I just finished my 9th year of teaching. Ninth. That is crazy. There are new teachers at our school that I could’ve taught! WOW! I knew this day would come eventually, but now that it’s here, it makes me feel really old. Haha. Meanwhile, we had several teachers retire this year, many of whom had taught for 30+ years. Now THAT is a long time.
I’ll be honest and say I can barely remember my first year of teaching. It wasn’t that long ago, but it was such a blur. I was driving one hour and twenty minutes ONE way to get there, so a huge part of my year was spent driving and a large portion of my income was spent on gas. But there are a few things I can recall.
I remember getting the call that I got the job…seven days before school started. Being absolutely thrilled and anxious and calling my sister to come down with me to set up my classroom.
I remember tripping on the hem of my new fancy dress pants during New Teacher Orientation. Seriously.
I remember that I was scared. Terrified, even. I was given three preps (Why, oh, why do we do this to new teachers?). I had 11th grade English, ESL, and Yearbook. I had no idea how to teach the latter two, and despite having just graduated college, it turns out I really wasn’t prepared for the first, either.
I remember having chalkboards and an overhead projector (not gonna lie, I loved that thing), two bulletin boards and large windows that looked out onto a mostly unused courtyard.
I remember feeling supported and isolated at the same time. I worked with a great faculty. The principal was great; he’d come check on me periodically. His secretary was fantastic. The librarians were angels. My fellow English teachers were so kind and helpful. But as soon as the bell rang, I was alone. My door closed–as did everyone else’s–and it was me and ten kids of various ages (half of them related) who didn’t speak much English. Or me and fifteen (I’d like to say “eager”, but that would be a lie) yearbook students, waiting for the command. Or me and twenty already-bored-looking juniors, waiting for the new, young teacher to try to dazzle them. Everyday I had to remind myself that I was, in fact, the teacher. I was the adult. I was the leader. These kids needed me.
I remember feeling overwhelmed. I felt like everything I learned in college was a joke (sorry, professors). And while that isn’t exactly true, I do remember feeling utterly unprepared for the reality of being in the classroom. Having twenty sets of eyes staring at you, waiting for you to try to change their lives. Many of them apathetic, a couple hopeful. Some with mud and cow patties clinging to their work boots from where they’d milked the cows before school. Some with pictures of their sixth-month old baby tucked inside their purse. Some with tobacco tucked in their lip, trying to hide it from their naive new teacher. Some with dreams of leaving this tiny town, never to return, but with little chance of achieving that goal.
I remember feeling hopeless. How could I possibly help these kids? I wasn’t much older than them. I could hardly relate to them. I didn’t understand what they needed. I didn’t know how to get them interested in The Great Gatsby or the works of Edgar Allen Poe. I wasn’t equipped to handle so many different personalities, needs, and learning styles in one room.
I remember ending the year feeling exhausted and, sadly, disillusioned. I enjoyed my year. I liked the kids. I had an overall good experience. But teaching wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. It was harder. It was more draining than I could’ve ever imagined.
But I made it. As almost all of us do. The first year, as they say, is all about survival, and I survived. While over the years my experiences change me and shape my teaching, each new group of students brings its own challenges that I have to adapt to, and each year some of the same doubts and concerns haunt me. Especially at the end of the year when some major reflection begins. Did I do the best I could? Did I try with every student? Does every student know I care about them? Did they all leave having learned something? Anything?
While I remember these things about being a first year teacher, I’m not confident that I do my best to help new teachers NOT feel this way. (That was a lot of awkward negatives). Some of it is inevitable and necessary for growth, but some, like feeling helpless, hopeless, or isolated are unacceptable. I think we often times think, “well, I had to go through it, so…”, but that doesn’t make it okay.
As my summer begins (hallelujah!), I plan to make part of my goal for the summer to research and read about how to support new teachers. I will be part of our school’s PRIDE team next year, which helps to welcome and mentor new teachers. I hope that this blog, along with my research, and work with colleagues will help me to help new teachers have more to remember than the fear and exhaustion of their first year of teaching.
I would love to hear any ideas from new or veteran teachers about how you would like to be supported or how you support new teachers!