Friday, August 14, 2015

Dear First Year Teachers

Congratulations,

You’ve gotten through your degree; you’ve managed to navigate the impersonal (and sometimes dehumanizing) process of finding a teaching job and now, finally, after all of that you are starting this school year as a first year teacher.

You will likely be underpaid. You will be expected to provide a meaningful educational experience for your students without an adequate budget or resources. So you will continue the tradition of teachers in America of reaching into their own pocket to purchase white board markers, books, pencils and paper for your students.

Your friends who are not teachers will not understand your job.  They will probably have a more comfortable workplace. They will have access to stocked supply closets, free facial tissue, company cell phones, up to date computers, water coolers, flexible break times, bonuses, free snacks, complimentary lunches and dinners and you probably will not have any of these things. And in their minds, these little daily annoyances aren’t a big deal because you have a “summer break,” which you will likely spend working because the work of the school year is not done or because that teacher salary isn’t high enough to pay the bills.

Most of the people in your life will respect you (to your face) about your decision to be a teacher, but some will not. And far too many with much less knowledge about your job will talk about the downfall of American education (unions, liberal-biased textbooks, overpaid teachers) and will offer no realistic solutions.

Don’t expect anyone but other teachers to understand your life as an educator.

You will meet master teachers who seem to effortlessly teach with grace and insight. Don’t forget that this is a result of hard work and study and once upon a time, they had no idea what they were doing.  The best teachers still feel this way after decades in the field.

You will meet teachers who are lazy, indifferent and incompetent. Don’t judge them too harshly because we all have that potential to in ourselves. While it’s easy to look down on these teachers, don’t. Your insecurities are your own and should not manifest in negative judgments. Give all of your fellow teachers your highest level of professionalism because you never know what led them to their current situation.

Administrators will sometimes put up roadblocks and other times they will take them away. While they care about your students, they have a different set of priorities. It’s their job to create a necessary tension that keeps a school running. For example, if teachers got all the money they wanted out of administration, the school would run out of money, but if the teachers didn’t push for more resources, the students would suffer. Embrace this tension, and lean into it.

Most parents will love you and a few will misunderstand you. But the ones who dislike you will be louder, so it’s easy to forget how many parents believe in you. No matter the age of a student, that parent will always see in their child that helpless baby that they rocked in their arms. In parents conversations, let parents say their say, express objective observations, be careful to not make conclusions that you are not trained to make, don’t assume anything about a students’ family life and always express your belief in their child with optimism and hope.

Your students will love you if you are present and work for them. Most of them will not express this love to you but it’s there. And you will love your students because of how much work you put into their experience in school and because of the fact that kids are amazing. There will be some students that will be difficult to like. Focus on these kids early in the year; spend a lot of time with them. Trust me. That kid is worth the effort.

Don’t let a lesson plan be a cage, let it be a framework to build from.  The quality of a lesson is not based on how close you stick to the lesson plan but rather how well you helped your students make connections.

You will have bad days. But chances are something worked for at least one of your students; so don’t let your self-pity blind you from that. There’s always the next day and you can always repeat a less (some students actually enjoy it when teachers do this). There aren’t any problems, challenges or situations that you will encounter that have not been tackled by some other teacher. You will feel alone when things get tough, but you will never be alone.

You are part of a fraternity, a group of professionals who see the world differently than most people in our society. We see the meaning in human connections over the motivation of a financial bottom line. We believe that it is more important to help people learn how to think rather than what to think. We devote ourselves to serving the most important resource in our world not because it is glamorous or prestigious, but because it is right.

You have my respect and the respect of the over three million teachers in our country who are rooting for you.

Celebrate the small moments.  Laugh with your students and laugh at yourself.  If you ever feel like things are falling apart, reach out.

You will always have this teacher to lean on.  

-Kingsley


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