What I’ve Learned: A Peer Coach’s Experience With New Teachers

Educators may spend their careers preparing lessons, but often the most memorable are those they learn themselves.  With that in mind, NEA Today asked school staff –  everyone from classroom teachers and bus drivers to guidance counselors and school nurses – to share the everyday lessons they’ve picked up along the way in a series called “What I’ve Learned.”

What I’ve Learned: Peer Coach Johanna Rauhala

Johanna Rauhala is a peer coach with the California Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA) program—a two-year induction program that helps first and second year teachers clear their credentials. Peer coaches are teachers on full release from the classroom for three years to work full time with new teachers.

I’ve learned that teaching is vulnerable work. It exposes us emotionally, physically, and intellectually. As a peer coach, I’ve witnessed fledging teachers, and know the anxiety of feeling observed—the self-consciousness and the nervousness. I try to make the process less intimidating by reviewing the steps, objectives, and lesson plans beforehand, but I also know that even the best lessons by the best teachers are subject to the winds of campus fate. And so I place great faith in the resilience of our new colleagues, and try to be empathetic.

I’ve been reminded that student learning is our core. Every task, every educational decision should enhance student learning. Sometimes we forget this. And yet each student is someone’s baby—once diapered and held in the night—who arrives at our doors carrying someone’s hope. We must deliver.

Having the chance to observe everything from physical education and French to STEM, I’ve learned that all teachers share similar struggles: grading loads, pacing, off-task behaviors, lesson design, and appropriate strategies. Only the content and variables differ—something I failed to notice until I became a peer coach. Before that, my eyes were focused on my own classroom, preoccupied with the next day. No more. My new role offers the chance to see our profession with a larger lens, and it has been a revelation of expertise.

I’ve learned that support is critical for our new teachers. They feel overwhelmed, and they need us—often to just listen, to risk revealing mistakes in a non-evaluative, collegial relationship, so that growth can happen. I’ve learned—gradually, because I’m still working on it—to share information with new teachers judiciously and not give constant advice.

I’ve learned that teachers are some of the most generous, hard-working, and committed people on the planet. From work weeks topping 60 hours, piles of paper, a broken heater, and fake fire drills, to all calls, roll calls, no-shows, back talk, assessments, and attendance, the tasks we handle read like crazy music.

Still, it’s an honor to be part of this great chorus of educators, supporting the stage for the rise of our new performers.

After 17 years, I am still singing.