Dear New Teacher and Nervous Soul,
I know how you feel. Those butterflies turned evil in your stomach, tying knots? I’ve had them. Wondering if you’ve made the right decision. If you’re ready to face the responsibility. If you’ve got what it takes. I know those questions well.
But there’s excitement too. In there somewhere?
Clamoring voices will soon enter through your doors and a new life will begin. In so many ways your life will not be your own. Ever again. That’s the reality—and the beauty—of teaching.
In coming days new colleagues will either encourage you or horrify you with their battlefield stories. You must choose the voices you ponder.
May I add my voice? I’m not the best teacher you will meet, and I’ve never been teacher of the year. But there are still words I want to whisper. Words I was desperate to hear. Do you mind if I lean in?
I’m excited you’ve chosen this profession. I know you’ve heard the snide remarks and seen the looks of pity cast your way. The warnings of hazards and pay and kids these days. But I’m thrilled you’ve ignored those voices.
Welcome. I’m so glad to have you.
College can never fully prepare you for the work of teaching—nothing could. But that’s okay. Experience can be life’s greatest professor if you’re willing to learn. Because mistakes will be made. The only redemption in a mistake is to learn from it.
Your school friends? They must always include your custodian and the school secretaries. Your degree doesn’t make you better than them—my favorite custodian for the last three years held a masters in teaching from his home country. You can’t do your job if the custodians and secretaries aren’t doing theirs. It takes a village. Be grateful for yours.
Don’t be afraid to break some rules. Bureaucracy will always exist, but you don’t have to bow to it. The best teacher is the one who does what’s best for the student. Just because your lesson plans and your government have an agenda, don’t miss the teachable moments. They don’t happen every day.
Be open to old ideas from teachers who’ve honed their craft. Wise educators that have paved rough roads will surround you. A great teacher is never dependent upon age. Seek out those teachers. Learn from them. I promise, they’re not hard to find.
Avoid bitterness—like the plague. Avoid where it harbors. Not every workroom is filled with its poison, but you will feel it quickly if it is. And then run. Don’t look back.
Your students will break your heart. There will be some you can’t reach. You will ache to touch their hurting places but their walls will be just too high. You will toss and turn in the night carrying their pain with you. It will sometimes seem too much to bear. But you will bear it because you may be the only one, for some students, that even tries.
Perfect your craft. Never stop learning how to be a better teacher. I’ve been doing this a while but there are days I feel like a novice, like a new babe only breathing her first gulp of air. The best teacher is also the best student.
Choose when you discipline wisely. There are battles worth fighting. But sometimes the cost is just too high. Your battle may be won while the relationship with your student is forever severed. Sometimes you don’t have a choice. Sometimes you do.
Though you may want to, you can’t demand respect. It doesn’t make sense. It’s not right. But if you ever want to reach your students, you must show them respect day after day after day. Even when they disrespect you. Only then will they trust. And the relationship you get in return? Beautiful.
You will never win a yelling match with a student. Ever. Screaming at any young heart always shreds—always leaves scars. Don’t leave scars. Your words can wound. Deeply. Forever.
You hold more power than you think.
Take time to listen to what your students aren’t saying. Their eyes tell stories. So do their actions. Do you have a student that needs to sleep in your class every day? Ask them why they’re so tired. The answer may surprise you—and haunt you.
You can make a difference. But if, and only if, you love your students. Look every one of your students in the eye, every day. Let them know you care. Tell them they are worth your time. Love them. Love them.
This job? This profession? This calling? It’s worth it. Worth the time. Worth the cost. Worth the toil. Worth the heartache. Because there is joy in teaching. Joy in changing lives and witnessing a life reach toward a dream for the first time.
You are the champion of dreams. The compass leading confusion through the wilderness. The voice of today helping mold the voice of tomorrow. Yes. It’s worth it.
You’re ready. You’ve got what it takes.
Students need your guidance.
And for me. Because while I wrote this letter to you, it’s words need to ring in my head too. A reminder. Of all the things that matter in teaching.