Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Fateful Fifth: Reflections For A First-Year Teacher

There's a 50 percent chance I won't be teaching after this year. Then again, there's a 50 percent chance that I will.

Statistics shows that one-half of all teachers leave the profession within the first five years. Seeing as I'm currently in year number five, I feel I'm in a position to offer advice to young teachers to hopefully get them to be part of that 50 percent that continue in the most worthwhile profession in America. To do this, I offer all my accumulated wisdom in letter-form addressed to myself cerca 2007 when I entered the profession. These are some tricks of the trade that have helped get me well into year number five with no real reason to leave the profession any time soon. Without further ado, here are my tips to myself in a letter before my first day of teaching in August of 2007.

Dear T,

First and foremost, congratulations on getting an education degree from a private school! Despite wasting $150,000 of your parents money, you actually will still be on speaking terms with them five years later, which is always a good thing. They'll actually come to visit you from time to time and will still give you "gas money" any time you go home to visit or go to friends' weddings. They will continue to support you in all that you do, which is absolutely essential since you will have three jobs in your first four years of teaching.

About that three jobs in four years thing. Sorry but teaching is not recession proof. You will have to fight and claw for every job. You will end up in in a large city that has all their jobs go through Human Resources departments and won't give the time of day to an outsider. You'll make do. You'll learn about charter schools, Waiting for Superman, and how the public schools of America are consistently failing our nation's school children. These schools will make you re-think everything you know about good teaching and you will be at the center of an educational reform movement that will make national news during the second decade of the 21st century.

In addition to charter schools, you will also teach at a low-income school. This will open your eyes to educational inequality in schools. You will see your school get the shaft time and time again. It will be used as a dumping ground for troublesome students. Your students will not have transportation to and from school and thus will be unable to stay after school for clubs and sports. You will see the district cater to the high-achieving schools and will bring in people with no classroom knowledge to tell you how to teach. You will become frustrated. However, you will finish out your time at the school because 140 kids will be depending on you. And they are the most important thing.

You will become frustrated as all young teachers are. You will fortunately be able to find an outlet for these frustrations. You will make the most of your gym membership and you will rediscover your love for running. In addition, you will become the boys soccer coach. It's here where you'll see your students in a new light that you don't see in the regular classroom. You'll find you enjoy coaching and will even take the kids to the local university where they will practice with the varsity soccer team. It's something you hope the kids will remember for a long time.

Your lessons will get better but will remain a work in progress. It's your blessing and your curse; you are a perfectionist. You realize you'll never teach a perfect lesson but that won't keep you from dedicating hours after school and on the weekend to attempt to do so. You'll read books and articles about the profession and will eventually pursue a master's degree to help English language learners. You'll even have your college adviser come and visit you five years later and you'll still have similar conversations about your lessons as you did when you were student teaching. You'll laugh at this because you'll realize you're moving in the right direction but it won't get any easier even after having four years under your belt.

Lastly, you'll realize how fortunate you are to be involved in a profession you consider to be a "calling." You'll wake up each day not regretting the profession you chose. You'll feel bad about missing a day of work for travel. You'll start to build relationships with your students as you'll realize no learning can occur if there's no mutual respect between yourself and your students. You'll have dreams about teaching a class without a lesson plan. You'll have dreams about going back to school yourself. Your profession will permeate discussions with your friends, family, and significant other (yes, there is a significant other and she's a keeper). You'll request education books for Christmas and will continue reading articles whenever they pop up on your newsfeed. Odds are you will continue teaching beyond the five year breaking point. Odds are you will continue teaching for a long, long time.

T, 2011