Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

The Ten Phases of the First Year Teacher

While watching summer vacation fade to black and digging out all my classroom stuff to get ready to head back to the salt mines this week, I stumbled upon this little gem. I wrote it back in 2000 at the end of my first year of teaching as the closer to the portfolio I had to submit as part of my alternative certification process.

The Ten Phases of the First Year Teacher 

Phase 1: I’m going to change the world.
This stage is filled with excitement and anticipation for the school year to come.

Phase 2: No I’m not.
This stage is characterized by frustration, anger at self and children. Kids know you are a first year teacher and they take advantage of the fact. At this stage, the first year teacher feels more like a cop, circus ringleader, babysitter, animal tamer and judge. One does not feel like a teacher, whatever that is supposed to mean. At this point, the first year teacher eats less, drinks more and watches too much TV on the weekends.

Phase 3: What the hell is a predicate?
The first year teacher now realizes he has forgotten much of the esoteric details of what he is supposed to teach. Many basics have gone beyond memory and entered unconscious awareness. The first year teacher must dredge this back up, relearn it and find ways to make it interesting.

Phase 4: Who do I think I am?
Self-doubt. I don’t even have a degree in English. I am the author of an unpublished book and several unproduced screenplays. Is this just a dodge? Am I qualified? What if I ruin English for 120 people who will never ever learn to write and will fail miserably in life before being flushed out the bottom of the fast food industry.

Phase 5: You were listening?
One day, around late October one student will write or say something that shows insight and awareness of herself and her abilities as a young writer. It takes one’s breath away. Maybe it will be a call from the parents, or a note from a student, but the first year teacher realizes he has touched someone. This is a profound and humbling experience.

Phase 6: The third or fourth paper.
Late one night, the first year teacher finds himself grading papers. He notices that some of them are good. Fewer run-on sentences and misplaced modifiers pollute the landscape of the page. Maybe a simile pokes out of the dense undergrowth of words like a nervous rabbit on an autumn morning. The first year teacher realizes that the writing of most students has improved.

Phase 7: I can do this.
As the giddy rush of the holiday season approaches and all the VACATION time looms like the Seven Cities of Cibola on the horizon, the first year teacher smiles. All is not lost. It is already late November and he has survived. There are fewer problems in the classroom. Most students are learning. Things are going well.

Phase 8: This is fun.
During the December holidays, while having a beer for breakfast and watching his wife go off to work, the first year teacher experiences a strange feeling. He realizes he loves his job. It is not just a job. It is a calling. He realizes he does not love it for the vacation time or any of that (which is a major plus, especially when one has literary ambitions), but for the fact that teaching kids how to use words is fun. In a perverse sort of way, he cannot wait for January.

Phase 9: I am a teacher.
The first year teacher returns to the classroom confidant. He knows what he is doing. He is eager to continue and excited by the prospect of pushing the kids to continue to strive for their best work.

Phase 10: I am going to change the world.
Maybe not this year or even next year, but someday. It will occur 120 kids at a time. 120 x 1 lifetime of teaching (call it 30 years)= 3600 lives. Wow. What an awesome responsibility. How many live will those 3600 children touch?


  1. What is a predicate, btw? 🙂

  2. iowagreyhound, A predicate is the part of a sentence that contains the verb, objects, etc. There are two parts to any sentence: subject and predicate.

    Daniel, the bluest part is the in-service training before the kids start coming to class next week.

  3. Awwww! This made me tear up just a little bit. Enjoy getting back into the swing of things for the year!

  4. This is so funny and true! I was doing some websearching trying to find Ellen Moir’s “Phases of First-Year Teaching” and I ran across your piece. If you do not mind, I am going to use this as a “kick-off” item in my New Teach Blog.

    I am an Assistant Super for HR in a large district and run the New Teacher Induction and Mentoring Program.

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