Dear First Year Teachers,
You’re about to walk through the double-doors of your first school into your first classroom with your first group of students and take your place, front and center, in of one of the biggest shitstorms of our nation’s political and social systems.
In other words, you’re about to become a teacher. For real.
And anyone who sugar-coats teaching is either insane or a misleading douchebag.
You’re about to be bombarded, overwhelmed, needed by everyone, all the time, right this second, while also trying to learn your job, do your job, get your sea legs, meet your deadlines and somewhere in there sorta-maybe teach some kids some stuff. You’re going to be juggling your seating charts, finding your curriculum maps, making lesson plans, learning names, meeting your colleagues, collaborating with colleagues, figuring out schedules, answering emails. The school is going to give you financial forms, discipline forms, intervention forms, parent communication forms, then follow those up with staff protocols, student protocols, communication protocols and an EpiPen and safety plan, the educational version of a partridge in a pear tree.
But in the words of one of the weathered veteran teachers I worked with:
“You can’t throw spaghetti at the wall and hope it spells something.”
Yet your school district is going to do just that. Hurl overcooked pasta and hope, just by chance, it might spell, “Poof! You now know everything!” or “Pow! Now you’re a qualified teacher!”
Let’s just nip that little fantasy in the bud. You’re a first year teacher. You only know theory. And learning the ropes has nothing, whatsoever, to do with the amount of educational acronyms or steaming noodles tossed at you.
But that doesn’t mean you aren’t good. Or won’t be.
In fact, you might even be better than others who’ve been in the profession a little too long. Young teachers, new teachers (young or old), are the lifeblood of the educational profession. Not because that’s something neatly cliché yet stupidly obvious that I like to say like, “Youth are the future of our nation,” but because it’s counterintuitive. Usually, experience equals improvement. And while this is often the case in education, experience can also equal disillusionment, exhaustion and complacency. You joined this profession for a reason and we all know it wasn’t money, so it’s likely you’ve got spirit.
Spirit can take you pretty damn far.
And even after you get your first angry parent email, don’t lose that spirit. Not after the first email or the tenth, not after your first sonufabitch coworker, your third case of child abuse, or that series of incompetent administrators. Don’t loose your idealism. Looking at a mess, be it a mess of a child, a mess of a guardian, or a mess of a school, and being able to envision a positive outcome – that’s the soul of teaching.
And anyone who says otherwise is either jaded or a straight up dick.
But keeping that spirit isn’t easy. You’re going to take things personally at times. You shouldn’t, but you will. For probably the first eight years of your career or so. So go home, cry about it (because you will), rant and rave about it (because you will) and let yourself feel offended (because you will). But live by the mantra “This too shall pass.” Because it will. And in the meantime, whenever someone says “Just don’t take it so personally…” kick ‘em in the nuts.
Use your colleagues. They’ve been teaching a lot longer than you. Steal all you can. Avoid reinventing the wheel. This year, at least. By next year, you’ll be full of ideas for flying machines, so wheels won’t really be necessary.
Model for your students the same behaviors you expect of them. If you want them to be on time, don’t linger in the hallway after the bell talking to colleagues. If you don’t allow cell phones during class, make sure yours is the first turned off. Nobody likes a hypocrite. And though many of your colleagues will not follow this advice, they are the ones who tell rather than do. You, you’ve got spirit. Be the doer, not the teller.
Understand that your administrators are both human and fallible. They do the best they can, just like you. They get overwhelmed, just like you. They’ll make mistakes and bad calls, just like you. But after twelve years of teaching I’ve never met one – competent or not – whose heart wasn’t in the right place. It’s of little solace, perhaps, when you want to poke them in the eyeballs for being a moron, but misguided sincerity is better than malicious assholery.
And finally, keep this letter on hand and look at it once in awhile. Not because it’s the end-all-be-all of educational wisdom. In truth, it’s just another wet noodle of advice being launched in your direction. But at some point during the year, you’re going to need a gentle reminder that you haven’t made the wrong decision. The insanity you are experiencing is normal. The sky is not falling. And you are going to be fine. That’s the only reason you should re-read this letter come the insanity of October.
To remind yourself that you’re going to be fine.
But tastes differ. Perhaps you’ll prefer someone else’s pasta-throwing technique to mine. That’s alright. Just pick up what serves you, compost the rest.
And dig in.
We’re glad you’re here.