Before starting year one, I see-sawed back and forth on the idea of becoming an educator. On the one hand, I loved the idea of having a job where I could make a true difference. Where I could change someone’s life through education. I know this sounds idealistic, but I relished the opportunity to have a space to affect change, no matter how small, rather than working in a mindless 9-5.
On the other hand, I spent a semester of grad school teaching developmental English to college freshmen and I hated it. Of course, I spent half the semester displaced with no classroom, working another part time job and writing my thesis. I had a 30 minute commute to the university, one way. I was stressed to the max and had no time to prepare my lessons. All of this could have contributed to my distaste for the profession, but just in case I loathed it for another reason, I teetered on the brink of decision. For a long time, when people asked me if I was getting a degree in English so that I could teach, I rebelled against the idea.
There are several events that finally led to my stepping into the classroom. I won’t bore you with them, but they spurred me into a desperate action that resulted in obtaining my teaching certification.
I walked in on my first day as an idealistic dreamer . I thought I had a relatively accurate view of young adults and what we could accomplish in class, but after that first week…nay, that first day…I knew I had been viewing everything through rose colored glasses.
I came home after my first day knowing that I had made a mistake. I knew it to my core. I counted the days left in my head, and the distance between that first day and the end of the year seemed insurmountable.
Then I got to know my kids. I realized teaching was something I was a natural at. I readjusted my expectations and had small successes. I grew comfortable in my role as educator.
That’s not to say that this year has been perfect. My first novel unit was a disaster. The end of my first semester left me seething as students railed against the grades I was giving them, even though those grades were justified. I had a come-to-Jesus meeting with my seventh period that left me shaking. I can count on one hand the number of times I have stood in front of the classroom for the last eight weeks. I have graded with more grace than I probably should have, trying to compensate for my own lack of knowledge, despite knowing that this is crippling my students.
I say all of this because there is one thing I’ve noticed about life. People tend to sugarcoat their experiences, highlighting only the good and leaving out the bad. Or they sit in their misery and refuse to acknowledge all of the positive things that have come out of their situation.
I experienced this after having my first baby, blood boiling because no one told me all of the hardships that come along with adding a new member to your family (outside of the obvious demands of a newborn). I experienced it when I began taking care of my body, with friends who tried to guilt me because they couldn’t (wouldn’t) carve out time in their own lives to do the same. And I experienced it when I went through my teacher training program, trained to deal with a perfect world scenario rather than reality.
People rarely give you the whole picture, and it’s frustrating.
Year one has been a mix of good and bad. I have had moments of euphoria and I have had days that have left me in tears. I have reached some students while some will always have that brick wall I can’t break through. I have sparked creativity in some, while others could not think out of the box. I have been thanked for being considerate, while others critique me no matter how far I bend.
Teaching is not perfect. Teaching is hard, because we deal with hormonal human beings on a daily basis and that creates an environment of unpredictability. Teaching means choosing between family time and grading, taking a lunch or planning a lesson. Teaching means getting thrown into subsequent roles you aren’t qualified/prepared for, and having to figure it out. Teaching is having to cover for a coworker, when you really need that conference period to work.
Teaching also means inspiring students. Teaching means saying the right thing to the right person and watching their eyes light up. Teaching means showing your passion for your subject so that your students can see something they hadn’t realized was there. Teaching means preparing students for the next phase in their lives. Teaching means making a difference in a system that seems to suffocate your efforts.
To any first year teacher who may be reading this, I want you to know that I see your struggle. And I have some advice for you.
Know your kids
Know that your kids are human. They have problems at home, they’re over-committed to extra-curricular activities, they work at least one job, they haven’t always had consistency in their education. They are just as tired and stressed out as we are.
Does this mean we should allow excuses? No. But I do think that students appreciate it when we recognize that our class isn’t their only commitment. Respect their schedules. Respect them as people. Bend when necessary and remain firm when they need it.
You are going to feel like you’re drowning this year. Between navigating a new profession, planning lessons, grading assignments, and just trying to maintain a hold on your sanity, you are going to have a lot to juggle. Respect your limitations.
If you let people abuse your willingness to please, you are going to end up overworked and burning out by year three. So say yes to the things you feel you can’t live without, and politely decline the rest.
Leave it on your desk
There are going to be times you have to grade at home. That’s inevitable. There are times when you have to plan a last minute lesson. As educators, we can’t always leave work at work. As an English teacher, this seems to be even harder to do. After all, we are told students should be writing every day, right?
But if you’re getting to school at six and working until eight every day? Take a step back. If you are wasting your weekends grading? Stop it. Talk to your team, or send a message/Tweet out to your PLN and get some advice on strategies you can adopt to lessen your workload. Find what works for you.
Leave it on your desk. This is, at the end of the day, just a job.
You don’t have to take all of the advice given to you
Some of the advice I’ve been given this year by veteran teachers has been fantastic. My team has helped me so much, and I know I can always go to them for help when I have a problem.
Some of their advice has just not worked for me. I tried implementing strategies during my first week that felt foreign and counter-intuitive. And you know what? I dropped those strategies early on because they weren’t working. They were tailored for personalities drastically different from my own, and I couldn’t bring myself to consistently implement them. And that’s okay.
You don’t have to follow all of the advice you have received. Find what works for you and stay with it. But if it doesn’t work? Drop it and find something that does.
Show your students how to fail gracefully
Guess what. You’re going to fail at something during your first year. It might be one something. It might be multiple somethings. But you. will. fail.
During that first semester, I had housekeeping meetings fairly regularly. I would tell my students if something wasn’t working and we needed to fix it. I would recognize my own mistakes.
I would admit that I was human.
I created a dialogue about our learning and showed them that education is messy. I showed them I wasn’t afraid to mess up. I showed them I could also succeed. And my biggest hope is that they absorbed some of those lessons, so that they won’t be afraid of failure in their own lives.
Wow, this post is long. I just scrolled back through and realized there are A LOT of words here. But I wanted to speak on this subject because I felt that I couldn’t find anyone being real about teaching as I was coming in to the profession. So I wanted to give you my thoughts, share what I’ve learned, and to tell you this:
This is going to be hard. You’re either going to love it or hate it. You will fail, and you will shine. But at the end of the day, your job is about the kids in your room who need someone to believe in them, someone to push them. And you need to believe in yourself. You can do this. When you feel like you can’t, reevaluate. Be honest with yourself. And if you need a friend to talk you through, send me your thoughts and I’ll be that person. Don’t be afraid to fail, but don’t be afraid to succeed either. You got this.