An Open Letter to New Teachers

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.

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31 Responses to An Open Letter to New Teachers

  1. David Hazen says:

    Should be printed and handed out to new teachers the first day of PD.

  2. singingpigs says:

    Whelp, David. If you know anyone willing to do that, holler! 🙂

  3. Leah says:

    Reblogged this on Soapbox Rhetoric.

  4. Pingback: Link Love: An Open Letter to New Teachers | Teachers Have Lives Too!

  5. whitney says:

    I would just like to thank you for this letter. I am a new teacher this year and graduated back in 2010 (and have only been subbing since then). So while I have practice and theories, I have NO idea where to start in decorating my classroom, first week of school lessons, etc. and this letter just helped me take a step back and breath. One of the best things my Principal told me during my interview was that he wished he could give all new teachers an orange life vest. Because we are mostly trying to stay afloat during that first year and that’s all that matters. If you can stay afloat then you will learn, get your legs under you, and be able to teach your kids.

    • singingpigs says:

      So glad you felt like it allowed you to stop and breathe for a moment! Teaching is a lot of learning by doing, and if you care you’ll learn quickly. The best piece of advice truly is to use your colleagues. They’ll give you tons of time saving advice. And, should you feel like you’re drowning, shoot me a line and I’ll help where I can. I have lots of resources and tips from all the teachers I’ve worked with! And I always share. 🙂 whenpigssing@gmail.com

  6. This is an excellent article, however I beg to differ with you about administrators. Yes, I’ve known some that made mistakes and misjudgements, but I also worked for one who really was a power-hungry, mico-managing witch. She did a lot of damage to the school before the central administration caught on and replaced her. Her heart was definitely NOT in the right place.

    • singingpigs says:

      In my experience I have found that even the micro managing, bossy, control-freak (and sometimes mean) types are doing what they do out of an (almost OCD) desire to try and control the outcome. In short, they’re witches (or assholes) because they’re afraid of failing. Which is unpleasant…but very human. Bad administrators (even the misguidedly sincere, non-witch type) however, do cause a lot of damage to schools. In the end, they need to go. I think one of the main issues here is the overall quality of teacher/administrator higher ed programs. In my experience, they do not prepare folks well, nor do they sort out the bad apples..but that’s just my take on it!

  7. Mary says:

    I’m a first year teacher also, and this was a great read 🙂 Bookmarking it now…

  8. Anonymous says:

    “but misguided sincerity is better than malicious assholery.” I want to have this tattooed on my forehead for everyone to see!! lololololol! Very profound.

  9. Mrs. Phillips says:

    “but misguided sincerity is better than malicious assholery.” I want to have this tattooed on my forehead for everyone to see!! lololololol! Very profound.

    • singingpigs says:

      I rather enjoyed that one myself. Am I allowed to say that about my own writing? It’s a little mantra I try and live by when I do want to poke someone in the eye. I have not, however, found an equivalent mantra for when it is actually malicious assholery. Let me know if you’ve got one?

  10. Megs says:

    This will be my third year teaching special education. I taught 4K for a yr before this and felt lost and terrified. ..then I moved to an early childhood sped position and basically thought I’d die! I was told it was the hardest/highest needs the district had had and the previous teacher was glad to be out. With that said ill tell you it was a crapshoot! I lost it daily, began medicating for panic attack, had absolutely no idea what I was doing, paperwork was beyond crap and I felt as though college was a huge waste of time. My administration sent me to so many conferences and by the end of my second year (I have my students 2-3 yrs) those kids made gains past my expectations. I quickly learned: that many colleagues will never think you’re doing “it right”, you’ll never feel “ready”, it’s okay to be scared just don’t show it, relax on breaks (although tobe honest I don’t and I have no idea how but I still try), you cant “save” the world (im working on this still), and ask a lot of questions! Oh and I learned that I will likely to fall in love with ALL my students, especially the ‘challenging’ ones. 🙂 I loved reading this and though I hear it often from family in Ed. It is something that can’t be said enough. Thank you!

    • singingpigs says:

      Glad you’re in the profession. Can’t save the world. But if one kid gets out of poverty because I lent them a hand…I’m ok with that. So it sounds like you have made your difference already…and you still have years to go before retirement! Breathe – and enjoy. Sounds like you’re beginning to master the most important lessons in teaching already. 🙂

  11. Anonymous says:

    great letter…I’m a middle school teacher, starting my 31st Year!!! that’s right I am insane but I love the insanity…I’ve taught many amazing students…they have had such an impact on my life and I hope I have had an impact on theirs…my motto to my students.. ” your goal in life go to school…get an education…graduate…and become a productive person in society…find your way.” 😉

  12. Brenda says:

    Treat compliment and criticism the same: don’t read too much into each one.
    Either one may be insincere. Consider the source.

  13. ecowgirl says:

    I am one of the lead mentor teachers for my school district and I am in charge of the new teacher program. With your permission I would love to share this with my new teachers! The humor and utter truth needs to be shared!!!
    Thank you for your eloquence… you have perfectly stated exactly how I feel about the profession! Teach on my friend, teach on!

    • singingpigs says:

      Absolutely! Mi blog es su blog! Actually, if you shared this letter it would make me giddily happy. My whole goal in beginning this blog was to try and give an honest (but upbeat) opinion of what teaching really entails. I feel like so often conversations around education have to be draped in veiled, politically correct language when really most teachers just want to shout, “Hey, suckers! This is what it’s like to be locked in a cinderblock room full of 30 children all day!” Please share, friend. And best of luck to you in the new school year!

  14. Jill says:

    this is such an awesomely blunt and straight forward letter….I so appreciate this!

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  17. J Zeller says:

    Reblogged this on Pedablogical Thoughts and commented:
    Out of the volumes of new teacher advice I’ve read and heard in the past few years, I think this tops them. Honest, positive, sobering.
    https://singingpigs.wordpress.com/2013/08/04/an-open-letter-to-new-teachers/

  18. Pingback: An Open Letter to New Teachers | Pedablogical Thoughts

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  20. Kat Morse says:

    Wow, thank you so much. I am starting my credential classes in August, and I know I will need to look at this a lot over the next two years.
    I also have been following your teaching fashion blog. Thank you so much for everything

  21. saremaj says:

    I just found this – it’s amazing! Wish I had found and read it before my NQT year! x

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