Dear First-Year Teachers,
It isn’t always like this.
My first year of teaching, an experienced teacher said to me over lunch one day that if we could just get teachers to stick with it for five years, they were much more likely to stick with teaching for the whole of their career. She was speaking generally of trends in teachers leaving while the job was hard, before they really got the groove of what they were doing. But I think she could sense my unrest. My unease. My then-untreated anxiety.
Her words have stayed with me, through multiple teaching jobs across different districts, in both public and private schools, and even during my time spent as a stay-at-home mom to my two sons. Although I am sure she did not intend to impact me this way with her words, I came away from that conversation with a weight: if I couldn’t stick it out for five consecutive years, was I really even a teacher? What if I didn’t stay in one place that long? If I left my job to start a family with my husband, did I have any right to come back later?
Here is what I want to say to you: whatever questions, doubts, and anxieties you have this year – of all years – it isn’t always like this.
On the other side of this pandemic are peace and calm.
On the other side of first year jitters is a second-year stride.
On the other side of learning content and curriculum jargon for the first time is a deeper understanding of what’s expected of you with each year that passes.
On the other side of that one student that just seems to try and find ways to butt heads with you is a tried and true strategy for connecting with similar kids you’ll meet in twenty years.
It isn’t always like this.
Please take heart in knowing that the muscles you are developing now as you navigate hybrid in-person and distance learning, magick up new ways to introduce yourself to children you may not see in person for weeks or even months into the new school year, will not only make you strong for the kids in your care, but they will also make you strong for yourself. You will be resilient. You will be wise. You will thrive.
None of us has done this before, not even the fifty-year veteran teacher who has had to walk to school uphill, both ways, in the snow, has taught during a pandemic on this scale. Do the best you can each moment, and know that it’s enough. Protect your physical health and wellness as best you can. Find your marigold. Ignore the tone-deaf advice to always put on a brave face for the kids or to develop a thick skin against criticism [that way lies madness; so stay soft]. Perhaps most importantly, safeguard the boundaries you put in place in order to remain balanced and whole outside the classroom.
Your expertise and abilities are enough. Your creativity and unique personality are needed. Your care and concern are valued.
It isn’t always like this, first year teacher, and it probably never will be again.
Keep showing up in the most fearless, honest version of yourself you can muster. And we will all get to the other side of this, together.
– Q, a year-ten teacher who believes in you