Friday, September 21, 2012

A Letter to Myself

Dear Maddie in Your First Year of Teaching,

Hello! It's me...or rather, you, from the future. In my third year of teaching, I am writing to you, first year Maddie, with some words of (still somewhat green) wisdom.

I realize right now your life feels foreign to you. Suddenly your days are timestamped with the ringing of bells and the swift ins-and-outs of 30 nervous, fidgeting, exuberant little pre-teens. You are getting acclimated to being asked 15 different questions within a 2 minute time period, to repeating yourself to the point of numbness, and to the strange sweaty scent that follows an 8th grade boy in to your classroom after gym class. This is your new life. I promise, you will get used to it (well...maybe not used to that smell).

Please know that the students are just as nervous as you. They will test you. They will complain. They will push your buttons. Stop concerning yourself that it is because you aren't well-liked, or you aren't fun, or you aren't good enough. They are doing this for no reason other than that they are kids. They want to know where they stand with you. They want to know if you are someone they can trust. You might begin every class with a deep breath, squinting your eyes in fear of what is going to happen, but remember that you are a real teacher now. You are in control of your classroom. You create the environment that sets the tone for the entire year. You are the adult. Even if some days that fact in itself surprises you.

Know that sometimes it is okay to fail. Some lessons won't work. Some lessons may cause blank stares with silences so deafening that blinking eyelids sound like bass drums. Admit to yourself that your lesson failed, but don't hash it out. Tomorrow is coming too quickly to mourn over something so insignificant. You will forget how you fail many times in your first two years, but your success stories will leave lasting impacts.

Know that teenage girls are professional eye-rollers and scoffers. 

Know that teenage boys are professional class disruptors and lesson de-railers.

Don't let either of these things bother you. They are both insecure and that is okay. Middle school and high school is a time of heightened insecurity, self-consciousness and awkwardness. The best thing you can do is roll with everything that happens--to smile or laugh or to flash the dreaded teacher look when they do something worthy of either. Don't feel guilty because you do more smiling and laughing than the latter. You still do in your 3rd year.

Know that it's okay to take a risk. It is okay to do something different than your colleagues. Don't doubt yourself because you are young and don't feel self-conscious that you are being judged by them. There will be days that you are convinced another teacher is "sizing you up" but don't brood over this. It doesn't matter. Approval from other teachers isn't why you became a teacher. 

Know that you need to step out of your classroom a couple times a day to stay sane.

Know that the hallway is as chaotic as the freshmen explain it to be.

Know that that quiet girl in the back row, who you have prodded relentlessly, who seems to despise everything about you and English class, is learning something. Some of your quietest students will light up next year when they see you in the hallway.

Know that you have to have a life, and an identity, outside of teaching. It is okay to do something on a week night. Make time for yourself and for your friends or else you will lose your mind. Even though teaching is your passion, it cannot run your life. You are still young. You are still you.

Know that there are some students you will never forget. You will meet a few of these students in your first year. These will be the students who electrify your classroom be it with their writing, their humor, their compassion, or simply just them. These students will keep you going.

Know that September is exciting, November is frustrating, January is grueling, and May is beautiful.

Know that you will face a new obstacle every day, but this is why you chose this job. You love the challenges it brings you. Most importantly though, you have to remember to stay positive through these challenges. There are many disgruntled teachers. Don't let their negativity conquer you. 

I am writing this to you because in my third year of teaching, I have learned all of this, yes, but I also need to remind myself of all of this. Taking time like this to reflect and digest my life is necessary and needed and healthy. 

So, as a plea to the future me, know that writing is important. This blog that you created 2 years ago to sort out and untangle the excitement and uncertainties of your first year of teaching is still just as important now in your third. Keep writing.

Until next time I feel wise enough to write again...

Yours truly,