My First Year vs. My Fifth Year

Sunday, May 31, 2015

I’ve been teaching for five years now. Five! This is pretty impressive for someone who almost drowned in a sea of her own tears her first year. I remember one Sunday around October of Year One, I was so despondent and full of agony that my roommate just sat there while I talked, staring at me like this:

But I’ve made it! Way fewer people stare at me like that now.

In many ways, I can’t believe it’s been five years. So much of this teaching gig feels so new, and I still find myself making rookie mistakes. But then in other ways, when I think about the teacher I was my first year, the difference is so stark that I wonder if she was actually a different person and I’ve simply been body-snatched.

This is what I mean.

My First Year
My Fifth Year

I can’t believe that teacher down the hall yells at students to stop running. That’s so mean! It’s just running… they’re kids!


“You forgot your homework again? That’s okay. Whenever you can bring it is fine!”

“You forgot your homework again? That’s okay. You shall complete it during lunch with me while I eat tuna and blast my Alanis Morisette Pandora station.”

I’m going to make 95 cupcakes for every month to celebrate students’ birthdays!

I’m going to use running high-fives to celebrate students’ birthdays!

I can't believe the principal is making us use this reading strategy he created. There's no data behind it, he created it by himself, and his only teaching experience was twenty years ago as a math teacher! Oh, well. Time to redo this month's lesson plans to fit it in and abandon my more effective, research-based strategy.

I will put up the reading strategy poster in my room and when an administrator comes in my room I will point to it and say "Make sure you use this strategy, kiddies!" And that is all.


I’m going to laminate the heck out of every poster I own so I will never buy decorations again!

Storage? Not a priority.

Um, excuse me, Target employee. Where are your giant plastic Rubbermaid tubs? Good. I will be needing ALL OF THEM.

Teaching will be just like Freedom Writers or Dead Poets Society!

Teaching is a mix of Cast Away, Children of the Corn, Mary Poppins, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Star Wars, The Sound of Music, Mr. Holland's Opus, Whiplash, Harry Potter, and Snakes on a Plane.

Teaching supply stores are the best!

Teaching supply stores make my paycheck disappear!

50% of my students failed this assignment? These kids are so low!

50% of my students failed this assignment? Man, was I on bath salts when I taught this? What can I do differently when I reteach? And can it involve Oreos?

Look how clean my car is!

Look at:
-The layer of coffee sludge that has made the cupholder in my console its home
-The 18 Tupperware containers littering my back seat
-The random school stuff that has been in the truck for months that I’m hoping I will one day have the motivation to actually take it out, but, realistically, know that I won’t

I can't believe that news story about the teacher who was sneaking vodka in his Big Gulp cup at school!

I can definitely believe that news story about the teacher who was sneaking vodka in his Big Gulp cup at school.*

“Oh, I don’t need any construction, paper, thanks. I don’t think we’ll be using it anytime soon.”

“Sure, I’ll take that construction paper. Not sure when I’m going to use it, but let me place it in my Hoarding Closet.”


Scary parent? Bring it. Yawn.

Grades are due? NOOOO I CAN’T DO THIS!!!

Oh, grades are due? Oops. I’ll be needing six hours, a gallon of iced coffee, and two scheduled Netflix breaks.

This is really, really, really, really hard.

This is really, really hard.
But also really, really great.

I will change these children's lives! I will be the superhero!

This is not about me. I'm here not to be recognized, but to stand beside other people as they figure out what is recognizable about them and how to use that for good.

I only need one stapler in my room at all times.

I need eight staplers in my room at all times.


I am going to really miss these kids! But also, I CAN’T WAIT FOR SUMMER.

I’m going to wear the cutest teacher clothes ever!

Oh, orthopedic shoes. Mama loves you.

I’m going to use a whole sheet of paper to print a 5-question quiz and make 88 copies.

I’m going to fit EIGHT five-question quizzes on one piece of paper and only have to print eleven! And then I get to use the GUILLOTINE!

Oh, I mean paper cutter.

In general, I think the changes have been mostly positive. I’ve never been one to think that teachers must develop this tough exterior or succumb to being jaded and cranky (though I have felt those ways, to be sure). Teaching has made me stronger. Not in a stomp-around-“I’m-in-charge” kind of way, but in a quieter way.

I’ve also learned how to work smarter. I’ve built a hierarchy for my priorities that works for me, and I’ve learned to conserve my energy for what matters (teaching and caring for my kids) instead of spending it on things that don’t matter so much.

This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be in the game, but it’s good to know I’m becoming a better player.

In the Game of Tomes.

(I couldn't resist.)



* "Can definitely believe" does not mean  "think highly of" or "am planning to emulate." Just clarifying for my mom.


  1. Just finished my first year of teaching high school. At a Title 1 school. In a subject I was only technically qualified for. In the end I got surplussed and sent to a nationally ranked school (I'm not really sure how to feel about it...I'm both sad to leave my kids and happy to be moving to a better ranked school).
    I just hope that I'm more like you at the end of five years.

    1. I just finished my fifth year on Friday. I promise it gets better. SO, so much better.

    2. It does get so, so, so much better. I just finished year 16. Year 1 was so hard, but I know that my tough first year made the rest seem so much easier.

    3. I have taught only Title 1 my whole 18 years teaching. I will say it is not easy and not all are cut out to do it. There are days I wonder why I feel like I am beating my head against the wall but someone has to do it. I bounce things off of the horses every evening and they just stare at me like some of the children do. You will know when that child comes to you that you feel like you have butted heads with all year long and they give you a hug (trying to keep your jaw from hitting the floor) telling you how much they are going to miss you and thanking you that you are on the right track. Those are the moments that keep you going.

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  2. My stomach is hurting from laughing and my head is hurting from nodding. Thanks!

  3. I just finished my first year in an impoverished rural school. When the final bell rang and all the kids were gone, I did a cartwheel in my room. Then I went out for drinks with my 2:30 in the afternoon. One down, 34 to go!

  4. I'm getting ready to post my end of the year teaching post. I, too, am completing my fifth year.

    I absolutely loved and identified with so many things in your chart.

    Congratulations on this big milestone. I am high-fiving you across the distance.

    May you have a restful summer!

  5. I'm just now completing year two, and I have taken a lot of your advice to heart.
    You are my spirit animal.

  6. Love your blog. I'm in my 35th year of teaching, cynical about heaps of stuff beyond the classroom but still loving teaching my students. Blog at

  7. I just finished my first year teaching in a Title 1 school. This gives me hope. Next year, I'll be teaching in a different Title 1 school (trading urban for rural), and I'm hoping for a clean slate and fresh start!

    1. Same issues, different faces. Amen for fresh starts. :-)

  8. This perfectly describes me, just finishing my 5th year now :) My favorite has to be copying everything onto one sheet of paper and using the guillotine! ;)

  9. This is fabulous! And this line - "The layer of coffee sludge that has made the cupholder in my console its home" - makes me feel a little better about my car.

  10. Entering the final week of year 4. I especially loved the "I WILL DESTROY ALL RUNNING 6TH GRADERS!!" because that has been my year... this is so perfectly accurate. But I still love teacher stores. :)

  11. I just finished year 27, but my first in high school. This job is still really, really hard, but really really great! =D

  12. Thanks for the pleasant read. I finished my 5th year as well. The only thing I disagreed with is that you had too much spending for a first year teacher! :)

  13. I LOVE your insights into teaching. I have shared your blog with many of my fellow teachers! I am finishing year 8 and still have many first year jitters and mistakes. But I wouldn't do anything else. Keep going! It is worth it!

  14. End of my 7th year. I call my kids 'children of the corn' once in a while (their response "whaaat? What does that mean?"), and when I started, I inherited 7 staplers. I gave 6 of them back to the supply lady thinking "7 staplers? Why the hell did she need 7 staplers??" Now I want to put a staple in my eye everytime we staple things, and my ONE stapler jams. Love your blog.

  15. 12th year down and this just made me LOL LOUDLY!!! Even the comments on FB had me literally LOL!!! Awesome, thank you for this, LOVED it!!!! :)

  16. Thank you for this fabulous profile of teacher reality! I was first year out in 1982... and this year I am doing a Masters through distance education... still challenging myself and keeping it fresh. I've just returned from a 3 day conference on educational technology and being with my "tribe" for three days has invigorated and inspired me! Teachers who live what they speak... are lifelong learners... They're the type of people I want in my kid's school life... the rest should find something else to do and be gone! Thanks again for the laugh... regards, Deb Hogg (Sydney, Oz)

  17. Thank for this great post. I am finishing year 2, and I hope to be in as good a place as you in year 5 ( or sooner). It's been quite a journey. Thank you!

  18. First time reader and I think I love you! *creepy stares*
    Heh... heh... just kidding. *backs away slowly*
    Seriously, though, I can SO relate to this. I was just working on my "5 Years Down" post (I blog at and as I was reading, I just kept nodding and saying, "Yup, yup... oh dear Lord Baby Jesus someone else does that too!" Only I mentally replaced "sixth graders" with "freshmen" which are really the same thing in larger, smellier bodies. Keep fighting the good fight! I now plan to peruse your archives while not making eye contact. :) Happy summer!

  19. I love that we have the same amount of classroom experience - you always speak my truth! Yay for 5 down! Have a great summer :)

  20. This is the end of my 5th year of teaching too. I so related to every single one of the things in your chart and literally laughed out loud! Thank you for writing the best post I have read in a really really long time!

  21. This is the end of my 5th year of teaching too. I so related to every single one of the things in your chart and literally laughed out loud! Thank you for writing the best post I have read in a really really long time!

  22. I just finish my 2nd year..its really great when you can adapt with situation in class and your children..

  23. This is hilarious... but quite true. :-)

  24. I retired last year, 30 years goes by fast! I can assure you that your thoughts after five years will be just as true in 25 years as they are now!

  25. I retired last year, 30 years goes by fast! I can assure you that your thoughts after five years will be just as true in 25 years as they are now!

  26. Finishing year 4...I completely identified with the staplers (I currently have 4 and only the tiny one works) and the guillotine. I make the fonts tiny and figure their eyes are still young.

  27. I just finished my 30th year and connect with most of what you said.:) I especially agree with "This is really, really hard.
    But also really, really great?"

  28. This is a great list! I just finished year 4, and I can definitely relate to many of these sentiments!

  29. I was crying I laughed so hard. Literally! I made it to number six, and was crying! Thanks for the abb workout!
    P.S. Super excited to hear that you will be teaching at a new school! Yay! May you enjoy the much needed rest of summer girl!

  30. I just finished my 12th year and it was about 326 times harder than my first year! Location, location, location ... Moving to a new school/state next year. Can't. Wait. Maybe it'll feel like I actually have experience again.

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  32. I loved this!! I'm not yet in the academic classroom, though I've managed to persuade my Tae Kwon Do instructors to let me help teach there. ;) I'm still in the process of finishing my college degree. Question: How hard was your first year? One of my friends just finished his first year, and he's already informed me that he's giving me his cell phone number so that he can talk me off the ledge ...

  33. This is hilarious and made me laugh out loud. I am entering my 13th year of teaching. Your first-year comments made me look back almost wistfully at all the time I devoted to trying to get everything just perfect. Now I'm definitely more relaxed and have a longer view of it all. Well done!

  34. As a first-year teacher who is currently drowning in a sea of tears, this was really reassuring and helpful to read - thank you!

  35. Thank, God. I am trying to keep my head up about this whole experience as a first year. Honestly, the thing that gets me the most isn't the kids, or the curriculum, or the's my colleagues. I feel like I was given no information prior to starting and thrown into the deep in and I have 30 different swimming coaches standing around the pool telling me to do thirty different swims. BACKSTROKE! NO FREESTYLE! NO! DOG PADDLE!! And then a department chair who watches them all tell me conflicting things and then goes, "NO! You're doing it all wrong. That stroke you did ten strokes ago should have been a breaststroke! What the hell were you thinking?!

    Anyone else feeling this?

  36. I taught two years of Jr High almost 15 years ago, left to work other misc. careers and then came back last year to teach early childhood at an elementary school. I laughed so hard at this article that I started crying! Thanks!!!

  37. Great article. First year: I'm going to make this room reflect my personality and inspire my students to greatness. Fifth year: I'm moving rooms again? Five years, five different rooms. Name on the board. Get to learning.

  38. Just retired after over 42 years of teaching! Every thing on your chart is so true! But still stayed at least an hour, usually more after school was done for the day! There is always something else to get done!

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  42. I'm in my fifth year, and this is just spot on. Thank you for this!

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