The Disillusionment Phase Hits Mentor Teachers, Too

November 8, 2016

National Board Certified Teachers seem to have the mentoring gene built into their DNA. NBCTs often serve in both formal and informal mentoring roles for those new to the profession – which means you already know what season it is. The New Teacher Center calls the weeks between mid-October and Thanksgiving break the Disillusionment Phase. This is the time when new teachers tend to hit their low points. The hours of lost sleep have added up. Rookies are feeling the bumps along the rough road of trial-and-error. And then the kids get Halloween candy.

Rookies with good mentor teachers are the lucky ones. Yet this season is no picnic for mentors, either. In October and November, energy throughout a school is in short supply. It also doesn’t help that one symptom of disillusionment is defensiveness. Well-meaning guidance is sometimes rewarded with attitude, or a series of dejected uh-huh’s.

Here are a few tips to help guide your favorite newbies through November:

Reassure them (again) that being great takes time.

Today’s rookies are under tremendous pressure to not only become successful teachers, but to be successful from day one. They spend lots of time comparing their unedited footage to other people’s highlight reels. And they’re inundated with messages that are meant to be inspiring but sometimes feel terrifying: The future is in your hands! This is the most important job in the world! The kids can’t afford for you to fail! By November, beginners often feel like they’ve spent the last few months failing at… the most important job in the world! Mentors are in a unique position to remind beginners that it takes time to become a great teacher. (Hey, it even takes time to be a good teacher.) Remind rookies: The great teachers of the future know they are not great yet.

Help them turn the treadmill down.

At the beginning of the year, many rookies hit the ground running when they’d be better off walking at a brisk-yet-sustainable pace. They overpromise things like pizza parties, frequent parent contact, and behavior management plans that require hours of after school paperwork. But when the treadmill has been turned up high for months, good intentions aren’t enough to keep up. Mentors can help rookies catch their breath by looking for ways to simplify classroom systems. A behavior system that involves putting checks on the board might be better than one that involves rearranging cards. Today’s quiz doesn’t have to be typed from scratch using the answers from yesterday’s homework. Student helpers can take over certain daily duties. By treating teacher time and energy as finite resources, mentors can help beginners use both more effectively.

Remind them that Thanksgiving is almost here.

For many beginners, Thanksgiving starts the slow climb from the depths of the Disillusionment Phase. Once teachers make it to Thanksgiving, they can set their sights on using winter break to plan a classroom makeover. They’ll also get four full nights of sleep in a row – and sometimes, nothing is more inspiring than that.

Let them know they’re not alone.

Remind rookies that you’ve been there. Remind them that there are plenty of moments in teaching that make the hard days worth it. They won’t believe you, of course. That’s how the Disillusionment Phase works. There is a popular saying that the first year as a teacher “makes you or breaks you.” One of the hardest things about this time is rookies’ constant worry that they are being broken.

This is the feeling that eventually led me to create the Disillusionment Power Pack, a (totally free) one-month series of emails based on my own first year low points. It includes pictures of actual journal pages from my first year, and the stories behind the stories I share in my book and speeches. If you think this might be helpful in the support you provide to new teachers, you can learn more here, sign up here.


Roxanna Elden, NBCT

Roxanna Elden taught for eleven years in various subjects and grade levels. She attained National Board Certification in Secondary Language Arts and wrote See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers, a funny, honest, practical guide with insights from experienced teachers around the country. Each year, her books and speeches help thousands of new teachers make the transition from training to the classroom.