A story of encouragement for first year teachers.
Written by Danielle Shelley, MTR Recruiter; wife to Josh Shelley (MTR, ’12), mother of Harvey and Verity
It was about this time last year that I started feeling guilty about my job as a recruiter for MTR. I was newly pregnant and my husband had just entered the trenches of urban education at Cornerstone Preparatory School as a first year graduate of MTR.
Every day during the month of August I found myself holding my two year old on my hip, while tearfully pushing my husband out the door to go to a job that he dreaded. Every afternoon I waited nervously for him to come home and prayed that somehow things had gone better than the day before and that there would be a spark of joy or hope for the future. But never during the month of August did joy or hope come home with my husband from work.
Every day I had feelings of regret about our decision to come to Memphis and each time I went to work, I felt regret in my role at attempting to talk other people into coming and entering into this same tumultuous life that we were living. Instead I wanted to tell them to run far away and forget about Memphis and MTR.
I honestly did not think we would survive the month of August.
Josh was constantly on the brink of quitting his job and leaving us without health insurance with a new baby on the way, not to mention the $30,000 worth of debt that we would owe to MTR. We were days away from closing on our first home which just escalated my fear of failure should we find ourselves continuing down the path that it seemed we were headed on. We were on the cliff of emotional and financial failure.
It appeared that the situation of urban education was far worse than we had anticipated and it seemed that there was no way that we could actually make a difference. This endeavor seemed like a futile effort. Not only did I weep for my husband and the pressure he felt to survive in the classroom but I wept for the students he was serving. I felt like the obstacles they were facing in their young lives would likely prevent them from actually being able to get a good education. I kept telling myself, “How could I learn if _____ was happening to me?” and I would fill in the blank with an actual situation that a student was facing. I was slowly giving up on the whole ordeal – MTR, my husband, the school, and the children.
Luckily this isn’t where the story ends.
Things S-L-O-W-L-Y got better. Josh was offered a change to a different grade level after another teacher resigned and this gave him the opportunity to work alongside a few more experienced teachers as a way of possible survival.
Before I knew it, it was mid-September and miraculously we were still hanging on. We were still weepy when it was time to leave in the morning and there was still a lot of dread hanging over our heads, but slowly things continued to improve. Josh learned to lean on his coach for fresh ideas and insights about what to do in specific situations with specific children. He learned an absurd amount from the other more experienced teachers in his grade level, and slowly he developed as a teacher in his own right.
By Thanksgiving the situation was dramatically different. Going to school was still difficult and the children still provided plenty of behavioral problems, but things started to seem manageable and one day we noticed that the dark cloud of urban education seemed to be moving out of our midst. We finally had hope for what could be.
Things never got easy during that first year of teaching. As it turns out, teachers have to develop instincts just like parents do in order to figure out what to do when a child does something completely surprising and awful. A first year teacher is a lot like a first time parent learning what processes and strategies work. Time and experience is needed and very few (possibly zero) first year teachers have an easy time in the classroom.
We are well into August of Josh’s second year teaching and I cannot explain how dramatically different our lives are from one year ago. As Josh peddled away on his blue Trek bicycle in August, we smiled at each other and continue to feel hopeful about each day. He comes home tired but excited about how smoothly things are in his classroom. He’s amazed that students follow directions and at the difference one year has made in his confidence to lead the classroom. Josh can joyfully teach without the paralyzing fear that a student might do something that will throw off the entire day for everyone in the classroom. Josh believes that he is a good teacher. And he is.
If I could go back to myself a year ago I would tell myself to trust the process.
Yes, it’s going to be an absurdly difficult year but becoming a good teacher in an urban school is possible. MTR doesn’t hire amazing urban teachers who don’t need any help or training but they are providing the help and the training and are developing amazing urban teachers out of ordinary people.
Dig in to the trenches with all your might and soon, maybe in a couple of weeks or months, you will find that your situation is improving. You will begin to enjoy your students and your job. Your hope and your joy will be revived and you will start to believe in the mission again.
Trust the process.