January 29, 2004
Teacher offers survival guide for those new to profession
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. Keeping young teachers in the classroom may be as simple as encouraging experienced teachers to talk and work more with them, says a Purdue University professor of English education.
"We need to do something to keep teachers from burning out at such a fast rate," says Janet Alsup, an assistant professor of English education who taught junior high and high school English for seven years before earning her doctorate. "New teachers need to know that their colleagues empathize with them by hearing that others have experienced similar mistakes and faced the same problems."
Only about half of the nation's new teachers stay in the profession for more than five years, Alsup says.
Alsup highlights some of the common, unusual, sad and funny problems that teachers face in her new book, "'But Will it Work with Real Students?' Scenarios for Teaching Secondary English Language Arts." The book was published by the National Council of Teachers of English. Alsup co-wrote the book with Jonathan Bush, assistant professor of English education at Western Michigan University and a former Purdue graduate student.
"There are many books about teachers filled with hero stories about teachers changing students' lives and inspiring students to learn," Alsup says. "This book is not about those hero stories. There are some success stories, but these stories are about how things don't always go well in the classroom and how teachers can learn from these challenges.
"New teachers can be easily discouraged when they only hear about hero teaching stories. They need to know that good teachers also have faced trying times, but it's hard to get teachers to talk about their failures and disappointments."
Alsup's book is a textual mentor that features daily problems teachers face in the classroom. Scholars and veteran teachers discuss how to handle difficult issues. The stories in the book attribute teacher burnout to student discipline problems, the pressure to raise students' testing scores to meet standards and the struggle to motivate students.
Today's teacher is at a loss for finding new ways to motivate students, Alsup says. They compete with television and deal with more disciplinary problems, related to violence and aggression, than teachers did 20 years ago.
For example, there are a growing number of students who speak little or no English in the classroom. How can teachers handle these students?
"Treat them like any student by bringing them into the classroom and making them an expert about their culture or heritage," Alsup says.
Another example in the book shows how teachers cope with a shortage of resources. Teachers know students need to integrate computers more into their curriculum, but what happens when the lab is always booked, there is shortage of computers or the computers are not working? Alsup's book suggests that a teacher in this situation take the initiative to mentor colleagues about maintaining computers and scheduling.
"The No Child Left Behind Act requires states to employ teachers who are highly qualified, but if teacher burnout continues at its current rate, there will be fewer experienced teachers to meet the government's qualifications," Alsup says.
Constant turnover in a school is not healthy, and if the teaching field does not retain qualified and experienced teachers, there will be a lack of mentors, Alsup says. There is a lot of on-the-job training, and some states, such as Indiana, mandate that new teachers be assigned a mentor.
"Ideally, I would like to see new teachers find mentors in their schools who teach in similar disciplinary areas, but that is not always the case," Alsup says. "For example, in small rural schools, a teacher may be the only one in his or her area. This book steps in as a textual mentor to help new English teachers who are afraid or too nervous to admit their mistakes or their lack of experience."
Alsup is working on her next book, which focuses on teacher identity and the stereotypes teachers face.
"'But Will it Work with Real Students?' Scenarios for Teaching Secondary English Language Arts" is available through the National Council of Teachers of English by calling (800) 369-6283 or online. The book is $35.95.
Writer: Amy Patterson-Neubert, (765) 494-9723, firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Janet Alsup, (765) 494-3777, email@example.com
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; firstname.lastname@example.org
Note to Journalists: Review copies of "But Will it Work with Real Students?" are available by contacting Amy Patterson-Neubert, (765) 494-9723, email@example.com.
Janet Alsup, assistant professor of English education at Purdue University, has co-written a book that addresses why only about half of new teachers stay in the profession for more than five years. Alsup, who taught junior high and high school English for seven years before earning her doctorate, co-wrote "But Will it Work with Real Students?" with Jonathan Bush, assistant professor of English education at Western Michigan University and a former Purdue graduate student. The book was published by the National Council of Teachers of English. (Purdue News Service photo/David Umberger)
A publication-quality photo is available at http://ftp.purdue.edu/pub/uns/+2004/alsup.book.jpeg
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