Dear Brand-New Teacher,
I wish I could give you a hug. Not a cute, polite hug you might expect to get from me, a stranger, but a sweeping, powerful, lung-crushing hug. You are bravely walking into a profession that has never been easy but in the past few years has seen some of its darkest times.
You didn’t sign up for this work not knowing that this work is hard. You already know.
You know that we’re not paid nearly enough for the work we do or the hours we put in.
You know we were human guinea pigs in the COVID-19 initiatives to reopen schools.
And you’ve shown up anyway. I mean this wholeheartedly: I believe you are among the bravest and most honorable people alive right now.
Perhaps you’ve always wanted to be an educator. Maybe one of your own teachers ignited a spark that never died out. As a child, you lined up stuffed animals and younger, compliant neighborhood children in neat rows, asking them questions as you point to your Fisher-Price globe. You’ve never wavered about the classroom being where you belong, and you’ve been agonizing over your first classroom theme all four years of college. (You finally went with Boba Tea–cher).
Or perhaps teaching wasn’t your first plan, but now it’s the best plan. Maybe teaching wasn’t initially on your radar for career choices, but you realized you have the skill set, the drive, and the passion for sharing knowledge with children. You might not have a classroom theme or all of your supplies organized, but you already have a vision of what you’re most excited to teach. Maybe it’s matrices. Maybe it’s the water cycle. Maybe it’s pickle ball.
However you got here, I’m so glad you’ve arrived.
With so few guarantees in teaching, starting out can feel a little unsettling. I can’t guarantee that you’ll be an amazing teacher, or that you’ll love your first school and never leave, or that your students will adore you, or that you’ll change lives and Hollywood will make a movie about your achievements.
Here’s what I can guarantee you:
Your world is about to get rocked.
You will feel better-connected to human kindness than ever before.
You will feel better-connected to human suffering than ever before.
You will have moments in teaching when you want to flip your desk across the room, Hulk-style.
You will have moments when you never want the lesson to end.
You will wonder if you’ll make it to December.
You will wonder if you’ll make it to Friday.
You will have days when you feel like you’re soaring.
You will be so overwhelmed by wonder or beauty that you find yourself literally putting your hand over your heart like Blanche Devereaux.
(OK, I can’t guarantee that last one, but it’s very likely.)
Do you notice a theme here? Teaching is transformative, but not only for our students. Teaching digs at what we assumed were the edges of ourselves, extending our limits and challenging our notions of who we thought we were. Years ago, I wrote this about my own transformation:
“Being a teacher has changed me. It has broken me, but it has also rebuilt me into something stronger and kinder, both gentler and more badass. Teaching has ramped up my anxiety to near-crippling levels at times, but it has also forced me to have more respect for myself than I’ve ever had before. It has given me access to a world that I can’t imagine not having citizenship in, a place where I have the honor of standing beside other humans as they use their own voices and the stories of others to build a better world. Teaching has made me more open-minded, more aware of my biases, more grateful, more connected to the world around me than I have ever been before. For me, it is a way to impact our world for the better at a time when there’s so much chaos and disillusionment surrounding us. As a friend recently told me, ‘What a blessing, to model a better world every day for young people.’ And it is. Even on the very worst and darkest days, it is.”
No matter what this year brings, you, too, will go through something transformational in this process. You, too, will get to model a better and brighter world.
Want to know something? Your students will model one for you, too.
(They will also clandestinely take a picture of you during class and enlarge your head so you look like Megamind and post it in the comments section of your district website.)