August is always a reflective time for me. I reflect on why I have no money in my checking account and why I continue to live in a place that is unbelievably and demonically hot. Every four Augusts I reflect on whether or not it's too late for me to join the U.S. gymnastics team. But mostly in August I reflect on the upcoming school year. This year, as I head into my 7th (SEVENTH, holy crabapples) year of teaching, I pause to think both about how much I’ve learned since my first year.
I also pause to think about how much I still feel like a total rookie.
I think that’s good, though. I’m wary of any teacher—whether they’re five years in or fifty—who claims to have it all figured out, like they’ve hit the ceiling of pedagogy and academia and there’s nothing left to learn. I may get to that level of expertise regarding a more finite area of study (say, Pop-Tart flavors*), but I will never even come close to knowing everything there is to know about teaching English.
That being said, I still know a lot more than I did my first year.
Below are some things I thought about teaching going into my first year. Most turned out to be wrong. Some turned out to be right.
13 Things I Was Wrong (and Right) About My First Year:
Teaching is going to be like riding a bike—it’ll take a few tries and then be second nature. WRONG. And also, HAHAHAHAHA. It’s gotten a thousand times easier, no doubt, but if it’s ever as thoughtless and simple as riding a bike I’ll be a monkey’s uncle. Aunt. Stepchild. Whatever.
Failure is the scariest thing ever and I should avoid it at all costs. WRONG. My perfectionism hurt me for way too long in my rookie years. I’m learning this the hard way every day and have been for seven years but one of the most important things that teaching has taught me is this: failure always makes me better. Did you know at Google they give huge bonuses to teams that fail and celebrate their failure? What could all of us do and try if we celebrated not only our accomplishments, but our failures, too?
All students need to succeed is love. WRONG. Love is, of course, a huge part of teaching. But if it were the only thing needed for students to succeed, my first year students would have been eating out of my hand by the second week of school (in reality, they practically ate my hand). Students need love, but they also need boundaries, and someone willing to teach those boundaries with a firm but caring approach. Like Catherine Cawood from Happy Valley.
I should not keep entire containers of trail mix in my desk. CORRECT. Or any snack I find delicious, for that matter.
Nah, I don’t really need an organizational system. WRONG. So wrong. The wrongest. I thought I would just figure it out as I go (which I did), but I so wish I’d had even a semblance of an idea of how to organize stuff my first year. P.S. here’s a post I wrote a while back for WeAreTeachers with all my organizational secrets!
Wow, I’m so brave for doing this! CORRECT. Teachers are brave. But I had no idea what brave meant until I met students who came to school every day despite absolutely crippling situations in their homes and real pain in their hearts. That’s bravery.
Maintaining a social life and working out will be a breeze while teaching. WRONG. *Glares at former self*
No thanks, I don’t need more paper/dry erase markers/staplers. I think I have enough. Also wrong.
Students will return my pencils because they care about me. Hahahaha, WRONG. I know my students care about me, but the year—nay, the day—that I have the same number of classroom pencils I started out with is the day I quit teaching. Because I know I will be hallucinating.
Pencils are just one of those things I’ve learned to let go of. (Of which I’ve learned to let go. I hate English**.) Maybe when I get to heaven one day all my pencils will be returned to me. Sharpened, in bundles and without teethmarks, on the backs of unicorns galloping toward me.
Working hard, doing a good job, and being respectful will eventually earn me respect from my leaders in return. WRONG. I would say this way of operating worked with most of the leaders I’ve had in education. But I’ve been in so many situations and environments where I have worked tirelessly, followed even the craziest of the rules, showed respect when it wasn’t due, and still got trampled. I think what I’ve learned, though, is that even when it’s not earning me anything return, working hard and being kind is always worth it in the long run. (But that’s a difficult thing to remember when you’ve got a boot over your head.)
The best part of my job will be my students. CORRECT. Correct, correct, correct. Times infinity.
I will change the world with my profession! UNDECIDED. On the good days, yes, I believe this. But on the bad days, when I hear uninformed politicians talking about education, or I learn of more budget cuts, or when policies begin to lean toward tying the hands of teachers instead of trusting them, I wonder if anything I do will matter. I wonder if the voices of teachers, who represent the voices of future generations, will ever matter.
Luckily, I don’t have much time to wonder. Over 3.1 million teachers and I too busy changing the world anyway.
Have a great year out there, teacherfriends. Make it the best one ever.
*best: blueberry with frosting. Worst: most of the chocolate varieties.
**Just kidding, English. I love you.