Dear First Year Teacher: We Are You. You are not Alone.

Isolation

Dear First Year Teacher,

I want you to know something: It gets better. You will learn all their names, figure out a filing system, and re-teach that lesson you feel that you bombed. You will find the best place to eat your lunch, and you will stop taking their angry pouts personally.

I also want you to know that I feel like a first year teacher too.

This is my eighth year of teaching. In those years, I’ve taught over 1,000 students and watched my first class of high school freshman earn their college diplomas. I’ve rewritten every course I’ve taught. I’ve made more mistakes than I can count, yet I have a bulging file folder labeled “Happy” when those mistakes threaten to overwhelm.

I’ve had incredible opportunities to share with others through writing and speaking. I’ve had incredible opportunities to listen to the greatest inspirations in our profession. I’ve been incredibly blessed.

Yet, on the second day in the third week of school I feel as unsure and overwhelmed as I did 8 years ago opening my first classroom. Today, I needed a colleague to help me understand how to construct a lesson on literary theories for my first period tomorrow morning. Last week, I needed a friend to stop in my room and tell me to go home. Tomorrow I might look out at 25 faces and blank on 5 of their names.

And I’m exhausted. And I’m fighting my first cold in 8 months.

If you are doing this job right, you are constantly learning. You are tweaking, observing, revising, reflecting, and taking risks. You are attempting to understand the new faces in front of you as deeply as those familiar faces you let go last spring. You are working moment-by-moment to move mountains, strategizing how to turn resistance into excitement, sullen faces into smiles, and confusion into confidence.

And that work often doesn’t feel easier. I frequently feel like I’m a first year teacher.

But, here’s my pep talk for you (and for me!) Build relationships with others who can lift you beyond the exhaustion by making you laugh. Start your happy folder today and revisit it as often as you need. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from teachers, from students, from the Internet. Remember what it felt like to be your students’ age and restructure your priorities from that memory. Stop working all evening and do things that make you happy.

Don’t measure yourself by the impossible standards you’ve constructed in your head. Measure yourself by how many lightbulb moments you created, how many smiles you inspired, how many kids you didn’t let give up.

Today I felt like a first year teacher. Tonight, I’m not so upset by it.

Dear first year teacher: remember, it gets better.

2 thoughts on “Dear First Year Teacher: We Are You. You are not Alone.

  1. Great article. This is the beginning of year 26. 15 as a teacher and 10 in Admin. I know I was a first year teacher for all 15 years but I learned more every year. It gets better but it should never get easier. We should never be content. We should always remember that we aren’t teaching the same kids this year as we did last year. That means we are always changing and that’s a good thing. Not always an easy thing but a good thing.

    1. Agreed! I love the idea that every year we should be a “first year teacher” at SOMETHING. Otherwise our practice should always be evolving and we should be willing to tackle new challenges each year. That models for our students what it looks like to learn. What could be more powerful and empowering than that?!

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