Dear New Teacher,
Welcome to the profession. Please know that you are seen and that during these times that many seem to call unprecedented, it’s ok to be nervous and uncertain about what it means to be a teacher this year. As a teacher of 12 years, I feel the same. I write to you in hopes that you will not give up as I sometimes am tempted to do, but that you will push through the tough moments that may come your way. I also write with a few pieces of advice that have been weighing on my heart and wished someone would have told me in my earlier years. Here goes.
You are more than a teacher
For years I thought much of my worth came from being a brilliant teacher. I gave so much to the profession both inside and outside of the school day. If someone needed something done, I often raised a hand, sometimes at the expense of myself. What the last few years have taught me is that I am so much more than my career. At the end of the day, teaching is rewarding, And yet, there will be times like the challenges that we have had over the last few years, where the reward may seem delayed or small in comparison to the work required. It’s in those times that we may need to dig deep and find our sources of inspiration from elsewhere. I urge you to take time and know what brings you joy. For me, it’s been walking and spending time with like-minded people with whom I can freely speak and who call me to critically think about my practice and life. In these relationships, there have been many moments to express the frustrations that come and moments to laugh and experience deep and lasting joy. My family has also been central in helping to take stock of what is most important. Time is fleeting so I’m making sure that I spend each day with those who matter most. When words elude me or I’m deep in thought about the work that needs to be done, art has been a source of expression. What brings you joy beyond the profession? What makes you get up in the morning, ready to embrace a new day? I urge you to take some time to find out because balance is essential in this profession.
Mistakes will happen
I think sometimes we forget that teaching is a practice. I think of this word in its verb form: to perform an activity or skill repeatedly in order to improve or maintain one’s expertise. Practice implies that there is improvement being made and I think we need to leave room for and accept that mistakes will happen and it’s from those mistakes that we have the opportunity to learn. As I mentioned before, this is my twelfth year teaching, and I’m teaching something new and not what I had expected. You see, for the last few years, I have been working on my junior program, particularly in literacy, and have had some great ideas as I watched goals on my annual learning plan become accomplished. I had hope that this year, I would be able to further create with students but things have taken a different direction. Teaching prep, I’m learning how to time activities and lessons for 30 or 40 minute periods and doing this from grades 1 to 5. It’s the beginning and I’ve decided to be gracious with myself and to do my best. I’m learning from mistakes as I go and keeping my expectations reasonable. When you walk into your new building, I hope that you will try your best every day and be ok with the result. If things don’t work the first time, it’s ok. Try that lesson again or abandon it altogether. Your worth isn’t wrapped up in how successful or unsuccessful your lesson was. Reflect and try again tomorrow if you choose. It’s ok.
When you don’t understand or when you see something wrong, I urge you to speak up. The more you do, the easier it becomes for others to continue to do the same and to be heard. As one who has spoken up time and again, I know that it’s hard and that the risk is great. The fear of reprisal is something that many of us hold within and yet if we don’t speak up, nothing changes. If you are speaking from a place of privilege, I challenge you to consider what you are willing to give up so that others may have greater access. You will hear lots of talk of equity, I would ask you to consider what this talk really means and how we might move beyond the talk. I’ve heard it described as a “journey”. To me, this is a way of saying that it will take an undefined amount of time to learn and eventually, act. We can also take stops along the way at the things we like and move quickly past the things we don’t or that are uncomfortable. I ask you to demand tangible action when these talks arise. Ask what will be actually done in classrooms and schools to implement true equity. If you yourself don’t know what to do, take some time to learn. Reach out to others with whom you can learn. For far too long, there has been a small group who continues to put themselves on the line for what is right. Imagine the impact you can have by speaking up and doing what you know to be right for students and colleagues in your school. Please speak up.
So there you have it. My words of advice. Not that you needed any but I thought I would just share. Mistakes will happen, so take it easy on yourself. Know that you are more than a teacher. Speak up. This year will certainly not be an easy one. I hope you take some moments to reflect and really sit with what it means to be a teacher in 2021. Once again, welcome to the profession.