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Dear New Teacher: I Wish We Had an Inaugural Ceremony for You

 

I recently attended my son-in-law’s white coat ceremony at The Ohio State University College of Dentistry. As a career educator, I was intrigued by the symbolism: white representing the profession’s purity of purpose in serving patients. The coat—a tangible expression of empathy and commitment to both patients and colleagues. And the actual ceremony marking the transition of an ordinary student to one in a professional education program.

As I watched the ritual, an unexpected feeling of professional jealousy washed over me. It wasn’t the coat, rather, the public nature of the ceremony that stirred my envy. A collective reading of the professional pledge brought tears to my eyes. Families and professors had the opportunity to witness these dental students make a commitment to their new profession at the beginning of what was sure to be an arduous yet rewarding journey.

As educators, we belong to a group of learned professionals whose collective purpose is to prepare students for productive lives. Our efforts are remembered far beyond the time our students spend in our classrooms. Although we don’t wear a white coat nor acquire great wealth, we have, in some ways, a much greater impact on individual lives than most professionals. And yet, there is little done to acknowledge a teacher’s inaugural steps as an instructional practitioner.

To those educators who have just embarked on their careers, I wish we had provided you a ritual through which you were recognized for the commitment you have made to change lives. A small yet powerful moment of great significance in your career.

In the same way a white coat ceremony acknowledges the great academic journey medical students have embarked upon, I wish there was a ceremony for new teachers that could publicly recognize the commitment they have made to cultivate students’ academic skills and strengthen their emotional wellness. Hosting an inaugural ceremony devoted to the appreciation for those who have chosen this essential profession would provide a meaningful and motivational first step in their careers.

The Reality of a New Teacher

In reality, rather than a public honor marking the beginning of a career, most new teachers can be found sweating it out for hours in their classrooms, preparing for their teaching debut. No public celebration, no collective pledge. 

The responsibilities of a new teacher can seem daunting, and few would say they felt ready for the challenge that first year. And, of course, that forced week of appreciation in May is months down the road. New teachers greatly anticipate their first weeks, but may quickly experience disappointment in the isolated reality of teaching.

Districts and schools typically offer an August convening during which new teachers are recognized. But I can’t help but think, in our welcoming efforts, do we fully acknowledge and honor the hours they will spend reflecting on their practice and worrying about their students? Do we let them know the challenges of teaching are worth the results they may not witness first hand? After a humble yet genuine welcome, do these new teachers walk into their classrooms with increased motivation and a new sense of pride as professional educators?

In just the past few decades, teacher’s responsibilities have changed significantly. Given the increased social and emotional needs of both students and teachers, the invisible demands of the classroom and the inconsistent public support for education, now is the perfect time to create a meaningful welcome ritual for new teachers. One that will motivate and instill pride far beyond resources and coaching. A moment that will publicly acknowledge their first steps as professionals and let them know they are supported, appreciated and esteemed. 

As instructional practitioners, we may not wear a white coat, but our efforts are life-changing. That’s something to celebrate before the journey begins. 


 

Allison Riddle is the Elementary Mentor Supervisor for Davis School District in Northern Utah. She is the 2014 Utah Teacher of the Year, and a member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year.





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