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Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
May 1, 2005
Vol. 62
No. 8


When new teachers consistently experience poorer working conditions than their veteran colleagues, there's a word for that.

Jessica is teaching four different subjects in four different classrooms in two separate buildings. Darlene has three times as many special education students in her class as any other teacher. Charles gets the oldest and most ragged textbooks for his classes. Ken has no parking spot, even though he has the longest commute. Cathy is assigned to run the mock-trial team that meets for up to 60 hours a month. Khalil is teaching in a dirty bungalow with no desks, no chalkboard, and the discarded teaching materials of someone else's 30-year career. Luisa teaches low-track science at the end of the day to a group of 40 students. Craig teaches Algebra I five periods a day.
What do these people have in common? They are all new teachers.
I witnessed situations like these in my home state of California. I was fortunate to work as a new teacher support provider for the Beginning Teachers Support and Assessment (BTSA) program, a product of California state legislation enacted in 1997. BTSA is a thoughtful, well-designed induction program that has raised California's teacher retention rate. It prepares experienced classroom teachers to lead beginning teachers through individualized formative assessment and reflective activities during a two-year period. Activities include collecting and interpreting evidence of teaching performance, analyzing student work, and identifying meaningful professional development. I was trained to provide beginning teachers with instructional assistance, emotional support, and objective feedback on classroom observations.
The bulk of my work with new teacher support took place in a large, urban public high school that served more than 3,000 students. The student body was diverse: 31 percent of students were African American, 42 percent were white, 10 percent were Asian, and 13 percent were Hispanic, with other groups representing the remaining 4 percent.
As my two colleagues and I supported approximately 60 new teachers over the course of several years, we became aware of a hugely ignored problem in public education today: Beginning teachers are often systematically hazed. This practice—and not curricular demands or low pay—can drive many promising new teachers out of the profession.
The term hazing is a powerful one, and I do not use it lightly. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary(11th edition) defines it as follows: 1 a: to harass by exacting unnecessary or disagreeable work 1 b: to harass by banter, ridicule, or criticism2: to haze by way of initiation (haze the fraternity pledges)
My colleagues Bill Pratt and Matthew Bremer and I chose to define hazing in the school setting asinstitutional practices and policies that result in new teachers experiencing poorer working conditions than their veteran colleagues.
Many people are unaware that hazing occurs in schools. Teaching is hard work for everyone, and beginners struggle even in optimal settings. When our new colleagues quit after one or two years, most of us assume it's because they weren't truly committed or because they decided to pursue more lucrative careers. We are simply too busy in our daily teaching jobs to notice that our new colleagues' decisions to leave might result from unfair institutional practices rather than inexperience.
As a BTSA support provider, I noted that the new teachers who left the school I focused on almost never did so because of the challenges of teaching, the long hours, or the low pay. They left because they believed that they were in impossible situations in which they would never experience success or career satisfaction. They often believed that they were not cut out for teaching. As this pattern repeated itself, my colleagues and I came to suspect something more sinister at work. Many of these new teachers had the passion, qualifications, and talent to succeed, yet the school system repeatedly thrust them into untenable schedules and assignments. They were the least experienced yet routinely had the most difficult jobs.
These teachers were hazed.

New Teachers Speak Out

Understanding that hazing existed was one thing. Doing something about it was another. My colleagues and I set out to find some nonthreatening ways to prove that hazing played a role in new teacher turnover. We would then present our findings to the school administration.
With the help of the school's media teacher, we produced a videotape titled Faces of Frustration, which showed a dozen current and former staff members describing their experiences with hazing. With great emotional intensity, these teachers shared their frustrations on tape:I was straddling two departments, had four different preps out of five classes, and had four different classrooms in two different buildings. I had a cart with bungee cords holding my transparencies and my lesson plans, which I took from building to building. I didn't even know what day it was! I was so emotionally, physically, and spiritually drained that I had to ask myself, Is this what teaching is all about? Is this what I'm supposed to be doing? And the answer to that was a big No! I was never, ever returning to that school.—Jessica Parker, no longer at the siteInstead of embracing new people into this profession and congratulating them for taking this first step, it's like, oh you're new, you have no seniority, you get no parking. I've lost a lot of good friends at this school because of these nitpicky things that all contribute to this very large problem.—Ken C. Gonzales, no longer at the site

Who's Teaching What and Where

When we consulted school staff members about which group was the most challenging to manage in the classroom, the staff identified 9th graders, citing their age and their relative lack of academic sophistication. Teachers considered beginning-level courses—such as Spanish I, Introduction to Biology, and Algebra I—especially tough to teach because students in these classes typically performed below grade level. A multiyear study that the University of California at Berkeley conducted at our site identified these kinds of courses—and the 9th grade program in general—as essential areas for staff members to focus on to address the achievement gap.
My colleagues and I decided to conduct an informal data analysis of course and room assignments. When we analyzed who was teaching extra-challenging courses, we found far more beginning teachers than veteran teachers in those classrooms. We defined a beginning teacher as one who has three years of experience or less. Of 52 beginning teachers, 40 taught 9th graders. Of 65 more experienced teachers, only 22 taught 9th grade classes. Why were our least experienced teachers disproportionately assigned to teach the neediest and most difficult students—the very students researchers had identified as deserving more attention?
Another big concern at our school was classroom assignment. We had a problem with overcrowding; many teachers had to share classrooms and deal with the added stress that comes from switching rooms and moving between buildings during the day. When we examined how many teachers shared classrooms, the new teachers were once again at a disadvantage. Of the 138 full-time teachers at our site, 32 percent of new teachers shared a classroom, compared with only 12 percent of veteran teachers.

A Case Against Hazing

My colleagues and I met with the school administration—the principal, the vice principals, various department heads, the college advisor, and the discipline deans—to show them the videotape we had made and to share our data regarding course and room assignments. We indicated additional factors that could be detrimental to the well-being of new teachers, such as being assigned to teach courses with little or no developed curriculum and having an inadequate supply of books (see “A Recipe for Disaster”). An unlucky combination of these factors in a new teacher's assignment can lower his or her chances of surviving the early years.
Our administrators seemed genuinely surprised by the strong emotions conveyed in the videotape and by our data regarding class and room assignments. Without necessarily intending to do so, they had scheduled many new teachers into untenable situations. They agreed to try to balance the course and room assignments more equitably.
After hearing our presentation, most of the department chairs started giving new teachers two preps instead of the customary three, and they almost never gave the new teachers a full slate of freshman courses to teach. The English, foreign language, and math departments made the most concerted efforts. The math department even provided each new teacher with his or her own classroom, although it meant that some veteran teachers had to share. The history department, with its many long-time veteran teachers who all had their favorite courses, was less flexible. Some departments had more difficulty than others in making scheduling adjustments. For example, some science teachers are credentialed to teach certain subjects that might only be taught at higher levels, such as chemistry.
Reducing the instances of hazing in the school also meant involving the teachers. We regularly checked the master schedule and asked veteran teachers to share classrooms when it helped new teachers do less moving between rooms and buildings. Dealing with veteran staff members was a sensitive issue, and we hoped they would lead by example. We also volunteered to teach the beginning extra-challenging courses and encouraged veteran colleagues to do the same. Effective veteran teachers were paid to create curriculum binders with lesson plans for the new teachers. And when the school turned to a shared-governance model, 2 of the 11 spots on the decision-making team were reserved for nontenured teachers. Advocacy for new teachers' rights became a centerpiece of our work.
This sometimes meant broaching difficult subjects. I once proposed that our scarce staff parking be assigned by lottery rather than by seniority. Several veteran colleagues actually booed the suggestion. Although the initial attempt was a painful experience, it paid off—the staff senate reluctantly developed a formula that considered length of commute and child transportation needs in addition to seniority to determine who got parking spots.
We did not show the videotape to the teaching staff because the new teachers believed it was too personal. Other districts, however, were grateful to have access to the tape because it enabled them to broach this difficult issue without having to film their own staff.
We discussed our ideas about hazing with the new teachers on the staff. They began to reflect on the difference between the normal challenges of teaching and unfair working conditions. The teachers' union held special training sessions to inform the new hires of their rights and often got involved on their behalf as instances of hazing arose.

Leveling the Field

Today, a large number of these new teachers are in their fifth, sixth, or even seventh year of teaching at our site. Those who left did not appear to have done so out of desperation and frustration, which had been common reasons for leaving before.
How did we get these positive results at our site? A key first step toward developing a cohesive strategy to address new teacher hazing is to label and repeatedly identify it as such. Otherwise, it is easy for us to see it merely as an unfortunate situation in which new teachers struggle to adapt to a challenging career. When impossible conditions are labeled as hazing, everyone is more apt to consider the role they play in the problem and how they might contribute to its solution.
  • Avoid hiring new teachers at the last minute or after the school year has already begun.
  • Create survivable schedules for new teachers by giving them one classroom, no more than two preps, and a mix of freshman and higher-level courses.
  • Foster a supportive environment by locating new teachers' classrooms near those of helpful veteran teachers in their department.
  • Provide new teachers with curriculum binders that hold sample lesson plans, quizzes, and homework assignments.
  • Provide new teachers with adequate books and materials for their students.
  • Give new teachers concrete information regarding departmental standards, expectations, and timelines.
As professionals, we owe it to one another to improve the way we treat our newest and most vulnerable colleagues. There is another reason as well: Those students most in need of highly qualified and experienced teachers most often pay the price for new teacher burnout and turnover. Schools and districts that create respectful, supportive environments in which new teachers receive equitable treatment will automatically provide their students with a better education and a chance for a more fulfilling future.

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