I remember going through college as an art education major and relentlessly hearing how challenging it is for a first-year teacher. After a while I internally rolled my eyes, silently repeating “I know, I know.” I heard it so many times the warnings fell on deaf ears. I graduated, got a job, set up my classroom, and anxiously awaited my very first day of school in my very own classroom.
They were right. They were all right.
The first-year teaching sucked. I can think of a few bright spots, but overall it was overwhelming, exhausting, mentally taxing, and more often than not I felt like a failure. I knew I had a passion for this career, I connected with a handful of students, I had a supportive coworker, and I pressed on.
Enter the second year.
While the second year was leaps and bounds better than my first year, my second year presented its own challenges. My supportive coworker who was beyond beloved by our student body moved on to a new school. I was tasked with taking over her classes and trying to find my fit with students who just wanted her as a teacher.
Welcome to the third year.
I began to hit my stride in year three. I felt more confident, I perfected my teacher stare, I for once had discipline mostly under control in my classes. And after my third year, every year has been easier, better, more fulfilling.
Then COVID hit.
My twelfth year teaching has been almost, almost as challenging as my first. Fall semester 2020 felt like the rewind button had been hit. There was a huge learning curve incorporating the crazy amount of technology needed to run classes. I suddenly had discipline issues I hadn’t dealt with in years because students had more boundaries to cross being in hybrid. My confidence level dropped, my exhaustion level increased, my love for my profession started to get buried by the to-do lists, grade follow-ups, failures, and more.
As I was contemplating my own woes one afternoon after my class had left, I was hit with the sudden realization that there are first-year teachers in classrooms at this moment. My worst year and second-worst year teaching are combined into one for some.
What a nightmare.
Dear First Year Teachers,
This will be the worst year of your career. I promise. It can only go up from here. I promise.
Although you may cry more days than you leave with a smile on your face, you are racking up teaching experience, jamming in all the nonsense in one year. You have learned to deal with blow after blow, you have overcome overwhelming obstacles, just by showing up for your students every day you are crushing it. You have dealt with and accomplished more in your first year than any other first-year teacher before you.
You will exit this year with more life experience than a typical first-year teacher. You have likely seen the worst in your students, parents, administration, and coworkers. Hopefully, you have also seen the persistence, perseverance, and strength in those people.
After the instability you have experienced this year you won’t believe how easy your second year will be. You have essentially packed three years of experience into one year. It might have been a harrowing experience but just imagine life as a teacher as you pictured it in college. No masks, no Zoom calls, no following up with students whose faces you have never seen, and work that has never been turned in.
Yes, this year is terrible, but this year is not a fair representation of life as a teacher. You will overcome, you will make it through, and before you know it pandemic teaching will be in the rearview mirror. You can do it because you have to. You can do it because your students need you to. You can do it because you entered into a profession you had a passion for and you need to give a typical year a fair shot. And this year was certainly atypical.
We need you. We all need you. You are doing great things.
A very worn out twelfth year teacher
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