Here I am, a month into my first year of teaching, and it’s hard to sum up what these four weeks have been & encompassed.
I went to a party last night with some college friends, and as happens every time I see people I haven’t seen or talked to in a while, I got the question. “So, how’s teaching?” I’ve tried to prepare a stock answer – just so I don’t have to think on my feet – but it got me thinking. How’s teaching? How am I doing?
The short answer is: I’m happy. Really, truly happy. I’ve thought a lot about why that is, exactly. It’s not a blanket happiness where I’m okay with 100% of what I do, how I teach, and what I spend my time on. And God knows there are moments every single day when I tell myself I can’t do it. Or I wonder why kids would ever listen to a first-year teacher. Or I imagine that some sort of mistake was made that April morning when my principal hired me.
How is it possible to add up all the little moments of stress, nerves, fear, anger, frustration, and sadness, and get overall happiness?
Both my Instructional Coach and my Dean of Instruction have told me several times that I’m a very self-reflective person, and I’d like to think they’re correct, so here’s my attempt at (online) self-reflection. I think it’s possible to be a little bit sad at a few moments throughout the day but happy at the end of the day. It’s possible to fall into bed on a Friday night wondering how I’ll ever teach another week, yet by Saturday afternoon be missing my students. It’s possible to wake up in the morning with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach yet by the time I’m done with the Intro to New Material I know everything will be okay.
I’d like to say I’m happy because I’m fulfilled and pushed and challenged and supported and taken care of and inspired – all of which are true – but for honesty’s sake, the real reason is because things just happened to work out that way. I have one prep – 8th grade English. I have a fantastic Grade Level Chair who is a rockstar teacher and a wonderful mentor. My entire grade level team is driven but we don’t take ourselves too seriously (I have, on occasion, participated in a fashion show modeling appropriate wear of school IDs). I work in a school where discipline issues are taken care of swiftly and effectively, with minimal disruption to the other students or to my classroom culture. My roommates are so calm and supportive. I love – deeply love – English. My sisters & I have a collective Twitter. They are my best friends. I went to college here, so I can have coffee with old roommates and friends. I run into people at parties and they tell me how much they admire the work I’m doing, which is a good reminder to me that what I’m doing is actually really hard so it’s okay to feel overwhelmed sometimes. A local car dealership has offered to fund half of my donorschoose.org project, meaning if I get enough donations, I will be able to bring in about 30 more books to my classroom library. I got accepted into an English-related fellowship through TFA so I will get extra content support in certain areas of instruction.
All this is to say – I don’t think I necessarily created my own happiness. A lot of it was just luck of the draw, the school I ended up at, the people in my life.
I’ve found that this happiness has helped me outrun my fear. I certainly have lots of fear. I often worry that my kids aren’t learning enough or aren’t learning things the right way. I worry that my unit plan is moving too fast or too slow, or that my content delivery is boring some kids while leaving other kids behind. My progress report averages were a 78 – which I worry will be demoralizing – but my kids deserve that 78. My classroom is rigorous and my kids are doing 78-level work. I talk all the time about a growth mindset and I’ve created a pretty positive, supportive culture. My kids have faith their grades will increase if they put in the work. No pressure, no diamonds is our class motto. If my students are uncomfortable it’s because my class is rigorous and difficult and challenging. It will push them. And in my own head, instead of a constant stream of negativity about where my students are, I replace it with thoughts of where my students could someday be.
I went to a TFA Professional Development session earlier this week where I interacted with lots of teachers teaching in a variety of districts. The challenges these teachers face are immense and heartbreaking. One teacher told me that the old, white, female teachers at her primarily-all-black-school tell the kids they need to be “whitewashed” in order to make it in the world. How horrific. It makes me wonder – would I be able to function in a school where things like that are normalized? How much of my current happiness is dependent on the fact that my school happens to be a breathtakingly effective, well-run, heart-in-the-right-place environment?
Maybe this happiness will be shortlived (especially come October, which I’ve heard horror stories about) but for now, I’ll take it.
The Jewish holidays were on Thursday and Friday. I went to synagogue on Wednesday evening, feeling pretty emotional about all the ways my life has changed since this time a year ago (I tend to measure the phases of my life by Fourth of July – like where I happen to be watching fireworks – and Rosh Hashanah – where I’m in synagogue). I dreaded school on Thursday morning because it was the first time in my entire life I haven’t been able to be at services on Rosh Hashanah morning. But everything was okay, because school went so well, and I brought Rosh Hashanah honey cake for the rest of the teachers, and I felt like I belonged.