This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
by Margaret Ernst and Lauren Goldman
You may be used to watching Tony Danza tap-dance. But you’re probably not used to seeing him cry in front of 10th graders.
Tonight on "Teach," Danza feels just how tough being a first-year teacher is and it shows. Kids are talking, poking each other, and joking around as he tries to get a lesson started. “I can’t fight this battle any more,” he says—and leaves the room in tears.
Danza gets to share his day-to-day struggles at Northeast High with instructional coach David Cohn, who observes his every class. But not every new Philadelphia public school teacher has their own David Cohn. The first year is notoriously the hardest, and 2009 data showed that 30 to 40 schools lose one third of their teachers each year.
Seeing Danza struggle might give some insight as to why there are teachers who leave within the first few years on the job. He teaches one class per day, to students who were pre-screened for the show. The average first-year teacher teaches four to five classes a day without the daily support of an instructional coach.
In Philadelphia, new teachers must complete New Teacher Orientation and New Teacher Induction. Some receive new teacher coaches, who check in on first-year teachers throughout the year. A 2004 Research for Action study showed that the coaches were effective in retaining more first-year teachers.
Tonight Danza shares with the camera that the worst part of his experience was not just that he let the kids get to him, but that he let them see how much they were getting to him. Consistent emotional support is important for first-year teachers, and it affects what happens in the classroom.
How successful are the District’s programs at providing spaces of reflection, learning, and consolation for first-year teachers? What successful models of support are new teachers finding at their schools or outside their schools? What support is missing?