A Letter to all First-Year Teachers

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(Me, 2002, Richland High School)

You graduated from college, survived interviews, and presently, you are a first-year teacher. I’m beginning my 19th year in education, but I can remember my first year like it was yesterday.

I was thrilled to begin my career, but I was also a bundle of raw energy, alternating between excitement and anxiety. I would get out of bed feeling confident and leave school feeling overpowered.

This time of year lends itself to introspection, and I wanted to share some lessons gleaned from the rear-view mirror.

Utilize Your Mentor
I couldn’t have had a better mentor. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize this until years later. While diminutive in stature, my mentor was a giant in the classroom. She smoked Virginia Slims surreptitiously and taught Social Studies overtly. She ended each school day declaring, “I’ve done my duty to God and country, and I’m going home!” with a great southern drawl. She loved teaching, and kids loved her.

I learned a lot from her, but I could have learned so much more had I accepted that I didn’t know everything. There is no shame in humility, and it doesn’t mean you don’t bring a lot to the table. Real confidence is understanding you can help others, and others can help you. My mentor was a master of relationships, but unfortunately, this was not en vogue in 2002. We were taught to create great lesson plans, incorporate technology, and maintain classroom management. Rapport took a backseat.   I struggled to enforce my will on my students while my mentor spent time building relationships and learning her student’s needs.  My students bristled; her classes were excited to see her each day.  (Don’t’ worry, she also designed great lessons and maintained an orderly classroom. As it turns out, you can do both.) 

I would encourage you to discover what your mentor does well and learn how they do it. It will not only save you time, but it will also help you enjoy (not merely survive) your first year.

Don’t Doubt Yourself
Earlier in my career, I approached each day, carrying the weight of perfection. I felt I was one mistake away from getting fired. It’s silly and nonsensical, but it’s  how I felt. What I failed to realize is school districts don’t hire teachers just to fire them. I don’t know any educator who doesn’t enjoy helping and mentoring a new teacher. Your district wants you to succeed, and in fact, they need you to succeed.

Long-term success doesn’t mean you are immune to short-term failure. You will make mistakes; you will make a lot of mistakes. Prepare for each day, give your best effort, and learn from your missteps. If you go to bed each evening knowing you did your very best,  that is enough.

Take Care of Yourself
Your job is important, but you are more complex than what you do for a living. Take your job seriously, but avoid taking yourself too seriously. Most first-year teachers work tirelessly. A strong work ethic is important, but you can only do so much in a day. Eat a healthy diet, exercise, and avoid trading sleep to stay caught up. The allure of working late will lead to disappointment, irritability, and lower productivity: the fool’s gold of work habits.

Enjoy the Experience
Your first year will be demanding, but that doesn’t mean it has to be drudgery. You worked hard for this opportunity, so take time to enjoy this incredible experience. It will be difficult, but growth and discomfort are synonymous. If you are feeling anxious, remind yourself you need this extra energy to do something so meaningful and impactful. Your job is to help kids and possibly transform their lives. How cool is that?

Work hard, laugh often, and love big.  Give your best effort for God and country.   These aren’t my words,  rather, they are pearls of wisdom from a wise woman who once helped me.

 

 

Long-term success doesn’t mean you are immune to short-term failure. Prepare for each day, give your best effort, and learn from your missteps. If you go to bed each evening knowing you did your very best, that is enough.

Revised September, 2020

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