Letter to my First-Year-Teacher Self

Letter to my First-Year-of-Teaching Self,

Calm down or you’re going to sweat through that adorable blouse by 8:30 a.m.

First of all—congratulations! You’re here! You were picked over a handful of other very worthy candidates to teach at this school! You already know these kids are great, and they want you here. Think about that for just a second. It’s like the professional version of dodgeball when you were a kid… you’ve been selected to be on the team AND no one has thrown anything at you yet! And look at you. You definitely grew out of that awkward, gangly teenager phase, which will now be interesting when you teach teenagers that would have made fun of you in high school. Oh, the irony… and you’ll teach them about that irony (dramatic, verbal, and situational!), won’t you!?

Ready? Ok. Now… seriously, calm down. You can’t do everything in one year. You can decently do maybe three or four things, but after that you’re going to lose your sanity. You have a lot to learn this year, no matter how smart you know you are, how awesome your college GPA was, or how there’s that nice Latin “honors” title on your diploma. You’re a noob. Get over it, soak it in, and take notes. (No, really, take notes.)

Next, a few secrets for you: Your teaching supplies (the cool bag, the nice pens and notebooks, etc.)? Yeah. They don’t matter. They’re adorable though, just so you know. They just don’t mean anything at all. Like, ever.

Wearing heels? A ridiculous idea. Students can hear you coming a mile away… sneak attacks won’t be easy.

Not eating breakfast? Hey everyone! Ms. W looks like she’s coming down with something… whatever you do, don’t use the adjectives “tired” or “sick” in relation to her appearance. Maybe it’s just the lights… 

Not reading books for enjoyment all year? You, my friend, walk the pathway to illiterate hell. Who’s John Green again? …and what does he have to do with Alaska? 

Think you should assign work every single day? Think again. That’s quite possibly the most undermining idea of them all. Just to be clear: If you can go without grading something, do it. Don’t grade everything! YOU CAN’T DO IT. Honestly, you can’t. Stop trying to make yourself into some kind of assignment Nazi with nothing to do on weeknights except sit up until 11 p.m. grading papers because That’s How Students Learn Good. Yeah, …no. That’s how teachers leave the profession. Quit now while you’re new.

A few other things:

  • You can eat in the classroom. Stop telling yourself that you shouldn’t eat in front of students if they can’t eat, too. That’s silly. If you don’t have the energy to teach them, you’re going to get hangry and start being mean. No one learns anything from a mean teacher except how not to be fantastic. Just quickly eat the granola bar and keep being your awesome self…. she’s great!
  • Don’t feel bad about not grading one or two nights a week. You absolutely have to have time to go work out, spend time with family and friends, and—yes—have an adult beverage. You also absolutely have to have time to do none of those things if that’s what you feel like. (Netflix for six hours? Yes, please.) It’s your life, and never forget that you’re an adult who gets to do WHATEVER THE HECK SHE WANTS on certain occasions. Decide responsibly, of course.
  • Be honest with students. There are, of course, limitations here. You don’t want students to think of you as unprofessional, but you do want them to think of you as human. You can smile at them; you can ask them how they’re doing. They need that. But if you’re a goofy, screwball type of person (um, duh), they’re going to find out eventually; you may as well capitalize on the fact and make teaching a good time. It’s okay. You can be you and be a good teacher.
  • You can leave to go to the bathroom at any time and the world won’t light on fire. Too much tea this morning? It’s okay, you can go. Crazy Mexican food dancing around in your lower GI? It’s okay, you can go. If you feel you need to, tell the neighboring teacher, but just go. It’s right down the hall, calling your name. Go. To. The. Bathroom. (In five years, you can even sing “Let It Go” on your way there! I won’t ruin it now, but this song will maybe almost certainly destroy your thoughts of Disney music!)
  • If you’re ever worried about how your students are behaving, conduct an experiment. Give them an assignment: reading, a short essay—whatever—but make it solitary work. Make an excuse to leave the room to make a copy or whatever your got-to leave-the-room-excuse is and bolt. But don’t really leave. Stand just outside the room and look inside. You’ll know everything you need to know about yourself as a classroom manager in ten seconds, I promise.
  • Don’t worry about making a typo on the chalkboard! Teenagers definitely won’t notice if you leave the “l” out of the word “public” on the board. Really.

Finally, my last bit of advice will counter everything (almost) that I’ve just said: This job will never be about you. Not ever. Not once. Not at all.

It’s always about your students. Teaching always has been and always will be about students, not teachers. It’s not about how well you taught the lesson, it’s about how well they learned it. You are the vehicle for many great things, but if students never arrive at the destination then it’s all for naught. They will be the ones to carry on, not us. They must be the most important facet of everything you decide to do August-May from 8:00-3:00 p.m. and every planning moment outside of it. If you get over yourself now, you’ll have many more years of a fantastic, truly student-centered career on which to look back. Do the math—how many more students will you have reached by forgetting you and focusing on them? I’m guessing well over 100, maybe 200.

They deserve that. And you’ve worked a long time to get to this point; you deserve it, too.

Now, get your game face on and prepare for the day! Are those worksheets ready? Did you count them just to make sure? Lesson plans ready? Did you double check the DVD player for that 39 second clip you need to show? You’re sure? HOW sure?

…. all the best, now teach.

-Your Soon-to-be Seven-Year-Teacher Self

PS – Stop competing with others and start taking notes. Get. Over. Yourself. 

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