My student teacher’s last day was a couple of weeks ago. I brought her some of my favorite school supplies (including this red stapler, THE BEST), she brought me some extremely excellent treats and a small balloon (because she knows I’m afraid of the big ones). We hugged, I cried. Then I put my scarf over my head and said I was done crying, and she said, “It’s okay! You can cry!” and I cried some more.
I also had a letter for my student teacher, but decided not to print it out for her last day. After I wrote it, I realized it was more than a letter to just her—it’s a letter to all the brave women and men who will find themselves as teachers soon. So now I’d like to share it with her and with you.
(I’ve redacted her name, but you can pretend it’s yours in the blank spaces.)
It is May.
WE MADE IT.
I DO NOT KNOW HOW WE MADE IT.
I cannot thank you enough for your help this year. I mean it. I actually don’t know a good way of expressing my appreciation. All the sour gummi worms in the world in a big pile guarded by all the puppies in the world who are wearing all the diamond bracelets in the world as collars couldn’t come close to how valuable you’ve been to me. So thank you, not only for your help in the classroom, but for your encouragement, kindness, and bright spirit in a year that, apart from school, has felt like a dirty subway tunnel. Seriously. You were my candle. Lighthouse. All those metaphors about things that are bright and guide-y, you are them.
You are also already WAY ahead of where I was going in to my first year, so I’m not at all worried about your first steps into the teaching wilderness. But here are some of my most important pieces of advice. Many of them I’ve already told you, and many of them you don’t even need, but I’m old and can’t remember which ones I’ve told you and love repeating myself (as you well know), so here goes:
Invest in several pairs of orthopedic shoes. (Your feet, knees, and back will thank me later.)
Laugh at yourself. Often.
There is a difference between being nice and being kind, and between being firm and being mean. Choose kind. Choose firm.
Pick your battles. The people above you will make decisions you don’t agree with, and it will happen often. Ask yourself this question: “Does this issue significantly and inevitably impede my ability to teach and care for my students effectively?” If it does, approach the decision-maker with your concerns calmly and diplomatically. If not, do what you need to do to be in compliance and nothing more.
Glitter may seem like a good idea, but it’s not.
Be friendly to other teachers, but also be wary. Surround yourself with positive people, and try to set an example for the people who are always negative (the way you set an example for me during most of this past fall!). Do not offer an ear to the teachers who blame their problems on children.
Embrace your mistakes because they’re coming, my friend. There will be small ones, and there will be big ones that you will think about for years later. They will happen no matter how careful you are because we are human and humans are imperfect. But is much better to make mistakes and apologize for them than to resist them and make excuses (or worse, believe you are above making mistakes).
If you’re about to make 100 double-sided, 6-page packets and someone comes into the copy room needing to make 70 single-sided copies, let them go in front of you.
Be kind to everyone, but make a special effort to be kind to the people behind the scenes—librarians, receptionists, cafeteria and custodial staff, etc.
On the bad days, don’t be afraid to lock your door and turn off the lights during your conference period and sit under your desk and cry and eat candy that you meant to give to students.
On the really bad days, start making a list of all the awesome stuff you’re going to do when you leave, and leave right after school no matter how much work you have (it will get done!).
If you find yourself in an arguing with a student, you’ve already lost.
DEVOLSON (the Dark, Evil Vortex of Late September, October, and November) can destroy you if you're not careful. Awareness is half the battle.
Feedback is so unbelievably important. Grade and hand back every assignment, even if you know it isn’t going in your gradebook.
Go to the school dances and make a dancing fool out of yourself.
Create posters for athletic games and fine arts performances and yell your heart out.
Arm wrestle your students.
Oh, and remember all the stupid things I did this year? Don’t be like me.
(But also remember that you will do stupid things, too.)
(But probably not as stupid.)
This is one of the most important, most rewarding, most incredible, and most terrifying jobs in the world, and you are ready. Your future students are lucky young men and women indeed. I can say with certainty that it has been an honor and a privilege to pass my teaching torch to you.
Run fast and run boldly in the direction of greatness!
U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!
Got a little carried away with the torch/Olympic thing. It happens.