let you know when I finally start feeling competent on a daily basis so we can check how I compare against the control group.

  4. I haven’t been able to contribute to Twitter discussions like I’d like, mainly because I find it terribly confusing when questions and responses are intermixed with five other comments. I haven’t found a utility that mitigates this for me. We might be better off all just jumping in an IRC chatroom somewhere.

  5. Seriously, though, I think you have hit the nail on the head. I’m going to start meeting with my “induction teacher” in the next week or so. One of the first things I will be doing is introducing him to blogs and Twitter as a means of developing ideas, venting and just plain honing the craft.

    I’m not sure what BTSA looked like in your county when you went through it, but in mine, it’s a royal waste of time. I mean c’mon, does a new teacher really need to spend a week to fill out the list of where to find resources he’ll probably never use like it is some sort of freakin’ scavenger hunt, when in the end, if he actually ever does need to use it, he’s just gonna ask the secretary where to find it anyway?

  6. I’m confused by this statement of Alison’s:
    I need a job where when I’m not at work, I’M NOT AT WORK

    What professional job has that luxury? Or does she just want a simple job where she takes orders from someone else?

    Every job has choices and decisions. If she really wants to do what she is doing, it will work out.

  7. Since I’m in stats again, I’m working through this with a whole different mindset. I need to get back in the habit of thinking through project design and models.

    My original problem may be that as soon as I meet someone in the control group, I try recruiting them for the experiment. Seems like that would bias the “findings.”

    Related concern is that there’s a confounding variable along the lines of motivation. Is being the person who asks for help (be it on Twitter or elsewhere) going to make Allison a better teacher than someone who just does what it takes to tread water and get by? Would eventual mandates of tweeting/blogging/networking/etc end up being just as mind-numbing as BTSA etc?

  8. John, you’re either not a teacher, or don’t have much job experience. I’ve worked as an engineer, computer programmer, insurance billing, computer repair, data entry, banking and have friends in all varieties of fields. NONE of those jobs expect you to bring work home with you, or put in several hours per day of time in preparation for the following day’s work. That’s one of the things that most student teachers and new teachers are sadly unaware/unprepared for is that teaching is as much a lifestyle as it is a job. The Medical field is the only other one that I’ve encountered that as ridiculous expectations of its workers.

  9. Bill, Let’s not forget the ridiculous expectations that most self-employed professionals find themselves facing. I’m afraid I already understand that twenty-five years of contending with with the stress, long hours and persistent demands of freelance commercial photography will prove to be excellent training for what I know my first year, or two, or three, (…more?) will be like once I exit my secondary math education program and arrive in my classroom. The difference this time, however, is that I love the reason. Teaching will never be an art that stays in the room where it happens–it’s too important, too connected with other lives, and too energetic an experience–or it should be. Still, sleep deprivation is one brawny buzzkill, love or not.

  10. As I’m splitting time right now between a corporate outfit and a teaching position, maybe I’ll weigh in:

    I take my Google work home. Just like my teaching. I’ll login on the weekend and put in a few hours. That off-contract time is extremely flexible, though. There are very few moments where I feel like I absolutely must put in those extra hours. I do it to keep the pace set by my group.

    With teaching, those extra hours are often absolutely mandatory. You are working off the clock on lessons which you’ll teach the next day. There isn’t any flexibility there. You’re grading and planning at midnight because you have to.

    Here are my morning schedules. Keep an eye on the differing stress levels, on the blood pressure of yrs trly, in each scenario:

    Google: I wake up at 07h00. I’m on the Google bus at 08h00. I check the e-mail, check the blogs, do some preliminary ground work to set myself up with a more productive day. Or maybe I fall back asleep. I get to Google around 09h00 and stop by the MOMA cafeteria. I grab some breakfast and thumb through my reader for fifteen minutes. I head up to the teacher bullpen at 09h30 where I work until 12h30 when we break for lunch. Lunch can be anywhere between 30 minutes and an hour. Or maybe it’s a working lunch, depending on what the project needs.

    School: I wake up at 06h00. I’m at school by 07h00, making copies, setting up learning activities, etc. If the network’s down, like it was recently after a storm, I’m sometimes screwed and scrambling, trying to get our IT guy to help me run off a few copies.

    Is the projector hooked up? Is show and tell queued?

    Bam. 07h54, the bell rings and I’m at the door saying hello to students. For four hours, I’m responsible for everything that happens to everyone in my two classes. Dead time, that’s on me. If I ruin a kid’s day, or an entire class’, if I’m off my game, that’s on me. The lunch bell rings at 11h55. Every lunch is a working lunch. Etc. With teaching, a bell tells me when I can poop. It’s unreal, the always-on pace I maintain with teaching, supervised all the while by a bell.

    Corporate life isn’t easy and at some point I might elaborate on its challenges but, whatever they are, a) they’re nothing as panicked as teaching’s and b) the compensation is much better. I’m extremely grateful not to wonder anymore what life is like on the other side. For that reason alone, this has already been a very productive field trip.

  11. I wouldn’t have been teaching for 14 years if I didn’t. My point is that career counseling, education preparation programs, and schools of education all seem to “forget” to mention that part of the job, which is a rude awakening to student and new teachers (rude surprise to find out what’s actually involved in a career after you’re in the last year of the program! I’ve seen this countless times with my and my fellow teachers’ student teachers. One interesting data point is that most of the ones who have realistic expectations (and a better shot at making it) come from families where one or both parents are teachers. I always recommend to Student Observers that they ask the teachers they are observing how much time they spent making or grading the lesson… they they’re almost always observing Veteran teachers, so the lessons have already been worked over until they are smooth, clearly explained, or, completely re-written several times. Trying to explain to student teachers that (as a Science teacher) I had to try 3-10 labs or lessons to get one worth keeping, which means that I’ve got a pretty full stock now , and I’m still looking for new and better ideas, which is why I read blogs like Dan’s.
    Free-lance is some ways would probably be good preparation, except that now you also have the drawbacks of working for someone else as well.

  12. I’m not going to argue that teaching doesn’t demand a great deal – but we can, and should, push back a little bit. Not taking work home has as much to do with saying “I’m not going to take work home today,” and then following through on that.

    Yeah. Work will suffer. That’s okay. Some things that are asked of teachers are worth doing. Others aren’t. Look for ways to save time by fiddling with the non-essentials.

  13. I’m basically filing notes to myself here:

    The night before a day at Google: not really a care in the world. Asleep at 23h00. Maybe later.

    The night before a day at school: a slight knot in the stomach, the same lurking fight-or-flight response one gets before athletic competition or a theatrical performance. Asleep by 22h00 or suffer the consequences. Maybe earlier.

  14. Calling in sick.

    Google: E-mail: “I’m sick. I’ll try to get some revisions in this afternoon but I won’t be coming in.”

    School: Try to recall user id and password to the automated sub finder system. Plan a sub plan which is basically as detailed as a regular plan — seating charts, helpful hints, and supplementary material more than making up for the simplicity of the former. Wake up the next day at the usual time. Go to school. Set out all the material. Go back home and try to fall back asleep.

  15. This discussion makes me interested in trying out corporate life! But I am certain that this is because Dan’s example is working at Google, which is NOT typical of most corporate environments.

  16. To build a little bit from Dean and Alec’s questions: I am studying to be an elementary school teacher and was wondering what it is that you think elementary school teachers should teach/do in order to get the students ready for math in high school? Do you believe that technology use in math classes is more important or are manipulates better — related to student learning? Do you feel the pressure of teaching for standardized tests? How do you cope? I am sorry to throw so many questions at you, but it is nice to hear what other teachers have to say. Thanks for your time. PS I consider myself a lifelong learner and am taking a tech class too!