The Four Stages of Teaching Stage 2: Survival

The Four Stages of Teaching Stage 2: Survival


Kevin A. Ryan, founder of Boston University’s Center for the Advancement of Ethics and Character, lists the “four stages of teaching” as Fantasy, Survival, Mastery, and Impact. Insight into all the stages is useful for a teacher at any stage.

Often, it takes less than one full day in an actual classroom for a new teacher’s idealistic fantasies to become despairing thoughts of “what have I gotten myself into???” One stands outnumbered by forty small human beings (at least it feels like forty), most of whom would rather be somewhere else, many of whom don’t like each other, few of whom are fully committed to societal taboos against acting on whatever comes to mind, and all of whom want the lion’s share of preferential treatment—and agony creeps through your stomach as it fully dawns that you’ve accepted an obligation to singlehandedly make every one of these rough diamonds successful and happy, or at least competent and well-behaved. It doesn’t help that many schools initiate new faculty members by assigning them to the most difficult classes.

This stage is the test of whether you will become a masterful and influential teacher who finds deep joy in your work—or a teacher who endures the job, if at all, only for the security of a paycheck. If you truly want to make it to the “masterful and influential” stages, be patient with the kids and with yourself.


Tips for Surviving the Survival Stage

  • Never lose sight of the higher values that led you to teaching. Write out an affirmation of your dreams for the world and of how you can influence the world by influencing the next generation—then repeat that affirmation aloud every day.
  • Accept that few students will match your ideal of the rapt learner who arrives bright and eager every morning and who never has trouble grasping an explanation. Teachers who pin their hopes on such a picture usually influence their students in the exact opposite direction; no one wants to learn from somebody who radiates impatience and “how can you be so stupid?” condescension.
  • Even in the largest classes, do everything you can to understand each student as an individual, and to help them all participate in making the group a diverse but effective community. Affirm whatever they do well, and avoid reinforcing bad behavior with extra attention. Remember, behind every one of those faces is an individual with unique needs and potential—who is hoping, perhaps against all past experience, that you’ll be on his or her side.
  • Learn from more experienced teachers, but don’t trade horror stories with the whiners. Feed your positive attitude at every opportunity; let it permeate your work inside the classroom and out.

Keep up with the latest news in education. Attend all the professional development meetings and conferences you can. When you enjoy learning, the attitude will spread to your students.