Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Tweener: Who Will Help?

In the last blog post, we saw that student success is the number one motivator for believers.  Tweeners share this belief and are equally enthusiastic about their craft.  This group of teachers is new to the school culture and the majority of them are fresh out of university.  (Tweeners can also be experienced teachers who are new to the school.)  The difference between believers and tweeners is that the latter’s primary goal is to find stability within the new environment.  Today’s university graduates begin their careers with a debt load and it makes sense that tweeners are concerned with fitting in, pleasing the administration and being compliant in the search for a more permanent position.

This period of instability and compliance generally last for 2-4 years during which time the tweener will make every effort to fit into the school culture.  They are eager teachers and not afraid to experiment with a variety of teaching strategies.  They believe in their students but sometimes lack the skill necessary to help students overcome learning obstacles.  Tweeners need support from other staff members and instructional leaders, especially when their ‘moment of truth’ comes.   If you are an experienced teacher reading this, you have a memory of one event early in your career when something unbelievably difficult happened that had you questioning your career choice.  Teaching is challenging, especially in the early years.  Facing this ‘moment of truth’ alone and not benefitting from administrative and peer support, the tweener might choose to exit the profession.  (Studies show that 50% of new teachers leave the profession within the first five years.) 
Behind the enthusiastic face of the tweener is a young person who is afraid to ask for help.  Remember that their number one goal is to fit in, to please and to find stability within the school.  It follows that they would not ask for help and consequently, suffer many difficulties and trials alone.  No teacher college can adequately prepare a new teacher for the real life challenges that await them in the first years.  If tweeners don’t receive the help they need, they will suffer in silence and many will leave the profession.
Healthy schools will have strong leaders who will ensure that tweeners are supported in the early years.  These schools generally have a program and resources in place to guarantee the development of the tweener.  Mentoring programs with peers and close contact with supervisors, lead learners and administration will help the tweener transition from a newbie to the believer he/she wants to be. 
Teachers reading this blog post are encouraged to step up and offer assistance in concrete but positive ways.   Many years ago, my moment of truth involved the attempted suicide of a student.  In that second year of teaching, I realized that my students did not need me and nothing I had or could bring to them would make any difference in their lives so horribly filled with pain.  They need a therapist, an advocate, a bodyguard and many other things but not a teacher.  What could I possibly do that would make any difference?  I felt powerless, incompetent and broken by their pain and just like my students, I felt as if I could not share these feelings.  I survived that moment of truth partly because of serendipity and partly because of sheer grit.  A school is only as healthy as its weakest member is and we all share the responsibility to help our colleagues when they struggle. 
Next post will look at the sad case of the survivor teacher and how they can be helped.  Do you have any tweener stories you'd like to share?  Please leave a comment!

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