By Anne Silva
When I first started teaching, my amazing principal took me under her wing and named herself my unofficial mentor. The first year, she said, was like drinking from the fire hose. And man, was it ever. I was “only” 80% of full-time, making $16,000 a year, and yet I still had 8 different preps, 10 different classes, and I was making up my curriculum from scratch, because the teacher before me hadn’t even finished out the year before, much less left any notes or material to work with. I hadn’t had a single education course, or spent a single day in front of a class. I took on a part-time waitressing job to make ends meet, and I would grade papers in the corner of the kitchen while waiting on my appetizers to be up. (Sorry, students who got your papers back with grease spatters!)
And to make matters worse, what every teacher soon finds out their first year is that your body has exactly ZERO immunity to the myriad plagues that your 150 students bring into your room, so just when your mind can’t possibly get more overwhelmed, your body will mutiny and you will be sicker than you’ve ever thought possible.
If my principal hadn’t mentored me, there’s no way I would have stayed in education. Heck, I made more on a slow night in the restaurant than I made during a day of teaching. But she nurtured me through it. “It takes three years,” she used to say, “before you will feel like you’re doing ok.”
She was right. (Granted, I should have listened more carefully. I thought that I should have the hang of things BY the third year, but noooooo. It’s not until the END of the third year that you can actually breathe a little easier, and maybe think about improving instead of just surviving.) By the beginning of my fourth year of teaching, I felt like I was in somewhat familiar territory. I had enough experience under my belt to know what to worry about and what was just water under the bridge. I had enough things figured out that I had some extra energy to devote to professional development and varying my instruction to try new things, instead of just trying to make it through each class.
So new teachers, hang in there. Find a buddy who can pull you through the tough times, whether with coffee, wine, venting sessions, helpful suggestions, tissues, or all of the above. Hang out here in this space with us. Heck, write to me and I’ll get you through it. But don’t give up. Anyone who thinks you can just shake it off, stop complaining, or worse, jump through ALL THE HOOPS and do ALL THE THINGS and measure your own PROFESSIONAL PROGRESS while you’re really just trying to not cry in front of your sophomores… well, they’ve obviously never been where you are.
And if you’re one of the lucky few who thinks I’m being overly dramatic here, please find a struggling new teacher and lend a hand. Be part of the solution. Our kids need strong, confident, HUMAN teachers and role models, and they can only get that if we stick together. Hey, New teachers, it’s ok to cry on your car!