Dear First Year Teacher, There is Hope

Author: Stephanie Milazzo | MTR ’13 | Kingsbury High School | Blog Post from Make Straight Paths


I recently found myself around a campfire eating caramel apples with some first year teachers. They’re awesome. They’re doing so well (they might not think so, but they are). But they’re weary, and I could see them hoping, but not quite believing that second year could be better.

And I know what it’s like to be there. I didn’t realize how hard first year was until it was over but it is hard.

I know what it’s like to feel the crushing weight of anxiety the second you wake up. To have dreams every night about that one student who might say that one thing. To feel your stomach turn over as you drive to school, trying to voice out prayers but not finding the words. To feel your heart sink as the students enter the building. To feel afraid of them, and what they could say or do. To feel like other teachers are doing so much better than you are and you’re not doing as well as you should be or could be and you are failing and your students are failing and maybe you weren’t cut out for this after all.

First year is survival mode. It’s feeling every emotion possible (and also some others) but never really having time to process any of them. So you just carry them around and feel them at low levels all the time, whispering words of uncertainty and doubt into you. And while that’s all spinning around your brain, you must lesson plan and grade and teach students and be evaluated and meet with parents and eat and sleep and try to spend time around people and have a life.

Dear first year teacher, you are doing something really hard. And you are doing it well. (“She’s never been to my classroom,” you scoff. “She doesn’t know!”) But I do. You are showing up every day, prepared, and you are teaching (or at least, trying to). That is incredibly brave and strong, do you know that? And on the worst days, when you feel they haven’t learned anything, they have seen you be there. And be kind. And be patient. Your faithfulness is courageous.

What does the Lord require of you? Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly. You will not run, jump, skip, sprint, or dance much this year. No one expects you to. Keep walking.

And for some light at the end of the tunnel! (Other second+ teachers, add your wisdom too):

Second year is glorious. If first year is walking up a mountain with 100 pounds on your back, and people are throwing things at you, and maybe someone will punch you in the face, second year is hiking (still uphill) on a day with nice weather with some good friends and a water bottle. Second year is the dream to first year’s nightmare.

Because that is vague, here are specifics:
My instincts are better. Situations don’t escalate in my classroom as often.
Students know me at my school. The students walked in day one with more respect for me, if only because I’ve stuck around another year. Not everyone does. (Although, luckily, a lot of people do.)
Things that used to be devastating (student calling me a name, blatant disrespect, other chaos) are now only vaguely annoying.
I have time and emotional energy to enjoy my students during class. (whaaaat?)
I don’t dread being in the school building.
Grading is quicker. Planning is quicker. I have energy at the end of day (sometimes) to do some of this at school.
Sundays are no longer characterized by crushing dread, now just passive sadness about having to set my alarm so early.
Fewer TEM evaluations!!
I think on my feet better, so if I plan for too much or too little, I can adapt very quickly (those instincts again).

Just all around gloriousness. I came home the first few weeks of school amazed at how different it was. I wasn’t even able to pinpoint exactly what was better, except for everything. Be encouraged! This is the teacher version of “it gets better.” I know you can hear it 5000 times and not believe it, but it really, really does.

Keep waiting for the good days. They happen from the beginning, and they get more and more frequent. You are doing well. Invest your time and tears now; it will reap good things this year and in the following years.

“I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD. Be strong, and take heart, and wait for the LORD.”

After this year, you will never again be a first year teacher!