Skip to content
ascd logo

Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
May 1, 1999
Vol. 56
No. 8

Perspectives / Knowing How and Knowing Why

      The difference between a beginning teacher and an experienced one is that the beginner asks, "How am I doing?" and the experienced teacher asks, "How are the children doing?" In Educating Esme: Diary of a Teacher's First Year, Esme Raji Codell reports that her own mentor shared that wisdom with her. Probably most teachers would find that the comparison rings true: The survival priority is no joke for those aspiring to join the ranks.
      What beginners and career teachers have most in common, however, is care for children. To be an effective and a caring teacher, a new teacher must ask many more questions than "How are the kids and I doing?" during the first years. Among them: How do I get their attention; lead a class discussion; keep, but expand, their interests; discipline fairly; organize a classroom; make curriculum and assessments meaningful; value diversity; build character; use technology; and continue learning as a teacher? The list goes on. It will not do for those who want to be master teachers to put off asking questions that do not begin with the how word; from the very beginning, they must attempt to discover whom, what, and why they teach.
      Besides offering advice and sympathy (a stapler and an aspirin, as one teacher put it), what can the profession of teaching do to support its newest colleagues? That it is becoming increasingly necessary for the profession to do more for beginners than it has in the past is clear. A baby boomlet combined with a retirement boom will result in a need for 2 million new teachers in the next 10 years. The cost of preparing and recruiting teachers grows higher in light of the statistic that tells us that 30 percent of newcomers will quit within their first five years in the classroom. The public is expressing its concerns, too—concern with unprepared teachers, concern with out-of-field teachers, concern that the best teachers are spread too thin.
      This month's issue examines initiatives that benefit both new and experienced teachers. Patricia Wasley leads off in "Teaching Worth Celebrating" (p. 8) with an analysis of the kind of preparation that will lead teachers to go beyond teaching the way they were taught and beyond the way their mentor teachers have taught them to teach. Building a repertoire of strategies that will engage children requires a deep knowledge of how children learn. That personal knowledge grows only when teachers delve into the vast professional research and practice of teaching. No survival manual or how-to materials will inform them. No amount of solitary practice in front of the students will suffice. No academic theory alone will do it. The professional development that Wasley envisions comes from an interconnected system that links beginning and experienced teachers to their university, classroom, and community.
      The state of California is attempting to build a support system with some of these elements (p. 41 and p. 45) by providing money for districts to develop mentoring, orientation, and training programs for first- and second-year teachers who may or may not yet have earned full credentials. The state pays for substitutes who free mentor teachers to conduct model lessons and visit new teachers' classes. It also provides beginners time to observe fellow teachers' classes and reflect on their own practice. State standards detail the knowledge and the skills that novices need to achieve. Although 27 states have induction programs, California is one of only seven that back their endeavors with funding and mandated programs (Archer, 1999). Kentucky, with its statewide mentoring plan (p. 49), is another.
      When so many issues are politicized in education, it is reassuring to know that a majority of the public agrees that the quality and caliber of teachers is the greatest single factor influencing student learning. A new poll reports that the public favors this reform over academic standards, assessments, vouchers, and school management by for-profit companies. The public also endorses more stringent teacher licensing, stronger programs for novice teachers, and extra time for teachers to keep up with new developments in their fields (Haselkorn & Harris, 1998). The single most important thing we can do to help our children achieve high standards is to put qualified teachers in every classroom.

      Archer, J. (1999). New teachers abandon field at high rate. Education Week, 18(27), 1, 20–21.

      Haselkorn, D., & Harris, L. (1998). The essential profession: A national survey of public attitudes toward teaching, educational opportunity, and school reform. Belmont, MA: Recruiting New Teachers, Inc.

      Marge Scherer has contributed to Educational Leadership.

      Learn More

      ASCD is a community dedicated to educators' professional growth and well-being.

      Let us help you put your vision into action.
      From our issue
      Product cover image 199029.jpg
      Supporting New Teachers
      Go To Publication