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Why I care about this stuff

Here’s the basic idea that underlies all I’m trying to do with New Teachers Thriving: Happy and healthy teachers are more likely to produce happy and healthy (and knowledgeable!) students. If a teacher is flourishing, the odds their students will flourish increase. Conversely, if a teacher is feeling miserable and beat down, the odds their students will flourish decrease.

I’ll share more about research related to this core idea in the months ahead. For now, though, I want to share a bit more about why I’m so passionate about creating New Teachers Thriving. Here are three personal reasons I’m taking the time to do this work.

1. I’ve been there

I’ve experienced the pain that comes along with the first years of teaching.

I got my butt handed to me over and over again. I remember waking up exhausted, profoundly anxious about what the day ahead would hold. I would wake up convinced that my lesson plan would be a train wreck. I remember looking at myself in the mirror in the bathroom and feeling deflated by the bags under my eyes and my waistline that was expanding because of my fast-food diet. I have vivid memories of gripping the steering wheel on my way to school, feeling as if I were driving into combat.

Somehow, I got through it. And I’ve come to believe that much of the pain I felt is actually preventable. For that reason, I feel an obligation to offer a hand to any of my sisters and brothers who are in the midst of a similarly challenging experience.

2. I’ve seen it over and over again

After four years as a middle school and high school English teacher, I became the leader of a teacher-training program. Between 2012 and 2017, I led a team that shepherded hundreds of people into the teaching profession. During that time, it was my full-time job to immerse myself in the successes and failures of early-career teachers. I obsessed about the vicissitudes of their experience. Over time, I supported teachers who did remarkable work with their students. And I supported teachers who couldn’t handle it and crumbled under the pressure.

As the years progressed, I saw patterns emerge. My awareness of the predictable pitfalls of the new-teacher experience grew. As did my understanding of what teachers could do in order to avoid those pitfalls. This blog--and the work of New Teachers Thriving more generally--will reflect the many lessons I learned over the course of those years.

3. I’ve studied it

I love learning. So I’m constantly exploring new ideas. It’s why I came back to graduate school in my mid-30s to earn a doctoral degree. It’s why I read or listened to 117 books last year. What can I say -- I’m a nerd. And not embarrassed about it in the least!

For the past few years, the focus of my learning has been on what we can do to improve our lives. I’ve soaked up research coming out of the fields of positive psychology, organizational development, adult development, and others. My doctoral studies here at Harvard are focused on understanding what we can do to help teachers flourish as human beings in addition to doing great work professionally.

In closing...

So I’m working on New Teachers Thriving as an outgrowth of the conviction that I have developed as a result of each of those experiences. I envision a world in which early career educators feel that they are able to sustain themselves in this most challenging and all-important of professions. And, as a result, I envision teachers not only knowing how to achieve genuine well-being for themselves but also being able to support their students to rise to the heights of their potential.


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