If I knew then…

Oh, that’s right, I have a blog.

It’s been a crazy year. I know first years usually are, but mine felt especially crazy. Since this blog is open to the interwebs at large, I won’t go into too many specifics, but for context my old school had 100% teacher turnover from last September to this September. I also spontaneously developed a spot of grey hair in my beard. It was a mess for a multitude of reasons and lucky for me I have a great new job at a fantastic school starting in September.

Plus, I get to meet all of the #MTBoS tweeps in less than a week!

But summer is a time of relaxation and reflection, so one of the things I wanted to do is look back on my last year and see what I can take from it. And maybe it will help some of the future first year teachers. I know Sam  and Chris encouraged us to read blogs and first-year-teacher letters, and even had us write a letter to ourselves. So this is a letter to my past self, to future first-years, and sort of to myself for next year.

Truth

Truth

Dear Noob –

The first year looms big and large on the horizon, and if you have any sense you’re freaking out about it. I’ve been there, and it’s rough. You want to do a good job and make a difference, but you’re not sure what’s coming your way. I know that nothing I say can really prepare you (because I read first-year letters too and they only sorta prepared me) but maybe I can use my experiences in the shit-show that was my school to help you face the challenges headed your way.

(That said, feel free to ignore everything I say, because like I said it was a shit-show for me).

1) This year is going to suck… – It’s just a universal truth about teaching. Even my friends at good schools with good staff and good students had a rough year. You will be working your ass off, you will plan terrible lessons, you will make mistakes with your kids. It will all happen, more than once. Every “First-Year” letter I read last year said this same thing, but it should be reiterated: It will suck.  I will say it will suck even more if you’re at a bad school.

2) …but it’s not all bad… – There will be things that happen this year that keep you coming back. Interactions with staff and students that make you laugh and remind you why you do this shit. Every time those happen, cling to them. I started the year keeping a notebook of little successes throughout the year to remind myself of later on. Unfortunately I didn’t follow my own advice and stopped updating it, but find a way to remind yourself. When I was cleaning out my desk at the end of the year, I found the notebook and some of the things I had written and it was a great end note.

3) …and it’s not forever. – I’ve already stated my year was terrible, but that said I was able to find a fantastic new job at an amazing school that I could not be more excited to teach at. And the benefit of my shite year was that it helped me figure out exactly what I wanted in a school and an administration and a department. And the best part was that the interviews weren’t as shitty in year 2 because I had a whole year of insanity to draw from. If you’re miserable at your school, find a new one! And I keep being assured year 2 is easier wherever you are. I know I feel a lot more prepared so far than I did last year.

4) It’s just a job. – Sure, we do good work. We change lives and shape futures and blah blah blah. But at the end of the day it is just a job, and you need to have a life outside of it. Go out to Happy hours with co-workers on Fridays (or on a random Tuesday when it was just a completely shitty day, but those hangovers are a bitch). Hang out with your roommates watching TV, or with your friends playing games. Yes, your To-Do list is unending, but it still will be even if you work all night. So try to stay a person.

5) It’s not your classroom. – This is one piece of advice I read on some blog somewhere halfway through the year, and my first reaction was “Of course it’s my classroom” but in fact I’m part of my department, which is part of the school, which is part of the district. When your principal comes in and asks you to do something, you have to do it, even if you don’t necessarily agree with it. Trust me, it makes life so much easier. And if there start to be a whole host of things you’re asked to do that you don’t agree with, see point #3 above.

6) Document Everything. – This is perhaps due to my jaded experience this year, but I think it’s good practice in any event. Keep a lot of meetings you have with your principal, department head, and anyone else who is reviewing you and giving you feedback. Don’t delete emails. Save every paper they give you. If you’re getting good reviews, than it’s ego boosting. If you run into trouble later on, it will help to build a case if one needs to be built. It’s a little annoying at the time, but it will save you a headache later.

7) You’re not alone. – Talk to your friends. Talk to your coworkers. Talk to #MTBoS. Vent. Ask for advice. Ask for lesson ideas. Tell jokes. Have a drink. Vent some more. Don’t get stuck in your head because it’s a lonely place. And there are some pretty fantastic ideas out there. Start here and here, and just keep exploring. I got some great ideas from literally just googling “Algebra Factoring”.

8) You’re awesome and you are doing good work and you are making a difference. – Just in case you forgot.

I’m sure there’s more advice I could give, but I also know none of it will really sink in amidst the maelstrom of stress and planning. You’ll learn it all soon enough, anyway. Good luck with the year, and kick some ass. And if you need a happy hour to vent, come find me. I’m a professional at happy hour venting.

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One thought on “If I knew then…

  1. Well put, and probably true of the first year in any profession (and yes, despite all the efforts of others to make it otherwise, teaching is still a *profession*). More so with teaching, though, as it is well nigh impossible for the vast majority of new teachers to do what is required of you to the level that *you* want to do it. We all have to start somewhere though, and if you care about the kids, you’ll get there, even if the ride is pretty bumpy. Congratulations on surviving the first year, and… sorry about the grey hairs! 🙂

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