As of last week, I have officially completed my first year of teaching. I had an awesome year. It was hard. It was super hard. But I loved my kids and I love my colleagues. They made it all possible.
Maybe a month ago I was asked to return to my Alma mater Southern Arkansas University and speak at a luncheon for graduating student teachers. They asked me to give them some advice for their first year of teaching.
To be honest, a part of me laughed at this. What could I possibly say? How do you prepare someone for being a teacher? Well this is what I came up with. I thought I would share, just in case there are any new teachers out there looking for some advice, or some returning teachers just looking for a laugh or reassurance that you're not alone. Disclaimer: This is by no means everything you'll need to know or the best advice out there. Okay? Okay.
Dear New Teacher,
First of all, congratulations. College is hard and not a lot of people do it. So good job for making it this far. I want to tell you that when I sat here one year ago, about to graduate and become a teacher, I thought I had it all figured out. In fact, I can give you a list of all the reasons why: both my parents are teachers; I taught three summers of preschool; years of Sunday school, VBS, and camp; substitute teaching; not to mention all the countless observations, lessons, and student teaching I did in college; blah blah blah. If anyone should have been prepared for this, it was me. Boy was I wrong. My first piece of advice for you is this- You do not have it all figured out. You are never going to know everything you need to know. Whether you have taught for one year or for fifty, you will always have more to learn and more experience to gain. Figure this out early.
Probably the hardest lesson I learned this year was this: Take it easy on yourself. I spent many days and nights racking my brain about what I could do to fix a problem with my students. But sometimes, you are not the answer. There are things I cannot fix. Read that to yourself again. Rinse and repeat as needed. As long as you do your best each day, as long as you do the most that you possibly can, that is enough. Do not beat yourself up over the things you cannot change or control. Accept these things. Get creative about these things. Just do your best.
Don't be afraid to be different. Currently, I am one of the youngest employees in my district, and the youngest at my school. I teach with colleagues that have been doing this for decades. When you think about that, it is easy to become intimidated. Here's an example. When I first began preparing my classroom last year, I snooped around in my neighbor's rooms. Not because I am creeper (I am), but because I wanted to see how everybody else "did it". You know what I mean. And I quickly realized that my room was different. Begin the freak out, right? "If my room is different-looking, I must be doing something wrong!" My first thought was to change what I had done to be more like everyone else. To fit in. But I am so glad I didn't. Do not succumb to following the crowd. Be different. Be young. Be fresh. Be excited and energetic. Don't be afraid to have different ideas. Don't be afraid to stand out in your hallway. Be you.
The next thing I'll tell you about is flexibility. I know this is a shocker, but things will not go perfectly every day (as much as I would like them to). Lessons will fail. You will mess up. The kids will complain. Your boss might tell you to change something. You'll run out of time. The glue won't work. The projector will mess up. The internet will be down. There will be a fire drill. I could go on and on. And you know what? It's all okay. Deep breath. Your classroom will be like a family. Not the picture perfect families from TV, but the one you know about at home. Dysfunctional, running late, losing things, arguing, crying, driving you crazy. But it will also be full of compliments, hugs, laughter, jokes, and love. Be flexible enough that the bad days don't get you down. That the mess-ups just make you laugh. Everyone is learning, including you.
Above all else, remember why you started this journey. Remember how you felt today, on the edge of so much possibility and creativity. When things get tough, as they inevitably will, remember the good moments. Like the time when you started to yell at your kids for passing notes again, only to find out they were signing a card to give to you with the words "Our Favorite Teacher" on the front. Or when they do something so randomly sweet and kind for someone else (without you making them or telling them to) and you just want to cry your eyes out. Or when you get test scores back and that one student that you've been working with all year knocks it out of the park. Or when they move up a reading level. Or run up to you wanting to show you the book they checked out of the library. That sparkle of "ah ha" you see in their eyes when they finally get it. Or even just the spontaneous dance parties or deep life discussions you have in class. Be a teacher that didn't just teach them. That encouraged them, disciplined them, never gave up on them, and loved them.
I wish you so much good luck in your journeys. Work hard, stay late, get to school early, and push yourself harder than ever before. Welcome to the most frustrating and rewarding profession in the business. We're glad to have you.