A Letter to my first year teaching self

To Liz, during her first year of teaching in 2003,

First Year of Teaching: 8th Grade English and Social Studies

Teaching is your passion, and things will change drastically in the next two decades. Right now, you are sure that elementary is your path, but that will change with the job market and a chance interview that leads you to teach English and Social Studies to 8th graders. You’ll get a Master’s and your National Board Certification. You’ll eventually teach high school, but in this, find your real passion, working with teachers. However, the 17 years in the classroom will teach you many things. Here are a few things that we’ve learned along the way:

Done is better than perfect.

Even with all the time in the world, you won’t be able to do everything perfectly. Actually, perfection doesn’t exist. Your students deserve a happy teacher, so let go of what you think things need to be will help.

Don’t waste your emotional energy

Sometimes, it’s best to let people be who they are, whether it’s your students, parents, or colleagues. Getting frustrated or angry at things you cannot change wastes precious emotional energy. In that same vein, do not check email outside of. Your contract hours… especially right before a weekend or a holiday. You’ll learn that lesson quite a few times.

Don’t wrap your identity in your job.

You are more than a teacher. Yes, it’s an important job, but don’t forget you are also other things. Make sure to nurture your different sides and not get wrapped up entirely in your career. And take this advice: if you don’t get paid to do it or it’s not a passion, you don’t have to do it. Also, take your sick days. If the administration complains that they can’t find subs, that’s their issue. Your sick days are part of your compensation, and you owe no one an explanation of why you are taking a day.

Surround yourself with people who lift you up

It’s easy to get caught up in the negativity in the teacher’s lounge. Find people who let you vent but don’t let you wallow. You will have the opportunity to learn from a lot of people. And some will become lifelong friends.

Never stop learning

Education changes on a dime. There is always something new to learn. Don’t be shy! Fail at new things. Reflect on what you do and how it can be better. You will make a lot of mistakes. Even as you become a veteran teacher. Mistakes are part of life. It’s how you deal with them that will make the difference.

One day, you will leave the classroom. It will be because an opportunity presented itself, not because you hated it. It will be hard, and it will take a few years to understand that you aren’t a teacher but are still an educator. Every good or bad day will teach you something. Be teachable.


2022 Liz

2022 Civic Education Program Director at Arizona State University

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