Dear First Year Teacher,
I want you to know that I see you. I see you showing up early and staying late. I see you designing all your lesson plans from scratch, fighting for the fresh coffee before it’s gone, and struggling to stay on top of all the grading, planning, collaborating, and emotional toils that are this job.
I see you.
I see you, and I want you to know that I was you… I am you.
I know how it felt on that first day. I know how overwhelmed and excited you were. You had all these grand plans on how to reach your students. You couldn’t wait to see all those happy faces walk in the door. You were nervous as hell and terrified to boot, but you had so much hope and so much optimism.
And now, you probably feel like you are going to crash and burn. Your optimism might be fading away, but your sense of overwhelming dread ever lingers, looming over you in the form of deadlines, angry parents, expectations from principals, and co-workers who seem to be able to keep up with things so much better than you can.
You’re wondering why in the world you decided to do this. What were you thinking? You probably spent extra years in school (and paid a lot of money to do so) in order to make less than $50,000 a year. You signed up for increased amounts of stress and right now I bet you are exhausted and wondering what it was all for.
I want you to know, you are NOT a failure.
Every single day that you get up and go into your classroom you are succeeding.
Every day that you show up for those kids is a win. Every time you give them an assignment that challenges them you show them that they are worth it and that you know they can do it. So many of them don’t get that anywhere else.
Every time you walk through that door someone is happy to see you, and you may not even realize it. You might be the only constant in some of your students’ lives. They need you, even if they don’t know it or act like it.
Every piece of work you grade, every parent phone call you make, every terrifying principal observation is another way you dominate that classroom. Because every single one of these things is another way that you show your kids that they matter.
This job will always be overwhelming. That’s why so many teachers quit after only 5 years. But we need teachers like you. Your students need someone like you to push them, to love them, to encourage them, to motivate them.
You will never be given the amount of recognition and appreciation that you deserve. Lawmakers and legislators will constantly make speeches berating your efforts. You will be judged by people who have no experience doing what you do. You will begin to get used to hearing jokes at parties about “Those who can do, and those who can’t, teach!” (cue raucous laughter). People will wonder why you spend so much time at school after the kids are gone. They will marginalize and belittle your job because, “Oh, it must be so nice to have summers off. I certainly don’t have that luxury.”
People in your life who don’t teach will never be able to fully empathize with your daily struggles, and that’s ok. The ones who love you best will support you anyway. Don’t let yourself be discouraged by a lack of appreciation and understanding. You didn’t do this for the glory. You do this because you care.
You care so much that it tears you apart every day.
You care so much about every single kid and that is why you belong here. That is why the classroom is your home. I’m sorry to tell you this, but it will never be easy. Not everyone is cut out to be a teacher, but you are. So don’t give up.
It’s easy to hold on to the bad days and let them drag you down. Try to focus on the good days. And there will be good days. There will be days where you cry for joy instead of desperation. There will be days where a student thanks you and that will mean more to you than 1,000 angry parent emails. There will be days when you do have a good principal observation. Live for those days and hold on to them. They’ll help you through the bad days.
Know that even on the days when you feel the least appreciated that I appreciate you. I know what you do, I understand what you deal with, and you are appreciated.
Don’t lose heart and don’t lose faith.
You ARE making a difference.
It won’t always feel like it and it may take years before you have any idea what kind of impact you have on someone, but you are making an impact.
Keep showing up. Keep being there.
You are needed.