Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A Letter to First-Year Teachers

As I sit here now to write these words, the tears are already flowing. I cannot believe that my first year is over. It seems like just yesterday I was sweating bullets during open house while meeting parents. This has been one of the craziest, most difficult, yet most rewarding years of my life. Teachers are NOT lying when they tell you this is tough stuff! I have learned so much over the course of the year, and my time was filled with memories, lessons, tears, and laughter that I will take with me as I continue in this journey of teaching.  I’m sure there are plenty of letters and lessons that teachers could write as advice for those diving into this job, but I just wanted to share a few things I gathered along the way that I feel have been my most important lessons learned.

Ask for help- you will need it all the time! Don’t be too prideful to say that you don’t know how to do something. I found a few people who were always willing to answer my silly questions (and also learned those that were not). It was so nice to have people that were eager to sit down with me to help me learn to tackle something new because there was so much I did not know. Trust me, you are never out of questions.

Stand firm. Just because it is your first year teaching doesn’t mean you don’t know what you are doing. You went to school for this and probably learned a heck of a lot. You will not always be wrong, and others will come to you for help sometimes as well. If you come across people who try to make you feel inferior because you are new, stand firm. I was not good at this. I did not stand up for myself, I couldn’t tell someone else when I thought they were wrong, and I didn’t know how to tell someone no. I really don’t like conflict, so this was so hard for me. But I would get angry or upset often because I felt like I was letting someone else control what I was doing in my classroom. When honestly, I knew my plans could be even better. As Meghan Trainor would say, “I might be young, but I ain’t stupid.” J I knew what I was doing. It got better as the year went on, but trust me, I am still working on this one. No, you don’t always have to be right (there is a lot that I wasn’t right on through the year), but you also don’t always have to be wrong. If it’s your decision, you be the one to make it. Trust yourself, be confident, and do what you want to in YOUR classroom. After all, you are the teacher now!
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

Write your lesson plans in pencil. I learned this lesson about two weeks into the school year. Once I had scratched out so much that I had no more room to write the lesson plans that were actually going to take place, I decided it was best to stick with something that erases. There will always be extra things that come up unplanned, units that take longer than expected, students who miss something they needed, etc. Be ready and willing to switch it up and cope with the changes.

Don’t freak out. The stress is real, and there will be days when you feel like you’ll never be able to get it all done. Sometimes those “days” of stress turned into weeks for me, and it would literally make me sick. You will get frustrated, you will yell, and you will cry. It’s inevitable. But I had to learn to take a deep breathe in those times, prioritize, and rest assured that everything will work out. Time management was a big obstacle for me. The truth is that God WILL give us more than we can handle- that way we have no choice but to trust Him and rely on Him to get us through all things. It is a reminder of our need for Him daily.
“In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.” –Psalm 18:6
“I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.” –Psalm 34:4

Don’t let criticizing parents tear you down. They won’t all like you or agree with you. I can’t even count the number of days I went home and cried (or couldn’t hold back the tears while I was still at school) because of a parent who thought that I was doing something wrong. I have now been yelled and cursed at- some parents can be really mean. But if you are working hard at your job and serving your students right, don’t doubt yourself. As Taylor Swift would advise you, “Shake it off! Shake it off!” J Keep your head up, and your dedication to their child will shine through.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” –Joshua 1:9

Pray for patience every morning. It won’t be easy. There were some days when my kids would drive me absolutely insane. There were days when I found myself mid-day thinking “holy cow, I need to chill,” because I had been frustrated and snappy with my kids.  I literally began to pray for patience every morning on my drive to school. “Better a patient person than a warrior…” –Proverbs 16:32. Patience is key. I put a note on my desk about halfway through the year as a reminder to ‘choose joy’ every day. It’s a struggle, but joyfulness leads to a delightful classroom.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” – Colossians 3:12

Remember that loving on your students is the most important part of your job. Everything else can wait. Sometimes I would get so wrapped up in emails and paperwork that I would completely ignore the “Miss Puwbiss” being called out five times from across the room or the story I was being told about something exciting from their weekend. Building relationships and a bond of trust with your kids is the best thing you can do for your classroom. Hearing “I luh you, Miss Puwbiss” over and over is the most fulfilling thing I can hear as a teacher. That is what’s important.

What you do matters. You will look back at the end of the year and truly realize all of the progress your kids have made. It’s hard to see those things in the midst of the chaos of every day, but the work is worth it. We call our students our kids because they become just that in our hearts.  When you are spending your time with them day in and day out, you form a bond and a love that is so special. When we accept Christ as our Savior, we are called to a life of greater purpose for His glory. “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands…” –Psalm 138:8. Your work is a form of worship to our God, so remind yourself of that daily. Glorify the Lord with the profession He has called you to, and He will bless you through it.

It won’t be easy, but it will all be worth it. Good luck, first-year teachers! And have fun!

"It's not what you take when you leave this world behind you. It's what you leave behind you when you go." -Randy Travis