Dear First Year Teacher,
Welcome to the greatest profession–the one on which all others depend. (Don’t worry; this letter isn’t going to be filled with catchy quotes and platitudes.) I write this to you as you are preparing for your first year. I write not as an expert but as a friend and colleague. It has been a few years, but I’ve been there. (And truthfully, there are times when I still feel like a first-year teacher.)
While this is the greatest profession, it is also a calling that will take everything you have to give (and more). It will take every drop of your strength, every minute of your day, and every corner of your mind. Because you are called to education, because you want to make a difference, and because there are so many needs, you can quickly find yourself drowning because of your desire to save everyone. Hold on to that passion and that drive. Remember it when times get tough and when mandates come from “on high.” Remember why you chose this career path. However, also set some boundaries. Just as a runner can’t run all the time, you can’t let school consume every second of your life. Save something for yourself, your family, and your friends. Get a hobby, exercise, spend time with others in your life doing things that don’t involve school.
Has anyone told you yet that your first year will be hard? I know this doesn’t mean much right now, but hold on to this letter. When times get tough (and they will), when you feel like crying (and you will), when you question whether you’ve chosen the right career, pull this letter back out and read it. Take comfort in knowing that we all have those feelings; we all question our calling sometime. Teaching is a job that is intensely personal and comes from a place deep in our souls. For that reason, it affects us deeply when things get rough or when we feel that we’ve failed a student in some way. As I look back over the past 17 years of my career, I see times where I’ve felt distraught, wanted to quit, wanted to give up. For passionate teachers, this is normal, and it’s more intense in your first year of teaching. When you feel this way, find a colleague. We won’t have the answers, but we can assure you that you can carry on because we have been there too.
Curriculum and test scores are important. Your administrator is deeply concerned about both. However, what matters most is the connection you make with your students. Think back over your time as a student. Think about the teachers who stood out. I’ll bet that they stick out (for good or bad) based on the relationships (or lack thereof) that they formed with you. You may remember your Calculus teacher, but it’s probably not because they taught you about limits (though they did). You probably remember them more for the way they cultivated a caring classroom filled with respect and empathy. That’s what your students are going to remember about you as well–did you love every kid in your classroom, and did each kid know that you loved them?
My last piece of advice is to be aware of your surroundings. There may be places in your building where you can get pulled into negativity. Avoid those places. If your staff lunches turn into gripe sessions, eat somewhere else. Eat with the kids, even. Eating with students is a great way to get to know them better. Just as you avoid the negative places, find the positive places. Find those people who lift you up and encourage you. Stick by them. It’s your first year and you’re going to need a lot of encouragement. They’ll provide it. At the same time, you’ll become more like them so that you can encourage struggling teachers later in your career as well.
I’ll leave you with this: Best of luck with your first year in education. We’re glad you’re here.