All states should have clear, specific, grade-by-grade, content-rich standards. When they don’t, it’s the students who miss out on a top-notch education and the teachers—especially the new teachers—who find more frustration than fulfillment. Below, we hear from a new teacher who laments the lack of direction she received in her first year on the job. We have withheld her name and school district to allow her to speak frankly and to emphasize that new teachers across the country are facing similar challenges.
First days are always nerve-racking—first days attending a new school, first days in a new neighborhood, and especially first days at a new job. My first day as a high school English teacher in a large, urban public school was no exception. It was my first “real” job after graduating college just three months earlier, and to add to my anxiety, I was hired just one day, precisely 24 hours, before my students would arrive. But my family and friends, mentors, and former professors all assured me that, like all other first days I had conquered, this day would be a successful start to a successful career. Unfortunately, this time they were wrong.
My first day on the job, I entered the building expecting to be greeted by the principal or chairperson, guided to my classrooms, and provided with what I considered to be the essentials: a schedule, a curriculum, rosters, and keys. Instead, the only things I received were a piece of paper on which two numerical codes were written, and a warning not to use the women’s bathroom on the second floor. After some frantic inquiring, I learned that the codes signified that I would be teaching ninthand tenth-grade regular English. As various colleagues pulled at my paper to get a glance, some nodded approvingly, while others sighed sympathetically. Eager to make a judgment of my own, I asked a question that, two years later, has yet to be answered: “What is taught in ninth- and tenth-grade regular English?” In response, I was given book lists containing over 20 books per grade, ranging from Robert Lipsyte’s The Contender to William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew on the freshman list alone, and even greater disparities on the other three lists. I was told to select six books from the appropriate list for each grade I taught, and “teach a book for every six weeks of the school year.” Unsatisfied with this answer, yet slowly beginning to feel foolish for asking (Should I know the answers to these questions? Am I unqualified to be a teacher if I don’t know what ninth- and tenth-grade English means?), I gathered the courage to inquire further. “What concepts are we supposed to teach the students through these books?” Now growing visibly agitated, several colleagues responded, “Teach literary elements and techniques. They need to re-learn those every year, and prepare them for the state test, and teach them some grammar and vocabulary as well as whatever concepts each book calls for.”
Much more on Wisconsin’s standards here.