Phases of First-Year Teaching

This article was originally written for publication in the newsletter for the California New Teacher Project, published by the California Department of Education (CDE), 1990.

First-year teaching is a difficult challenge. Equally challenging is figuring out ways to support and assist beginning teachers as they enter the profession. Since 1988 the Santa Cruz New Teacher Project has been working to support the efforts of new teachers. After supporting nearly 1,500 new teachers, a number of developmental phases have been noted. While not every new teacher goes through this exact sequence, these phases are very useful in helping everyone involved -- administrators, other support personnel, and teacher education faculty--in the process of supporting new teachers. These teachers move through several phases from anticipation, to survival, to disillusionment, to rejuvenation, to reflection; then back to anticipation. Here's a look at the stages through which new teachers move during that crucial first year. New teacher quotations are taken from journal entries and end-of-the-year program evaluations.


The anticipation phase begins during the student teaching portion of preservice preparation. The closer student teachers get to completing their assignment, the more excited and anxious they become about their first teaching position. They tend to romanticize the role of the teacher and the position. New teachers enter with a tremendous commitment to making a difference and a somewhat idealistic view of how to accomplish their goals. "I was elated to get the job but terrified about going from the simulated experience of student teaching to being the person completely in charge." This feeling of excitement carries new teachers through the first few weeks of school.


The first month of school is very overwhelming for new teachers. They are learning a lot and at a very rapid pace. Beginning teachers are instantly bombarded with a variety of problems and situations they had not anticipated. Despite teacher preparation programs, new teachers are caught off guard by the realities of teaching. "I thought I'd be busy, something like student teaching, but this is crazy. I'm feeling like I'm constantly running. It's hard to focus on other aspects of my life."

During the survival phase, most new teachers struggle to keep their heads above water. They become very focused and consumed with the day-to-day routine of teaching. There is little time to stop and reflect on their experiences. It is not uncommon for new teachers to spend up to seventy hours a week on schoolwork.

Particularly overwhelming is the constant need to develop curriculum. Veteran teachers routinely reuse excellent lessons and units from the past. New teachers, still uncertain of what will really work, must develop their lessons for the first time. Even depending on unfamiliar prepared curriculum such as textbooks is enormously time consuming.

"I thought there would be more time to get everything done. It's like working three jobs: 7:30-2:30, 2:30-6:00, with more time spent in the evening and on weekends." Although tired and surprised by the amount of work, first-year teachers usually maintain a tremendous amount of energy and commitment during the survival phase, harboring hope that soon the turmoil will subside.


After six to eight weeks of nonstop work and stress, new teachers enter the disillusionment phase. The intensity and length of the phase varies among new teachers. The extensive time commitment, the realization that things are probably not going as smoothly as they want, and low morale contribute to this period of disenchantment. New teachers begin questioning both their commitment and their competence. Many new teachers get sick during this phase.

Compounding an already difficult situation is the fact that new teachers are confronted with several new events during this time frame. They are faced with back-to-school night, parent conferences, and their first formal evaluation by the site administrator. Each of these important milestones places an already vulnerable individual in a very stressful situation.

Back-to-school night means giving a speech to parents about plans for the year that are most likely still unclear in the new teacher's mind. Some parents are uneasy when they realize the teacher is just beginning and many times pose questions or make demands that intimidate a new teacher.

Parent conferences require new teachers to be highly organized, articulate, tactful and prepared to confer with parents about each student’s progress. This type of communication with parents can be awkward and difficult for a beginning teacher. New teachers generally begin with the idea that parents are partners in the learning process and are not prepared for parents' concerns or criticisms. These criticisms hit new teachers at a time of waning self-esteem.

This is also the first time that new teachers are formally evaluated by their principal. They are, for the most part, uncertain about the process itself and anxious about their own competence and ability to perform. Developing and presenting a "showpiece" lesson is time-consuming and stressful.

During the disillusionment phase classroom management is a major source of distress. "I thought I'd be focusing more on curriculum and less on classroom management and discipline. I'm stressed because I have some very problematic students who are low academically, and I think about them every second my eyes are open."

At this point, the accumulated stress of the first-year teacher, coupled with months of excessive time allotted to teaching, often brings complaints from family members and friends. This is a very difficult and challenging phase for new entries into the profession. They express self-doubt, have lower self-esteem and question their professional commitment. In fact, getting through this phase may be the toughest challenge they face as a new teacher.


The rejuvenation phase is characterized by a slow rise in the new teacher's attitude toward teaching. It generally begins in January. Having a winter break makes a tremendous difference for new teachers. It allows them to resume a more normal lifestyle, with plenty of rest, food, exercise, and time for family and friends. This vacation is the first opportunity that new teachers have for organizing materials and planning curriculum. It is a time for them to sort through materials that have accumulated and prepare new ones. This breath of fresh air gives novice teachers a broader perspective with renewed hope.

They seem ready to put past problems behind them. A better understanding of the system, an acceptance of the realities of teaching, and a sense of accomplishment help to rejuvenate new teachers. Through their experiences in the first half of the year, beginning teachers gain new coping strategies and skills to prevent, reduce, or manage many problems they are likely to encounter in the second half of the year. Many feel a great sense of relief that they have made it through the first half of the year. During this phase, new teachers focus on curriculum development, long-term planning and teaching strategies.

"I'm really excited about my story writing center, although the organization of it has at times been haphazard. Story writing has definitely revived my journals." The rejuvenation phase tends to last into spring with many ups and downs along the way. Toward the end of this phase, new teachers begin to raise concerns about whether they can get everything done prior to the end of school. They also wonder how their students will do on the tests, questioning once again their own effectiveness as teachers. "I'm fearful of these big tests. Can you be fired if your kids do poorly? I don't know enough about them to know what I haven't taught, and I'm sure it's a lot."


The reflection phase beginning in May is a particularly invigorating time for first-year teachers. Reflecting back over the year, they highlight events that were successful and those that were not. They think about the various changes that they plan to make the following year in management, curriculum, and teaching strategies. The end is in sight, and they have almost made it; but more importantly, a vision emerges as to what their second year will look like, which brings them to a new phase of anticipation. "I think that for next year I'd like to start the letter puppets earlier in the year to introduce the kids to more letters."

It is critical that we assist new teachers and ease the transition from student teacher to full-time professional. Recognizing the phases new teachers go through gives us a framework within which we can begin to design support programs to make the first year of teaching a more positive experience for our new colleagues.

The first year of teaching is intense. That's why New Teacher Center partnered with Coursera to offer new teachers strategies and support. Learn more.

More like this: blog posts and news.

Learn more about how New Teacher Center Induction Programs support beginning teachers.


Phases of First Year Teaching

Phases of First Year Teaching

At the Right Time

I have been teaching for 10 years and this year I am a mentor to a new teacher. This article was very helpful. I can relate more to what my teacher is going through, and I feel I have the ability to help her get through her rough times.

Hello - as a mentor, what

Hello - as a mentor, what kinds of things did you do with your new teacher? My coteacher is also my mentor, but has several times made it clear that she will cover her own butt with the administration, throwing me under the bus, rather than take responsibility or work as a team. I am trying to take the high road and just do my job to the very best of my abilties, but I could sure use some support. I do not feel like I am in an environment in which my teaching is supported or respected by my coteacher/mentor - it is hard to feel good about my work in this situation. thank goodness the kids are wonderful. I am stuck in the low part of that graph about new teacher feelings. any advice?
thanks in advance.
Matilda M.

Wow! So glad this article

Wow! So glad this article exists. I am in my first year and having an unbelievably difficult time. The phases are helping me understand and not feel so alone. I am exhausted and feeling like I can't keep up. I wish I had some good mentoring, but I feel lost in all the requirements. It is hard to believe that come January I will be feeling better.

You will feel fantastic once

You will feel fantastic once January comes. This is only my second year of teaching, and I can say I feel much more confident than last year. The chart is extremely accurate. Keep it up, you are doing great despite how you feel!


It was very enlightening to find this information but I now realize that due to the type of students I work with (mentally handicapped) and the age range I teach (middle school) the cycle represented in this graph is my life every year. I am always struggling to manage behavior and create effective curriculum. It doesn't seem to get much better due to the scheduling issues of middle school and the reintroduction of new students into the mix every year. At least I now understand why the end of first semester is so difficult every year.


As I read this, that is exactly how I was feeling. I go through the same thing every year. The last two weeks my disillusionment phase has hit extremely hard. Hopefully I can see past it before January though. We'll see.

I am in my sixth year of

I am in my sixth year of teaching and still find myself going through some of these phases. Reading this article was a wonderful way for me to connect with new teachers. When mentoring a new teacher, keeping these phases in mind will really help motivating and supporting the teacher. Remembering that we have all been there and still might be there every now and then. This article will help me as a mentor by reminding me of how much new teachers go through and it is my responsibility to not only make sure their classroom management and curriculum is set but to also be a positive support for them. Keeping them motivated and encouraged throughout the school year.

I am in my eighth year and it

I am in my eighth year and it still feels the same. Every year sees changes and new issues to deal with. My confidence grows with the students, but the way we deliver the information to them is constantly changing. Hopefully I can impart to the new teachers that they too will gain more confidence with time and learn to enjoy their class time. moew

I also am in my sixth year of

I also am in my sixth year of teaching and many of the things a new teacher is going through are the same things I go through still to this day. Palm Beach county is in a constant state flux. Requirements placed on all teachers are always changing, that I believe is part of the job and has not not changed.

First year

I have been teaching for 21 years and while reading this article I had to laugh. I think I went through every phase listed above for the first several years until I was comfortable with myself and my ability to teach. The article was right on with every phase. Even down to becoming re-energized after winter break. That is still true today for me.
It was very informative because you think you are the only one going through these issues. Where was this article 21 years ago to help me?

New teacher

Hi I'm a new teacher this year and saw that you have taught for 21 years. I feel like I am just getting by and I feel that the principal doesn't get
It that this is hard for me. What can I do?

Hang in there. You will have

Hang in there. You will have many principal's and colleagues that don't "get you". Identify which phase you are in, embrace it and look to learn from it. Know that you WILL come out of that phase and into another. In my experience (15 years of teaching), I have found that I continually loop in and out of these phases- it is part of learning and growing as a teacher. Enjoy what you do and your students!

Phases of First Year Teaching

It was very helpful to read this article and to reflect on my own teaching experiences and the different phases I have been through. The "panic" or anxiety new teachers can feel can be quieted by realizing they are not alone and don't have to find all the answers on their own. Other teachers can be our greatest support system! It was helpful to be reminded of the phases we can expect our new teachers to go through, so we may be there to help them see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I believe everyone takes a

I believe everyone takes a tour of all of the phases when you are a first year teacher.


Hello all,

I just completed my first year of teaching, and I recognized many of the points made in this article.

My main concern now is what if the disenchantment phase lasted for the entire second half of the school year? I still haven't recovered emotionally from the stress.

Does this mean teaching isn't right for me?

Any replies are appreciated.

give it 5 years...

I understand how you feel. It is not an easy job, and it never will be, but your confidence and experience will help you as you go on. Remember you don't have to be perfect, not every lesson will be great. You won't succeed with, or change every kid, but love the ones you can. Try to keep perspective with the rest of your life, make limits on your time, and stay healthy. Make time for other things in life, this will help your attitude. I have been teaching 25 years, it has gotten easier ( a lot) and I have changed positions within the profession to find what suits me best. Take shortcuts (like buying curriculum from teacher stores) and take the odd mental health day. Rejuvenate this summer, and give it at least another few years. Then decide...

So glad I read this I am in

So glad I read this I am in my first year of teaching and literally keeping my head above water. Somedays I feel as if nothing has gone right. So glad this seems to be out there to get better!

I'm there with you. This is

I'm there with you. This is my first year teaching and I'm definitely in survival phase. The anticipation phase didn't last very long because I just started this position last week. The previous teacher couldn't handle it so they needed someone. I am feeling very overwhelmed coming into a class 7-8 weeks into the school year. I'm so glad I found this site. The teachers at school seem nice, but I haven't really connected with them on a real personal level to where I feel they understand me. I seem to be at least ten years younger than all of the teachers I have met, so it's a little awkward being a newbie and out of their age range. I hope when January comes it will be much better.

Wow. This is my life right

Wow. This is my life right now. It's crazy how similar your situation is to mine. I too started around the same time and seem to be the youngest teacher at my school. I hope things have gotten better thus far. Best of wishes to you!!!

First year teacher

I feel better after finding this cycle. So far I had gone through a couple of these phases and I can't wait for the rest of the year to get better. I think administrators should keep this cycle in mind. Sadly, the administrators at my school, especially the principal has forgotten about how hard the first year is. I feel as I'm being held accountable for things that I don't even know yet! Not to mention the fact that I was asked to write down the classroom expectations when he walked by my classroom and my kids were loud. Classroom management is an issue for every first year teacher, right? It seems like once so many years pass by they tend to forget. Sad.

Universal Woe

This article was so useful to me. It's nearing the end of February in my first year, and I am holding on to every scrap of "Rejuventation" that I can get. Unfortunately, any rejuvenation seems to be a flicker in an increasingly bleak and unsupportive teaching environment. I realize that next year will be different in many ways, including my own confidence. It feels good to know that these feelings of inadequacy and stress are common in first year teachers AND that they will subside.

WOW! I am soo glad to read

WOW! I am soo glad to read this article! I went through the phase of feeling I was just barely keeping my head above water. Many times, I felt under water! giggle. SO glad to read it was a normal phase for new teachers to go through. Life is feeling better now as I have learned some things and not everything little thing is brand new all the time!

The first year teaching is

The first year teaching is extremely difficult. PLEASE take this advice from me. Stay away from dating during this phase. The stress will make you not think rationally and you will overwhelm yourself even further especially if things don't work out.

Thank you for this article!

Thank you for this article! As a first year teacher going through non-traditional certification, I am overwhelmed, and it is only the third day of school. I'm trying to take it day to day and stay positive. Knowing that it's normal to feel this way does encourage me, and I'm looking forward to the reflection phase already!

This hit close to home

I got a job at the school where I student taught. Even though I went through most of my classes in college prepping for 3-5th grade, I stayed in Kindergarten. I was officially evaluated by my principal on the Danielson Model- all Proficients but I still came home with a sinking feeling that I'm not doing enough. That I'm cheating my kids while everyone thinks I'm doing fine. After reading this, I can breath a little again. No one in my family understands.

mentor frustration

As a first year teacher, I have been assigned a mentor. I regularly feel frustrated with her. She makes me feel like my disillusionment worries are not legitimate and that my challenges are simple to overcome. I avoid talking to her because my struggles are real but she trivializes them and talks about herself and how successful she is. I know I should be trying to learn from her and her experience but it is hard to not resent the way she delivers the message. Any thoughts?

So true

During my Disillusionment phase, I cried to my fiance every morning before work. I told him I was going to quit and go back to being a teacher's aide, because "I'm too stupid to be a good teacher." Its getting better now, but still, insanely hard. Its Saturday, and I'm grading!


I am currently being consumed by the disenchantment phase. I feel scrutinized by parents as well as staff. I do bave full support from my administration, but the day to day routine has me almost depressed and feeling that I am being too intense.
I teach primary gifted and am constantly being challenged by parents who only care about the grades their kids recieve. Everything stresses me out.

I have a vetersn mentor and shes wonderful, supportive, understsnding, and helpful. I just cant let these emotions and my intense desire for success go.

First Year College Instructor

I'm very glad I found this article. Even though it is geared toward high school / elementary school teachers, I have definitely experienced this my first year teaching my own college course. In fact, I'm currently feeling a bit in life crisis mode, wondering if teaching is right for me. I came in with such high hopes, only to have them shattered by the disillusionment phase which brought on immense anxiety/depression/health issues. Now I can't figure out if the health issues caused me to hate teaching (and would've loved it otherwise) or if I shouldn't do teaching because it causes health problems! I know I'm good at teaching, but the stress makes me wonder if I just can't hack it, and that alone makes me feel like a failure.

I hope this is accurate

It's my first year, and I'm smack dab in the middle of the disillusionment phase. After an accumulation of constant everyday stress, a couple days before Christmas break started, I was cornered by 5 8th graders threatening to hit me, in front of my whole class. I had to recount the event the next morning 5 times as I wrote 5 separate referrals. Reliving that experience made me feel incredibly scared and stressed out, leading me to start crying in the middle of teaching my first period class. I took the rest of the week off on an early holiday. But according to this chart it gets better. I'm hoping to make it through to the end of the year

First year teachers are

First year teachers are facing a serious challenge but they also have an incredible opportunity to advance the field of education. New teachers are still learning and often they learn the most from their own students. First year teachers are also often more open to new teaching techniques and resources. While incorporating new technology or methods into the classroom may be more difficult for a seasoned teacher, new teachers can jump right in since they have the flexibility to experiment a little while they learn.

The phases described in this

The phases described in this section certainly parallel for school nurses. Even experienced nurses realize what they had anticipated is not actually what they encounter. Setting up systems that work in a health office is very similar to setting up classroom practices. It is very individual and while that is the beauty of school nursing, it can also be a challenge. Just as no two teachers manage their classrooms in exactly the same way, no two school nurses manage their offices the same. I think it is important for the mentor to support the mentee while allowing her to try various different organizational strategies. Being overwhelmed in any new job situation is normal and reading this article is reassuring.

My First Year

This article sounds exactly like my first year. I was completely overwhelmed for the whole year and around April or May started thinking about my first year experience and how I improve upon my teaching for the next year. Reading this article makes me feel relieved that I am not the only one that goes through such a hell-ish first year!

Teacher first year

This is such a relief to read. I have been completely berating myself, exhausted, overwhelmed and reduced to tears on many occasions. (I am definitely in disillusionment.) I started as a sub in October with no preparation before the school year. The teacher resigned two weeks later, and I was left with a huge mess, and a combination 3rd 4th class with all the usual but challenging scenarios. I have been working so much, but I thought it was just I just am not organized enough, or good enough to balance all this stuff. I am one of the "working 70 hours" a week individuals. It helps so much to know that it is not a reflection of my inadequacies, but that others go through this too.

I feel the same way! Similar

I feel the same way! Similar situation: a professor quit mid-trimester and I took over within 2 days. I have four different English sections, plus a workshop. I have almost no time for myself and am super overwhelmed. It is my first year teaching and I keep questioning my ability, if the kids are learning, my classroom management, everything. I am just hanging in there, hoping things will settle down in another month or two.

I can identify with these

I can identify with these phases as I went through them myself! My first year was HARD!! If I had known these phases, I would have been able to identify them and "see the light at then end of the tunnel." This will definitley help me mentor beginning teachers.

Being aware of the phases

Being aware of the phases that the new teacher is most likely going through at any given time of the first year can help the veteran educator to anticipate concerns and questions, and respond with the appropriate support.

being aware of the phases

This article has helped me better understand that my feelings are not unusual for first year teachers to feel this way. I am on beginning of rejuvenating the phase. Thank you so much. Need the calm silent time to gather my thoughts and get the party on for learning to the end of school.

Great way to summarize and to

Great way to summarize and to help teachers realize what they are feeling is ok and so they don't get depressed.

Great article. It truely

Great article. It truely does break up the student teaching time period in a helpful acurate way. The Anticipation Phases is dead on correct. We all cant wait to change the world.

It is interesting to read

It was interesting to read. Thank you.

Thank you for the article

It seems to me , or something to keep back the author

Very good article!

Very good article!

Phases of first year teachers

I agree that knowing these stages can provide some insight for a mentor to better support a new teacher. While they are experiencing one of the stages as well as to help them prepare for the next phase that may be approaching. I think the most support is needed at the beginning of the year when so many stressful demands are being placed on them and veteran teachers are also overwhelmed at this time so a mentor has the ability to play a unique and supportive role. These efforts may help avoid or alleviate the burdens of the disillusionment phase.

Even though I have been

Even though I have been teaching for 16 years, I remember vividly each and every phase that was mentioned in this article. It is quite an exhausting experience, the first year, but it is also comforting to know that at the same time you are not alone in your experience.

I can truly relate to a lot

I can truly relate to a lot of the things that were mentioned in this article.
My first year as a teacher was very difficult. If it was not for the love and support of my administrators I believe I would have left the profession.

student teaching

I feel like I went through all of those stages in my student teaching internship a couple of years ago. I was so relieved once student teaching was over, that I completely questioned my career choice. Now, years later, I still haven't pursued my first teaching job. I'm pursuing a new career now but I always wonder if I gave up out of fear of never having a normal, well-balanced life. it right for me??

I am going through the exact same thing right now. I'm 27 and I graduated in Decemember. I was so glad to be done with student teaching and college in general! Throughout my student teaching I questioned myself as to whether I had made the right choice in my career path. I failed my ESL certification the first time I have taken it and have not took it or my content exam yet. When I think about having to be a teacher I somewhat get I know that I will not like what I am doing. I have been subbing here there in the district I completed my student teaching in to make some money. I am very conflicted as to what I want to do. I do not feel prepared to be a teacher and originally had a different career choice that I wanted to go with...a veterinarian. I love animals and feel that I gave up on a career that I was passionate about. UGH!! I feel like all the time and money spent getting my teaching degree was a complete WASTE! Any adcive for this conflicted woman?? Maybe something with animals I could do??

-Seriously Conflicted

Phases of First Year Teaching

The article was interesting and spot on, in my opinion. I feel that the "timeline" provided would have been useful to see as a beginning teacher to reassure me that all of the feelings I had were "normal." As a prospective mentor, I feel that it is my responsibility to help a student teacher feel confident and relaxed through the process. I will incorporate the info from this article about the stages of how and when these feeling happen to do so. As far as the development of curriculum, I felt that was the most challenging aspect of being a new teacher because it seemed as though all of the other teachers had their lesson plans, ideas and projects developed. Luckily, a veteran teacher shared her developed curric with me my first year and that helped a lot.

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