This is how a new school year starts, not with a bang, but with the exquisite chaos that is students and teachers entering a new building.
My schedule this year has me teaching 11th and 12th grade students so I don have any classes until tomorrow. Today, my task was to be available to help out the 7th, 8th, and 9th grade students and faculty in any way that I could.
Early in the day, I found a woman who had just been hired as a long term substitute and made myself available to her. Thus far, I have seen 6 teachers who are new to the district and I've done what I can do to help them and reassure them, including drawing a rudimentary map of the school on a note card.
I remember my first week as a teacher and know how valuable (and vital) it is to have someone who will answer your questions with patience and empathy.
Over the summer, I participated in many discussions that included the question ¨what do you wish you had known during your first year?¨
My answers have changed over the years, but have all been moving in the direction of what I now believe is the single most important piece of advice that can be offered to new teachers:
You are not alone.
This job, this career, this calling, is amazingly hard to do well. Fewer teachers are as bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and optimistic as first year teachers. We all come out of the gates believing that we are going to change the world.
This is a wonderful attitude to have and can get you through many dark patches, but it is exhausting. I could write an entire post on education programs and whether or not they prepare you for the realities of teaching, but that's not my goal.
It's so easy for new teachers to burn out because they feel as though they should be able to meet all of the challenges on their own. They can run themselves ragged trying to look like master teachers. They may be master teachers right out of the gate, but this job is way too hard to do alone.
During my first week, I cried almost every night. My coworkers were fabulous, but I didn't rely on them for the support that I needed. I did everything I could to never ask for help, to never show what I thought was weakness.
The real weakness is not asking for help when you need it. We often say that you can tell much about the character of a person by the company they keep. I want to be a great teacher, so I try to surround myself with teachers who I consider great. There are so many in my district and I am honored to learn from them every day.
I wish I had known this when I started. I wish I had spent more time with teachers who look for solutions, who build up, who connect meaningfully with students.
Luckily, I get to have a new start every day. I get to come to work and choose the people from whom I learn and grow. Even more importantly than that, I get to BE one of those people if I choose to.
And I choose to.
So, to all new teachers, veteran teachers, long term substitutes, short term substitutes, administrators, parents, students, human beings.
You are not alone. This is a struggle for everyone. Find those who help make you stronger.