It’s Completely Worth It: What I Needed to Know as a First-Year TeacherSeptember 1, 2015
Teaching is tough. It’s a difficult job. There is almost nothing easy about it. And all teachers need to know and understand this. My parents are both educators as are many of my family members, so when I began teaching, I knew the hours were long. I realized that kids “will be kids” sometimes. I knew that teaching and the students you work with every day could consume your life and your resources. What I didn’t understand was how challenging and multi-faceted the actual day-to-day work really is.
This summer I worked with several educators preparing to walk into their first classrooms. I’m now entering my sixth year as a master teacher with TAP: The System for Teacher and Student Advancement at North DeSoto Middle School in DeSoto Parish, Louisiana. At the heart of my role is mentoring other teachers—including first-year teachers—and I can’t tell you how important this layer of support is to them.
Helping equip them with any and everything I could to ensure their success in this first week of school was vital. A team of us spent weeks imparting every piece of knowledge that we had gained in our time as educators trying desperately to give them what they needed to succeed. But what is it, really, that an educator needs to succeed in the classroom each and every day? What did I need as a first-year teacher that I still need today? What did I need then that I no longer need?
I needed to know that I wasn’t alone.
One of the first surprises I had as a new teacher was that I could feel completely and utterly alone in the middle of a small classroom with 26 children surrounding me. When I became a teacher, I didn’t have TAP and its built-in support structure. I could feel completely isolated in a school with 40 other adults and 400 students. Sure, the teachers around me were and still are amazing people and great friends, but in that moment, I was so lost I didn’t know how to reach out anymore. I should have reached out anyway. That is, of course, what I ultimately did. I just took way too long before making the first move.
I needed to know that I wasn’t the only one who struggled.
I can be a bit of a perfectionist, and I was definitely a perfectionist ten years ago when I began teaching. The idea that teaching didn’t just come easy to me like all of my coursework had throughout my life was such a strange experience that I wasn’t sure what to do about it. Everyone else looked so calm and put together walking their straight, quiet lines of students around the school while I was just trying to survive. How could it be that I was the only one who couldn’t seem to get this right? And then I learned that I wasn’t the only one. Others shared their stories of struggle in their first years and beyond. Just knowing that I wasn’t this singular failure was such a relief that I truly believe that it helped me relax and find my way in the classroom that first year.
I needed to be reminded that it’s worth it.
In those first few days, I didn’t know what it was to truly be an educator. I didn’t know what it could feel like to connect with students, build their confidence, and help them surpass goals that they never thought they could get close to. I didn’t know the joy that a whole class, end-of-year hug could bring. I needed that. That’s what gets so many of us through each and every day every year. It’s why we do this job. First-year teachers don’t have that. They haven’t lived that yet. We have to share our joy with them. We need to give them hope for their future. We need to remind them that these experiences are waiting at the end of their struggles. We must help them recommit each and every day.
Our new teachers come to us with a commitment to children, but we must commit to helping them stay committed. We have to open up and connect with our new teachers and share our struggles and our joys. They need to know what is ahead of them so they don’t feel compelled to disconnect and walk away. In the end, our own raw commitment to children is what keeps most of us going on our most challenging days, and we need to share this with others. Step out and share. Be honest, be real, and encourage someone to stick around and experience all that is amazingly wonderful about being an educator.
How will you encourage someone today?
2022 update: Lindsey Parker (LA '14) joined NIET in 2017 following six years as a TAP master teacher in the DeSoto Parish School System. She currently serves as NIET's Associate Director of Professional Development.
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