Your First Year Teaching Means Grieving Your Former Self

We need to be honest about what it means to become a teacher.

first year teaching grieving

The following is an excerpt from Love, Teach, by Kelly Treleaven, available in bookstores now. Kelly has been a longtime contributor of WeAreTeachers, and we’re delighted to share this preview from her new book.

New teachers need to know that in a lot of ways, the first year (or sometimes two) is like a grieving process. You are grieving the death of a person you thought you knew.

The self who used to be in control of your surroundings.

The self who always had easy, accessible, work-through-able solutions to problems in your life. The self who was able to get the hang of anything—difficult professors, a conditioning class, the subjunctive in Spanish—after a few weeks. The self who believed you were indestructible.

Of course, these are all false selves.

None of us are in control of our surroundings. None of us have the solution to everything or can master everything immediately. But that doesn’t make the grieving process any less difficult.

Like most grief, the grieving process in teaching looks more like a giant scribble than a neat line. One day you might think, Wow, I’m killing it today—I must be on the upswing! and the next you might feel completely inept. One day you might celebrate a successful lesson on polymerase chain reactions and the next your students can’t tell you what DNA is. One day you will think it’s impossible for you to love your third- period class any more than you already do and the next you will consider walking out the door during third period, climbing into your car, and driving to New Jersey, where you will then get on a ferry to Norway, change your name, and never again mention this period of your life.

Like the grieving process for a loved one, everyone’s grief looks different.

Some people take longer than others, and some have a more difficult journey than others. Some reach out for support from friends and family, some look inward through meditation or prayer. Some seek solace from experts in person or from books, some do a combination or find other forms of self-care. Don’t judge yourself by comparing your struggle to that of other teachers—especially not ones at other schools. Administration, support, funding, bell schedules, all of these can create completely different experiences. Trust me, I’ve seen it myself.

But even at your own school, don’t expect to see other teachers crying in the teacher’s lounge or posting pictures on social media of how badly their lesson failed. It’s important to know and remember that just because you don’t see someone else struggling doesn’t mean they’re not struggling, too.

Parts of me died in my first few years of teaching.

Parts of me that I honestly miss—but I had space for new, better versions of myself, ones that are better equipped to be a teacher and a person in this world. It was ultimately one of the most positive and transformative experiences of my life.

Today I am empowered by the fact that I have control of the way I respond to my surroundings, even if I don’t have control of my surroundings. I understand that some things have easy, accessible solutions, and some have giant, intimidating solutions, but that all of them are worth fighting for.

I see and celebrate the value in struggle and I teach my students to do the same. I know I am destructible and I make it a priority to practice self-care. I recognize my perfectionist tendencies, but remember to stop and breathe and think, I’m enough. To work hard, to care deeply, to fight hard, to take care of myself: This is enough.

Learn where you can purchase Love, Teach. 

Plus, what teachers need if we’re ever going to have another globally competitive generation.

Your First Year Teaching Means Grieving Your Former Self

Posted by Love Teach

Love, Teach (Kelly Treleaven) teaches middle school English and writes about it at loveteachblog.com. You can pre-order her book, Love, Teach: Real Stories and Honest Advice to Keep Teachers from Crying Under Their Desks, or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

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