A Life Preserver for the 'Sink or Swim' Years: An Investigation of New Teacher Obstacles and the Impact of a Peer Support Group
Type of DegreeDissertation
DepartmentCurriculum and Teaching
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The high number of teachers leaving the profession after only a few years of teaching has created a need for teacher education programs and school systems to address the obstacles new teachers are facing and look at ways to provide support. School systems lose time and money searching for candidates to fill teaching positions. In addition, student achievement can suffer when teachers do not remain in the profession long enough to gain valuable experience and professional development. This multiple case study investigated the obstacles perceived by nineteen new elementary teachers in a small southeastern United States community. Interviews and written reflections were utilized to understand the problems the new teachers were facing. A peer support group was created for the first through fifth grade teachers, and the impact of these monthly meetings was explored. The qualitative data provided thick descriptions of the participants’ beliefs and constant comparative analysis generated five main obstacles: lack of administrative support, loss of empowerment, bureaucratic demands, difficulties with parents, and opposition from veteran teachers. Although identified in previous studies, discipline problems and isolation were not named as significant obstacles in the study. Data also revealed that veteran and new teachers agreed on the problems that plague new teachers, but the obstacles perceived by the administrators differed. Each group named obstacles outside of their personal control instead of reflecting on their individual weaknesses and areas to improve. Another major goal of the study was to examine the role a new teacher support group could play in helping the new teachers. The data strongly suggested the benefits of the monthly meetings in the areas of refining practice, resolving problems, and renewing purpose. Key components of the meetings were a trusting community of teachers in similar positions, an agenda driven by the participants’ needs, and the opportunity for new teachers to ask for advice and share ideas. The study may offer support for the need to develop undergraduate teaching programs that better prepare teachers for the common obstacles each will face and for school systems to design effective support for new teachers. In addition, the results may impact school systems to promote communication between new teachers, veteran teachers, and administrators in an effort to understand the obstacles each is facing and to personally reflect on ways to alleviate some of those obstacles.