A Letter to First-Year Teachers
Dear First-Year Teachers,
Congratulations! You got a job! Right now, I'm sure you feel relieved that you made it through the first round of obstacles and obtained the job you've spent so many years preparing for. Beyond this relief, however, I know there is a sense of terror. But it's okay--that's normal.
Seeing as I just completed my own first year of teaching, I'm obviously an expert now. I know everything there is to know about teaching and I've had every experience in the book to share my wisdom and advice with all of you. Obviously.
No, but really--even though I still have so much to learn, I want to share a few things with you that I learned over the course of this ridiculous, exhausting, miserable, exciting, hilarious, rewarding, amazing year. My hope is that you can avoid the disillusionment, cynicism, and dream-crushing aspect of the first year (even though I know you won't) or at least walk into your first year with a bit more understanding of what lies ahead.
Here's ten things you should know . . .
- You can do this! Teaching is not for the faint-hearted, but you CAN do this. Have confidence in yourself. And on days you don't have confidence, fake it (at least in front of your students). It seems like you have a huge mountain to climb, but I promise you that you will make it to the other side. Don't give up.
- Give yourself a break. Cut yourself some slack. You can't do it all, even though you've always been able to in the past and you really want to. You can't! And that's OKAY. The biggest lesson I had to learn this year was that I was enough. What I was doing was enough. Life would still go on even though I couldn't do everything I wanted to do, and yours will too.
- Get involved. Talk to people. Become an advisor. Help out with the musical. Form an intramural sports team. Talk to the kids outside of school. Be more than just the 8:00-4:00 teacher.
- Go home at a reasonable hour. Find a balance between work and yourself. This isn't easy for you workaholics, I know, (hi Luke) but you will be a better teacher if you give yourself time to refresh.
- Find a hobby and make time for it. I know I wouldn't have been able to survive if I didn't have my blog and crafting to immerse myself in. My creative outlet gave me something besides school to focus my energy on and it gave me a lot of personal happiness and confidence that only helped me professionally.
- Don't let the politics of teaching bring you down. Remember that you're doing this for the kids and it'll always be worth it.
- Share your woes, struggles, questions, and concerns with positive, encouraging, and helpful people. Choose these listeners wisely. Be sure to return the favor.
- Swallow your pride and accept defeat. You're not going to get it right the first time, or the second, and sometimes the third or fourth. The important thing is that you learn from mistakes and take the advice of other's into consideration and make a change for the better. (This is HARD! I know!)
- Have fun. Try to laugh with your students in every class at least once. Bring in juice boxes and candy. Keep track of ridiculous Shakespearean insults. Laugh at yourself when you do something silly. Sign up to be pied in the face.
- Be present. One of the things my students really appreciated was that I supported them as often as I could. As a first-year teacher, most of you have the unique opportunity as a relatively "free" teacher. What I mean is that most of you are unmarried and without families--therefore, it is easier to find the time to attend extra-curricular events. Go! Chaperone events even when you don't have to. I went to the play, musical, band/choir concert, and some of the sports games and I chaperoned two dances and attended all of the senior activities, even though I wasn't required to, and I made sure I commented about their performances and highlights; trust me when I say it makes a difference. There were times when I felt more invested into my students' lives than my own, but it was worth it.
I wish you the very best of luck. I had a very rough year, but I am proud to say that by the end I really did love it. My expectations were crushed during the first week, I had a hard time finding courage in discouragement, I struggled with finding my teacher blogger identity, and I also dealt with many firsts like this one, but I also discovered the many reasons to teach, created some great memories, and found joy in teaching students only four years younger than me. I hope that by this time next year, you can write your own letter to your students--one that is full of gratitude, pride, and love.
They say that the first year is always the worst. I'll let you know if that's true next year :)
Please, I would love to hear about your experiences, past and present, and I implore all teachers (and students) to share their own pieces of advice! Leave a comment below.
Your Fellow Educator,