Dear Ms. Christenson,
Two weeks ago, you finished your first half a year as a teacher. You are still breathing. Congratulations.
The weeks since you started passed in a haze. You barely remember the last week of school, much less the past few months. (It’s possible that you’ve blocked it out.) But try to imagine yourself back in the public library at the end of February, itching to start. You had just karate kicked around your kitchen when you found out you got the job. You are planning bell ringers and finding clever classroom rules memes. Your anticipation is bubbling over.You currently believe that:
- You are remarkably prepared. For everything.
- Your ability to pay attention in your college education courses and create a lesson plan from which kids might maybe learn something means you will automatically be fine
- All those people who say that the first year is painful aren’t trying quite enough/don’t have good work-life balance/missed crucial chapters in college textbooks/don’t get enough sleep
- In terms of classroom management, you are a strong, likeable pillar of consistency
- Your engaging lessons and winning personality and organizational abilities will cause all memory of the teacher whose class you are taking over to be erased from kids’ minds.
- You will not cry about school.
- Or take grading home.
- Or yell at your class.
- Or have a student who flips desks over on the last day (literally) because his friend is not present.
You will be wrong. About everything. Mostly.
This adventure will not be what you expect. It will be hard. You dread Monday mornings. Wonder if being unemployed is really so bad after all. Cry. Count the days until summer break.
But you will also learn.
You will learn what works for you as a teacher. Playing music when challenging classes enter the room makes everyone – or at least you – feel slightly less vicious. Planning lessons around what you enjoy, like that lesson comparing a Hamilton song with the historical event it describes, will make you enjoy your work more. Posting directions that kids should begin as soon as they enter the room will (theoretically) result in less wasted time. Reading alongside students during silent reading makes them cooperate more. Your instructional style is still developing, but it’s gaining clarity with every class.
You will learn that your job is not to be liked or to entertain. It is to teach. Your students are in your class to learn. Some days the kids might find it boring. Some days the 90 minutes you share with them might drag. Some days they might never want to read another nonfiction article ever again. But when you don’t let them off easily, when you teach them to push through, when you make them work a little harder, they grow.
You will learn (again) the importance of relationships. Your students want to know more about you than why you think grammar is important. They will ask about your boyfriend. They will wonder if you go to church. They will suspect that you are a liberal because you have never praised Donald Trump. They will Internet stalk you and attempt to follow you on Instagram. Once they know you, they may not hate you. A surprising kid will say, as you nearly force him out the door on the last day, that really, you weren’t that bad. One of the bright eighth graders with her head screwed on straight will thank you for being a great teacher.
You will learn that you are not alone. The kids who have gone bonkers in your class are going bonkers for other teachers, too. Friends who are in similar teaching situations are experiencing the same spells of frustration/disillusionment/insanity. People who love you will text you encouragement and let you cry on the phone and tell you that you’re doing fine and give you advice and make you laugh and talk about things other than school with you. You need these people.
You will learn more about who you are and how you work. Having two prep times in one day does not increase your productivity. When your emotions are beginning to rage in the evenings, going for a run or making a new recipe reduces them to a simmer. Writing down bright spots in your day forces you to remember that your life and job are not hopeless.
You will learn that you can do this. Even when teaching is hard and stressful and frustrating, you can still show up and do the work. After a summer of breathing deeply, maybe you can even do it again.