One Key to Teacher Retention:
Understanding the Experience
and Needs of Beginning Teachers

Richard M. Joerger, Assistant Professor, University of Minnesota

Current agricultural education teachers can have a major influence on the decisions of beginning teachers to stay in the profession. In the earlier article, Ideas for Keeping Beginning Agricultural Education Teachers in the Profession (see News & Views, August/September 2001), I suggested a number of actions we can each take to make beginning teachers feel more welcome and have a more successful first year experience. In this article we will take a look at the stages in the changes in attitudes experienced by beginning teachers along with recommended actions for experienced agricultural education teachers.

The first year of teaching agricultural education is, indeed, an adventure! I think we all still have vivid memories and emotions concerning our students, community and school, parents, and our initial classroom, FFA, and SAE teaching and advising experiences. The first year—a benchmark year—provides an additional foundation upon which to develop our professional and personal growth. During the first year, beginning teachers are faced with learning how to teach, advise the FFA chapter, and conduct effective Supervised Agricultural Experience Programs without the support of college classmates and instructors. At the same time, most are learning how to conduct themselves in their first permanent job in a community that is often distant and different from their home community and school. Many beginning teachers enter marriage and purchase homes and make many other adult decisions during this time of their lives. All of these concurrent changes create a lot of stress and anxiety that often have an affect on teaching attitudes and performance!

Becoming a competent teacher takes many years of practice, study, and refinement. The first year has many highs and lows as most of us can recall. Keeping a positive attitude and an eye for the future is especially important for beginning teachers during their first year of teaching.

Ellen Moir from the Santa Cruz, California New Teacher Project developed a model in 1990 that reflects the stages of changing attitudes a beginning teacher experiences during their first year in the public school classroom (see the figure below). I believe our understanding of the phases and features of the Moir model can and should lead to informed activities and communications that can alleviate some of the anxiety and stress of our beginning agricultural education teachers.

The initial anticipation phase of the Moir Model begins during the student teaching experience. The beginning teacher has a tendency to romanticize the role and position of the teacher. Beginning teachers enter their jobs with a tremendous commitment to making a difference and a somewhat idealistic view of how to accomplish their goals. Feelings of excitement carry the new teachers through the first few weeks of school. They believe they are going to be the best agricultural education teacher and FFA advisor that ever walked!

The second phase is entitled survival. After the anticipation experience ceases, reality strikes and the following month is often perceived as overwhelmingly difficult. The new teachers are learning a lot and at a rapid pace. Beginning teachers are instantly bombarded with a variety of teaching, student, and school system problems and situations they had not anticipated. In sum they are simply caught off guard by the realities of teaching. They struggle to keep their heads above water and become very focused on the day-to-day routine of teaching, with little time available for reflection! They are not sure which instructional materials and strategies will work and many expend considerable effort thinking about and developing their lesson plans for the first time. During this time they will experience the negative consequences of poorly prepared lessons. Beginning teachers in this phase are surprised by the amount of work involved in being a teacher. They often report spending up to 70 hours per week on schoolwork. In addition, they are overwhelmed by the constant need to develop curriculum and instructional materials. The teachers usually are able to maintain a high level of energy through this phase. They report being hopeful the stress and strain will subside and maintain belief in a ‘light at the end of the tunnel.’ It is important that everyone is aware and responds to their feeling of isolation and loneliness and need for contact and support from other teachers and the profession!

The disillusionment phase occurs after six to eight weeks on the job as a beginning teacher. The beginning teachers realize things are not going as smoothly as earlier envisioned. Low morale leads to disenchantment with the job. They question their competence and commitment. The level of stress and worry often leads to periods of illness. The situation is compounded by new events including back-to-school nights, parent-teacher conferences, and initial evaluations by the administrator. Many of the beginning teachers find that classroom management is more stressful than anticipated. The unexpectedly large time commitment brings complaints from family members and friends. Teachers in this phase express self-doubt, have lower self-esteem, and question their professional commitment. This is the toughest phase for many new teachers.

The rejuvenation phase follows the disillusionment phase. During this phase, beginning teachers experience a gradual improvement in their attitude toward teaching. This phase usually occurs after the winter holiday break, when new teachers find time to reflect and invest more time in planning curriculum and instruction. They make an effort to prepare new and better instructional materials, and are ready to acknowledge their accomplishments while putting past problems behind. Better understanding of the school system occurs along with an acceptance of the realities of teaching. Experience has taught them coping strategies and skills to prevent, reduce, or manage many problems they are likely to encounter in the second half of the year. The teachers experience some sense of relief as they realize only half of the year remains before they can take a break. During the rejuvenation stage, novice teachers focus more on curriculum and instructional materials development, long-term planning and teaching strategies. This phase often lasts into spring. As the phase starts to come to a close, the beginning teachers become more concerned about getting everything (i.e., units, tests, competency exams) completed by year’s end as well as student performance and levels of achievement on various assessments.

The reflection phase is next, and usually begins in late April or early May. This is a somewhat invigorating time. Comments and feelings expressed in Moir’s study reflected the personal assurance and satisfaction of completing the first year of teaching. During this phase the novice teacher can think back over the year and highlight what did and didn’t work in teaching and advising the FFA. The teachers begin to think more about what they will do differently next year with regard to management, curricula, teaching strategies, evaluation, professional development, instructional resources, and the FFA. They start to anticipate what it will be like with all of the changes they are envisioning. Summer conferences and inservice activities are further used to make new ideas a reality.

The final phase of the change in attitudes is anticipation. As they finish out the first year and prepare for and enter the second year, beginning teachers express a heightened sense of what they hope to accomplish in the classroom and laboratory settings during the upcoming year. They have less concern for survival. They focus more on their impact on students, and less on themselves. They have greater concerns with quality instructional materials and teaching strategies than they did during the initial time of anticipation that occurred before and during the first couple of weeks of school.

It is our role as experienced and concerned agricultural education teachers to be empathetic, understanding, and helpful to the beginning teachers. Though some may not ask, most beginning teachers need guidance and help in selecting and obtaining quality instructional materials. We need to be accessible and ready to offer encouragement, guidance, open and ongoing communications. When possible and appropriate, we need to champion their efforts and be their advocates!

Teaching agricultural education is a profession that can span several decades of a productive agricultural educator’s life. In the next article we will take a look at the phases of the career of an agricultural educator, and then a closer look at more of the experiences and needs of beginning agricultural educators.


January 2002
NAAE News & Views
Page 6