"Where do I get my paycheck? How will I ever find time to do everything? What is the best way to set up a classroom?" Last year, Lynne Rominger, a freelance writer and fledgling high school English teacher, longed for a manual to guide her through her first year teaching. She co-wrote Your First Year As a High School Teacher and Your First Year As an Elementary School Teacher to answer those and other questions for teachers just starting out. Included: Author Lynne Rominger discusses the challenges of a first-year teacher.
Lynne Rominger is one of the authors of two new books, Your First Year As an Elementary School Teacher: Making the Transition from Total Novice to Successful Professional and Your First Year As a High School Teacher. The books include all kinds of information a new teacher might need to know -- from what a school district's human resources department does to tips on classroom management. Rominger, who is also a freelance writer, recently completed her first year as a high school English teacher.
Education World: What prompted you and your co-authors to write this book?
Lynne Rominger: I began my first teaching assignment while still in a college degree program. What I quickly learned on the job was that nothing in my program prepared me adequately -- or at all -- for many of the things that come up in teaching. At the same time [I began my teaching assignment], I was writing a Complete Idiot's Guide to publishing magazine articles, and I thought that what I needed to survive teaching was something like that -- a survival manual providing insider tips and knowledge.
What do you do, after all, when two students do something sexually inappropriate in your classroom? or lie to administrators about you because they don't want to do an assignment? or ride a horse into the classroom? All those things happened to me!
I asked Natalie Elkin, the teacher I was sharing a room with, to co-author the high school manual with me. Suzanne Laughrea was brought in because of her tremendous expertise in assessment and her years of professional experience. Suzanne had seen and done it all!
EW: What was the hardest part of adjusting to teaching?
Rominger: The hardest part for me -- and most new teachers would probably agree -- was the long hours. As a teacher, you do not enjoy an 8 to 3 day. No way! People outside teaching don't realize the time commitment teachers make, especially during the first few years, when they're hustling to create lessons, get organized, and find a rhythm. I just remember being soooooooooo exhausted. When the kids leave, lesson preparation and everything else has to be taken care of. Often, teachers are grading papers and preparing lessons until 10 or 11 p.m.
Another tough adjustment is finding your way within the culture of the campus. Each school has a distinct personality. My first year, I taught one block period of English at one high school, then rushed to another high school to teach two traditional periods of English. The schools, although in the same district, were incredibly different. The pace was different; the students were different from one another; the administrative styles were different. Navigating the culture of a school can be challenging.
EW: How do you think colleges and/or mentors can better prepare new teachers?
Rominger: First of all, I don't necessarily believe colleges are better at preparing teachers than simply being on the job. I learned everything from a few people within my department -- and I'm still learning from these people. My department head, Ramona Slack, took me under her wing and showed me the ropes. I spent several weeks in her classroom, watching her, during the first term last year. I try to model her. Natalie Elkin opened her lessons to me and held my hand.
If colleges really want to prepare teachers, I think offering a few core classes in educational psychology and management is fine, but colleges should also seek out the best teachers in the area and work with these teachers within the student teaching program. Exceptional teachers should be paid a hefty sum to teach new teachers on the job, and new teachers should be paired -- from day one -- with mentors who care. Ironically, although California has a new teacher-support program, my mentor did little to prepare me or support me in the classroom. The mentor was just too busy, and my erratic teaching schedule prohibited much contact. Natalie -- without extra pay or incentive -- really nurtured my teaching success.
EW: What were some of the sources for the activities and "Tales from the Trenches" sections of the book?
Rominger: We relied on personal anecdotes, interviews with other teachers, and research. We sought out all the information in the books ourselves.
EW: What kind of feedback have you received?
Rominger: So far, so good -- especially for the high school book. There is other stuff out there for the new high school teacher but nothing else as comprehensive. People love the fact that we've written a book that specifically addresses what a high school teacher needs to know.
This e-interview with Lynne Rominger is part of the Education World weekly Wire Side Chat series. Click Wire Side Chats to go to our Wire Side Chat archive.