A few months ago, I saw this article on Edutopia asking teachers to write letters to their first-day-of-teaching selves. And I did it! And now I’m sharing mine with you.
Dear First-Year Teach,
First of all, you look so cute! What an adorable cardigan. (Lay it flat to dry like the cleaning instructions say, or in a couple of years it’ll look and feel like a washcloth and you will be a sad girl.)
Wow. Your first day. Your FIRST first day. I know how you’re feeling. Nervous. Excited. Hopeful. Diarrhea-ish. It’s like how you felt about that piano recital, except instead of five minutes in front of people it’s fifty minutes times six periods times five days times four weeks times nine months, and instead of everyone listening to you quietly NOBODY will listen to you quietly unless you train them, and instead of memorizing something and delivering it your job is to improvise while convincing everyone in the audience that it’s something worth playing; that they want to play it, too.
You have every right to feel diarrhea-ish.
I wish I could tell you that you’ll have more good days than bad days this year. That you’ll get a hang of this teaching thing after a few weeks and after that it’s smooth sailing. That, like babysitting and being a camp counselor and volunteering, if you can just get the kids to like you, that means they’ll do whatever you say.
But it won’t.
It’s not like that.
This will be the most difficult, challenging thing you will ever do. It will push you to your limits as a person. It will almost break you. There are times when it will feel like life has sucker-punched you, then offered you crutches, then taken the crutches and is beating you over the back with them while laughing hysterically.
Teaching will also be the most beautiful thing that has ever happened to you.
There will be a whole month where it feels like you don’t go a day without crying. But guess what? In a couple of years, most of the crying you will do at school will be because of stuff like how awesome Poetry Day is, or from when you will read that darn chapter at the end of Wonder about standing ovations (it’s this book coming out soon–trust me, it’s the best), or from the time your choir students will sing “Gentle Annie” on a day just a liiiiittle too close to your period.
You know all those cute bins and folders that you think will keep you and your students organized? They won’t. Part of teaching is learning how inept all your systems are and adjusting them to work for you. But you are about to embark on a journey that will leave you as THE MOST ORGANIZED PERSON IN THE ENTIRE WORLD! Or at least out of the people you know who are non-teachers.
- You know those super annoying kiosk salespeople in the mall who accost you with flatirons and phones and perfumes? After you have a few years in this gig, THEY WON’T BOTHER YOU ANYMORE! Teaching has made you more confident; taught you to walk with your shoulders tall and with a purpose. Or maybe you just walk around with Teacher Face now.
- TEACHER DISCOUNTS!
- You will be the master of time management. (This doesn’t necessarily mean you choose to employ these skills all the time, but you can when needed.)
- Summer, my friend. Just wait. It’s glorious.
But the real perk–the thing that is going to keep you coming back–is something that’s hard for me to explain. It’s not because of what you’re thinking right now on your first day: that you will be the hero in this story, or that you are about to change lives/the world by bestowing your benevolence and your knowledge upon them.
This isn’t about you.
You are a vessel. You are at your most important when you make yourself the least important. You are here not to be in front of everyone, but to stand beside them. You are here not to impress others, but to encourage and lift up the kids in your classroom and the people around you. You are here not to be recognized, but to help other people figure out what is recognizable about them and how to use that for good.
I’ll let you figure out what that means (I still am).
Good luck out there, kid.
Oh, and go ahead and put that Keurig in your classroom now. You’ll need it.