Today I received a graduation announcement in the mail from a student that I taught my very first year of teaching. Immediately I thought, “There is no way that the first class that I ever taught is graduating from high school!”
But they are… I remember that year clearly.
As I shut the door of my very first classroom on my first day of teaching, the words of my favorite college professor rung in my mind: “There is nothing like your very first day of teaching. Savor the moment when you shut that classroom door for the first time and realize, crap, I alone am in control of all of the learning that takes place in this classroom throughout the school year.” He then challenged us to be confident and passionate about what we do each day. I took his words to heart.
After closing the door, I then looked at my class. Thirty terrified sixth graders stared back at me waiting for me to say something. (Yes, the first day of sixth grade is terrifying for many – in case the nervousness and fear surrounding your first day of middle school, perhaps by choice, has faded over the years.) What were my first words to that first class? Well, I smiled and said, “Let’s take attendance.” Brilliant, I know.
It is amazing the random details that we remember from pivotal moments in our lives.
Here I am seven years later, feeling much more experienced than those early days. I still believe that teaching is a profession that I have been called to and that my professor was correct. Confidence and passion will go a long way in the midst of the day-to-day grind in a middle school classroom. However, with experience also comes a new perspective. I have certainly learned a few things along the way.
I have learned that although we should be confident, it is completely fine to not know all the answers. Our students need to see that learning is a lifetime commitment and that their teachers are still learning as adults.
I have learned that complacency is a dangerous thing. It is certainly easier to teach the exact same way each and every year, but it is not what is best for our students. With each new year comes new and exciting research. I have learned that trying new strategies can positively benefit my students but that it is also fine to admit that a new strategy clearly did not work.
I have learned that the young people who fill my classroom are not immortal. Although the youth in their eyes seems like it could light up endless cities, not all of them will make it to graduation day. This terrible realization has reminded me to teach as if I am the last teacher they may ever have.
I have learned that each new life experience that I have, good or bad, shapes the way that I teach. Things such as getting married, being pregnant, obtaining my Master’s degree, moving to another state, losing a student, and losing my daughter have all impacted my classroom whether I realized it right away or not.
I have learned that teamwork is the key to a successful school year. The best teachers that I know and admire are teachers who go out of their way for their colleagues. I never would have survived my first year teaching or the difficulties that I faced this school year if it weren’t for numerous colleagues who encouraged me daily. It is amazing how having someone offer to cover your lunch duty or run your progress reports will energize you. We all have challenging weeks and years. Remembering that we are in the teaching profession together can be a source of strength.
I have learned that as much as I thought I could avoid it and attempt to teach in a bubble, politics really do directly affect my classroom. Budget cuts, standardized testing, and challenging policies are not going to go away just because I don’t want them to be an issue. The best things I can do for my students are to vote and teach the best that I can with the tools that I have available to me.
The bright-eyed teacher that I see standing in that sixth grade classroom is now a bit more of a realist about the teaching profession. Like Poison once said, “Every rose has its thorn.” To ignore the huge problems that the American educational system faces would be ignorant. However, that shouldn’t stop educators from passionately teaching. In order to do that affectively, I believe that we need to continually evaluate our own teaching for the sake of our students. This helps us to become stronger teachers and to learn from our mistakes.
Teaching certainly hasn’t been an easy profession, but I knew what I was getting into when I officially declared my major back in college. I have certainly learned a lot and grown as a person through the experiences I have had in the public school system. It has shed light on the challenges faced by those less fortunate than me. It has forced me to face difficult issues head on that I never dreamed of dealing with. I have learned to speak and interact with all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds. It has helped me to be a better team player and to cheer for the underdog.
Despite its flaws, I am proud to have been a part of the public school system for the past seven years. Although I am excited to be able to stay home with our baby, I certainly will miss the energy that comes with each new school year. So, until we meet again down the line, goodbye for now, teaching. I am leaving you for a job with terrible hours and no pay, but rewards beyond my wildest dreams. When June 9th comes, the adventures of a stay-at-home mom will officially begin.
A special shout out to the Class of 2015 – Congratulations! Please know that you hold a very special place in my heart.