reflections · school

Dear First Time Teacher {who wants to change the world}

Dear First Time Teacher,

I know you’re excited.  I know you’ve spent days (maybe weeks) assembling bulletin boards and organizing shelves and color coding plans and reciting your “welcome to my class!” speech while driving across town to chase the best office supplies sales.

I know you think you’re prepared to change the world one first grader or eighth grader or graduate at a time.  You are and you will.  It just won’t be the way you think.

Your first year teaching will be both the hardest and easiest of your career.  The easy comes because it’s the year everyone around you nods in understanding when you say, “It’s my first year.”

Except the parents.

Parents don’t care if you’ve been teaching one year or thirty years, they want the best experience possible for their child because, like you, they’ll never get a do-over on this year.

Remember that when you think they’re your friends.  They’re not; they are your employer and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.  You, likewise, should expect the same from them because in a conference you are there as the professional.

So be professional and understand, you can be a great teacher and still, not everyone is going to like you. 

But sometime later, when this year is over, and you establish a relationship that’s not founded on homework assignments or detention, some of those parents will become your friends and your greatest champions.

The scariest moment is going to come when you close the door to your classroom for the first time and realize you’re alone with close to 30 students who are waiting for you to make the first move.  They’ll size you up that first day and study you more that first week, and then they’ll decide how they’ll treat you.  And their decision will always be most impacted by the way you treat them.  


It’s your classroom, your routine, your heart that will give those lesson plans in that thick binder plenty of life, and before long, those students will be your kids.  You’ll love them more than you ever thought you could love someone else’s child. Of course, there will be plenty you’ll wish you could send next door to someone else, but when your colleagues see them in the halls and the cafeteria and they gym, they’ll be yours.  You’ll be responsible for them the whole time they’re on that campus, and there will be a precious few for whom the burden of responsibility will transcend an 8-hour day.

People will judge you by them.  This isn’t some new outcome of years spent with NCLB, it’s how it’s always been. You may not be able to control whether someone fed them dinner last night or if they got up alone in the dark to catch a bus just so they could get breakfast, but you can control your classroom.  You can make it a safe place and you can make it, first and foremost, a sanctuary for learning.  

I promise you can.

You just have to remember that you can’t save them all.

You are one person in a long line of educators and counselors and coaches and administrators, so sometimes all you can do is pray that someone else succeeds when you feel like you’re failing.

That’s okay.  You don’t have to be everything to everybody.

Chances are, when you’re a teacher, you’re everything to at least one.

Have a wonderful first year.  Learn from your mistakes (you’re going to make them).  Make new friends with those in the trenches with you.  Build a community.  Cling to grace.

You are a teacher.

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