Dear Me (On the Eve of My First Year Teaching)


The Fascination Awards


I’ve noticed several posts recently in which people with a few years in the field are writing letters to their first-year teacher selves. I have three years of teaching experience under my belt, so I thought, with my fourth year beginning in a few weeks, I would do the same: reflect on the last three years and write the first year me a letter.

Dear Me (On the Eve of My First Year Teaching),

Well, this is it. This is truly it. Two years ago you finished college with a degree that turned out to be useless, and now, after two years of graduate school in a totally different field – elementary education – they say you’re qualified to be a teacher. And you think you’re qualified to be a teacher.

Well, maybe you are. After all, you have a unique way with children, you can relate to them, you get where they’re coming from because you haven’t lost sight of what it’s like to be a child. But you won’t be dealing with issues like you experienced growing up. Oh sure, your students will experience family and pet deaths, the maddening powerlessness of being caught up in a parental argument, the frustration of struggling in school. They’ll come to you for help, and you will be able to empathize with these things.

But how are you going to deal with the kids who have only one parent and several siblings that they care for at the age of 10? The kid who comes in late every Thursday because he is helping his mom clean until 2 am that morning? The kid with the dad who sees you as a barrier to his child’s success just because you recommend continuation of services? The kid who threatens personal bodily harm because you indicate your disappointment? The kids who wear the same clothes everyday, not because they like them, but because when you wear hand-me-downs exclusively, your choices are limited?

How are you going to deal with all that? (Or any of the other stuff I didn’t even mention?)

If you’re smart, you’ll stay true to your belief that you need to do what is best for your students. This may make you unpopular with your colleagues at times, and may draw raised eyebrows from the administration, but as long as you can rationalize that your students’ best interests are your main motivator, they’ll understand where you’re coming from. It may take some colleagues longer than others, but you can’t worry about them. Just worry about your students.

And speaking of colleagues, you will meet some wonderful people that make it a joy to come to work everyday. But do yourself a favor, try to steer conversations away from everything that’s “the problem with school/parents/kids today” and move it toward a place of acceptance and improvement of the situation. And if you find you can’t do this without insulting people, then just remove yourself from the conversation. You can and will still be friends with these people. Just don’t let the negativity of others – who are all well-meaning people frustrated with a frustrating job – bring you down.

Given the shaky economic times in which you enter the workforce, I should warn you now that you will find yourself at some point in your career without a job. It may happen more than once. Your faith in the system will be questioned, your belief in your capabilities shaken. But try to remember, it isn’t about you. In fact, your colleagues will write you letters of support, and administrators will make phone calls to friends in high places to advocate for you. They will feel the injustice you feel, and will want to help. In the end, everything will work out for the best, but you will learn a valuable life lesson about being thankful for what you have. Life’s not so fun when you don’t have health insurance or a steady paycheck, my friend. You will find yourself interviewing in places you could never see yourself working and dealing with your illnesses without the help of a doctor, but eventually, because everything always works out for the best, you will be right where you want to be.

With one exception.

You see, you’re entering the schools as a general education upper elementary teacher. I know you can’t believe it, and you can laugh at me all you want now, but in spite of your rapport with the kids, your growth in your second year, your exciting ideas that build school community, and your own belief that you will never go anywhere but where you are now, you will one day be teaching primary grades. And you’ll be teaching special education.

That frightens you now? Just wait until your first day in that position!

I assure you it’s going to feel like your first year all over, and it won’t be a pleasant feeling. You’re going to find yourself relearning your entire idea of teaching. You are going to be told to shape up, and you’re going to experience doubts like you never have in your career. But you’re going to make the necessary adjustments. You’re going to learn from people who can help you. You will be humbled, but you will be a better teacher for it. And then you will be grateful.

You will find new ways to develop a rapport with your students, you will reap the benefits of parents’ gratitude, and you will be reaffirmed by the end of your first year in your new position. You will believe more fiercely than ever in your role as champion for your students, and you will motivate them to do things that no one expected of them. You will see incredible growth in them and in yourself. And, while you will still have plenty of improvements to make, you will believe more and more that this is the position where you belong.

I’m glad I told you that, because I don’t want to give the impression that you’re entering into a career where you are constantly confronted by outside forces of negativity. You will remind yourself constantly why you are in the field to begin with: so you can make a difference in people’s lives. And you will. Students who wouldn’t speak in their previous class will be impossible to stop talking by the time they’re finished in yours. Kids who repeatedly were sent into your room to cool off will, next year, never be sent out of your room. In fact, these same children will become model citizens for their classmates. Kids will invite you to hear them play the violin at the school concert, and even though you don’t really want to shlep back to school that night, you will, and you’ll beam with pride from the moment the bow is raised.

The kids will make you laugh and the kids will make you cry. They’ll make you angry and they’ll make you proud. They’ll tire you out and they’ll energize you again.

You are making the right move entering this profession. Just remember, you don’t know everything. In fact, despite what that piece of paper from the state says, you really don’t know anything. Prepare to learn a lot. Prepare to have your whole concept of school and childhood turned on its head. Prepare to find yourself in situations where you just don’t know what to do.

And prepare to make a difference. Because that’s what you’ll be doing every single day of the rest of your career as an educator.

I wish you luck! You’ll need it!

Sincerely,

You

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159 responses to “Dear Me (On the Eve of My First Year Teaching)

  1. Matthew- This is an honest, powerful post. You have truly shared your thoughts,feelings and experiences as a new teacher. Your previous major is not a waste, it just wasn’t meant to be your life’s work. You use the skills you learned as a journalism major to enhance the learning of your students. Thankfully you found your niche in education and are the type of teacher that all children need; smart, funny, creative, a believer in them, an advocate ( I could go on). You are a life long learner and as you continue to learn and grow, you will translate your new found knowledge into what works for your students. As you say, you are prepared to make a difference in the lives of your students. Know this,you already have and you always will.

    • Very kind, thank you. I meant that the journalism degree is a waste in the job market. As much as I hated my journalism internships, there is no doubt I took plenty from them that I apply in the workplace.

      • I majored in Journalism and English and in the technical sense haven’t used my Journalism degree at all (went to grad school for English and am considering a PhD in it, or pursuing a career in Academic Advising). However, I would never give back my time in the Journalism department because, in my opinion, anytime you are taught how to write and how to think freely, it’s never a waste.

        I loved this post. As someone who may be entering (adjunct) teaching soon and for the first time, I’m going to have to say some of these things to myself. Best of luck with the school year!

        ~Rachel (http://rgoldfarb.wordpress.com)

    • Matthew- I loved this letter… as I was reading it I started to think about the excitement and anxiety I had my first few years as a speech therapist/teacher! It’s funny how 13 years later I still feel it and LOVE EVERY SINGLE SECOND OF IT!!!! We truly have the BEST job in the world (despite what is happening in our country)!!! When a person becomes a teacher because he/she cares and wants to make a difference in a child’s life… nothing can stop them from LOVING THIS JOB! I know you will continue to grow with and love your students (which ever grade/school/class they will be in)! Have a FANTASTIC 2011-2012 school year!!!

      Andrea

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  4. you have a very high opinion of yourself.

    • Hi Archie,
      Thanks for taking the time to read this post. I wonder what prompted your comment. Perhaps you think that because I note my strengths that means I have a high opinion of myself? I think that just shows I know what I’m good at and what I bring to the classroom. I’m not sure if you took away from this what I hoped people would: teaching is a trying profession, and no matter how good you are at certain things, there is still plenty to learn. I’m still learning. I think these points will be evident if you reread this post. Then, by all means, if you still believe I have a high opinion of myself, I’d love to read why!

      • I think your humility comes through beautifully. I am sending this on to some friends who are early in their elementary teaching careers. Best of luck to you and thanks for the post.

  5. As a pre-service teacher, I found this post very inspiring. It seems too often that I hear only about the frustrating aspects of the profession; I’m glad that it’s possible to find after a few years that the joy and meaning still outweigh the negatives. Thanks for sharing!

    • Hi Rachel…
      Thanks for reading and commenting. I’m so glad you took something from this post. You should write your own letter to yourself before you start! It will be a great way for you to be reminded of your principles when the hard times hit (because they will). And yes, the “joy and meaning” are still the most important things – when they cease being so, we are all in trouble!!

  6. I’m grateful there are teachers out there like you — someone this thoughtful, introspective and understanding the gravity and importance of your position.

    As a mother of two beautiful primary school aged children, I wish you all the luck in the world!

  7. This post reflects strongly you were meant to be a teacher. Have a great year!

  8. I tried teaching first and switched to corporate journalism and writing. My friend is doing her final teaching internships now before starting out. This is her perspective:

    ‘A teacher somewhere in your neighbourhood tonight is preparing lessons to teach your children or marking work while you are watching television or enjoying time with your family and friends. In the minute it takes you to read this, teachers all over the world are using their “free time” and often investing their own money for your child’s literacy, prosperity, and future.’

    I like you see positives though.

  9. I really enjoyed your word choice. You sounds so very pleased and empowered and excited by your position as a teacher. Your feelings toward teaching are what I want all teachers to feel… I wish you the best of luck, but it sounds like you are doing really quite well!

  10. Great letter–powerfully moving! Good luck this year. And congrats on Freshly Pressed.
    Kathy

  11. What a lovely article! I’m sure you will be a great teacher. My best friend is a kindergarten teacher and she has the patience of a saint — she HAS to! Best wishes to you.

  12. Being a teacher is hard work and it certainly pulls on the heart strings. It’s hard to find gems in the field that truly care with your heart and desire to really listen, teach, and learn.
    Wonderful letter. I hope you have a great year!

    • Thank you, Angelia. I think everyone goes into teaching with the same mindset but it can be very difficult to keep it in the forefront… Believe me there are times when I don’t!

  13. This is one powerful post, it truly shows you GET IT !!!! and not everyone does!

  14. As a former teacher, I find so many of your questions and comments both relevant and intriguing. I think maybe I could answer some of them to a certain extent, but that would be a post and this is your blog not mine!
    One of the frustrations when you are starting out is that while you want to be the best you can be, you realize that you are not the teacher that you will be two, three, five, or ten years down the road. That is okay. Accept that you can’t be superman and don’t burn yourself out.
    Find a mentor. Look for someone who is respected by both students and staff, and pick their brain whenever possible.
    For those kids who are troubled: Look in their files for their kindergarten photos. It will remind you that they are somebody’s babies. Recognize that they act tough because they are vulnerable. Catch them doing something right, and praise the living daylights out of them. Remember that they need someone to care, because they likely don’t get enough of that. Finally, find out what they do in their spare time. If the answer is nothing much, that is a breeding ground for trouble, so see if you can persuade them to become involved in something, anything!
    I will try to follow you this year and encourage you when I can.
    Best Wishes,
    Jodi

    • I love your thoughts on the kids – even as I enter my fourth year those are wise words to keep in mind. Thanks for sharing. Look forward to hearing from you throughout the year.

  15. Good luck on your first year of teaching. With your positive outlook and strong beliefs, you will undoubtedly do very well. I truly believe some people have what it takes to be good teacher and others don’t, no matter how many years they teach. I hope you continue to do what you love, as long as you love it, and if the time comes that you get disillusioned or just wiped-out, that you find another venue so you will continue to hold that same positive outlook that you do today. Good luck!

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  16. Very honest, very hopeful, very well-written. This made me smile. The highlights:

    “But do yourself a favor, try to steer conversations away from everything that’s “the problem with school/parents/kids today” and move it toward a place of acceptance and improvement of the situation. And if you find you can’t do this without insulting people, then just remove yourself from the conversation. You can and will still be friends with these people. Just don’t let the negativity of others – who are all well-meaning people frustrated with a frustrating job – bring you down.”

    Good advice. This can be applied in any job situation.

    “Life’s not so fun when you don’t have health insurance or a steady paycheck, my friend. You will find yourself interviewing in places you could never see yourself working and dealing with your illnesses without the help of a doctor, but eventually, because everything always works out for the best, you will be right where you want to be.”

    Bravo. This pretty much capsulates every worker’s fear: losing your money, losing your health insurance. But I love the consolation: you can work your way through it, it can be dealt with and handled, don’t WORRY about it until the time comes — and when it does, it won’t be nearly as awful as you anticipated it would be.

    “You will remind yourself constantly why you are in the field to begin with: so you can make a difference in people’s lives. And you will. ”

    Beautiful ending, wonderful truth. I want to be an educator as well. I would like to teach high school english.

    Aun Aqui

  17. Don’t worry you will be fine, I have been teaching 17 years and remember my first year. Ignorance is bliss I say now, I always worried about the silly things. You will be great! Good Luck!!

  18. This is a very touching letter.I am sure you will figure everything out gradually, and will deal with it accordingly. In my experience, colleagues were more of a problem than any student ever. For some reason, they (colleagues) expected solidarity in the opinion about the student, and somehow in a lot of cases my opinion was quite different. I guess my tolerance for individuality was higher? ( I am sorry if it sounds like bragging :-)).
    Enjoy your teaching!

    • No, you’re not bragging. It’s upsetting when teachers expect a consensus around child-bashing. There’s always a root to the kid’s less favorable traits. I believe strongly that kids are carrying much more baggage than we have any idea of.

      • Thank you firstly for a great and touching post. I so agree with you on this aspect. As a teacher (in Sweden) I see and feel pretty much the same as you in what is now my fourth year.

        As for the times when students act out just remember that it is almost never about you. I try not to take out lashes personally and when the child has calmed down there is always a trauma (small or big) behind their behavior. Sometimes it can be the teacher´s behavour, the class room structure or the school itself that may be the problem. So we as well as the students will have to learn.

        There is a small difference in the upper education systems of our countries it seems. I have a master of education and from the beginning of my university studies I had to know that I wanted to be a teacher. Here you choose to become a teacher from the beginning and you know that your teaching studies will take 5 and a half years. Even with that much preparation it comes down to one thing in the end:

        Are you there for the kids or for yourself?

        I think any good teacher is there for the kids and therefore I agree with your advice to always think about the child even if it makes you unpopular with the other staff.

        Nice to see that teaching is not so different around the world.

        Keep having the heart in the right place.

        Love,

        Rasta teacher

      • You are right.One of my students could not finish his home work because of his father’s constant drinking, and everybody in the school knew about that, yet my colleagues were against letting him submit work at a later date. So basically it was punishing him for his parents’ faults. Very frustrating indeed. One more thing, kids are much more resilient than we, adults give them credit for, and they will always respond to a person who sincerely cares about them. I do wish you all the blessings and success in your first year!

      • Thank you @fornormalstepfathers but this is my fourth year :). The letter was written by me now as a reflection of the first three years.

  19. This is an incredible post! I’m in college, majoring in elementary education and your post is an inspiration. I think everyday about what my first year as a teacher will be like and typically, I feel anxious and excited simultaneously. Thank you for writing such an inspirational post!

    • Your first year of teaching will be unforgettable and you will probably have your whole notion of the job turned on its ear. I hope you love it. I’m so glad this post resonated with you, thank you for saying so.

  20. so my mom has been a teacher for 20+ years, and from the stories she’s been telling me recently some of these new young fresh out of college teachers are ruining inner city schools (or helping to). i just feel like some teachers just don’t relate to their students because their backgrounds are so different. teachers don’t understand these children (and don’t bother to try to understand them)and instead of trying to talk with them about their behavior (or understand why they are behaving like that) they just send the students out the classroom. in a way i think these teachers are scared of their students, which is horrible. and if they are scared of the students, of course they are going to be scared of the parents.
    so i just think these new teachers that are placed in inner city schools need to read up on the community and the students. it’s bad enough that inner city schools get the least amount of state funding, but to think that the teachers treat the students like a burden is another reason why the inner city schools (and just public schools in general) are declining so rapidly. anyway just a thought. nice post.

    • My mom worked in schools for 30 years, retired as a principal. Before I started and knew I’d be working with kids with backgrounds vastly different than mine, I wondered to her how I would ever be able to relate to them. So I know what you’re talking about. She said the right thing, “You’ll relate to them as kids.” Your points are important, thanks for sharing them.

  21. As someone who just finished his first year of teaching high school English and preparing to begin year two, my heart goes out to you. It’s going to be one hell of a year for you. You’re going to work harder than you’ve ever worked before. I won’t sugar coat it for you.

    However, in between the hard work and headaches, there will be moments filled with pure joy sprinkled in. Savor those moments.

    Keep your head up and good luck!

  22. I love your letter to yourself. I wrote a similar letter to first year nursing students prior to my graduation…I think it is still being read to them at the school I attended. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed. And thank you for your service to our youth.

  23. I finished my 1st year of teaching in June, and I wish I had written a letter to myself. Your post was wonderful. I am sittin ghere now, mid August, with no contract lined up for September but trying not to take it personally and just trusting that things will work out if I keep working at it. And looking back over my 1st year, it was easily the hardest year of my life… I definitely felt like I aged a lot, and I had more than my fair share of breakdowns… but, I also had some of the best, more rewarding, most inspiring moments of my life. And, more than my fair share of moments that made me stop to think, “Yes, this is EXACTLY what I want to do for the rest of my life; it is SO worth it.”
    Thank you for this post, it was great and really got me reflecting. :)

    • And thank you for such a lovely comment. Why don’t you go ahead and write yourself a letter about where you’re at now? You will land on your feet, don’t worry. It’s such a tough climate right now, but things will get better.

  24. Good luck. I have been teaching for 15 years – I changed my career at 30. I love teaching!

  25. This was a great post! In September I’ll be in my fifth year of teaching in secondary education, and there are lots of students with special educational needs where I teach. I remember vividly the nervousness I experienced the day before my first day. I can’t say I enjoy every day, let alone every minute, but overall I’m proud of what I do. Your love for the teaching profession just shines through every line in your post. I hope you’ll feel exactly the same ten years from now. Teachers are often in danger of losing that certain ‘spark’ when they’ve been teaching for some years. I’m always trying to reinvent myself as a teachers, which keeps it both interesting for me as exciting and entertaining for the kids. All the best!

  26. I came across your blog randomly, but coincidentally I am also a new teacher (in adult literacy). I was so moved by your words and your obvious compassion. Even though the letter was addressed to yourself, I really felt you were speaking to me. So, I’m just leaving a reply to thank you for the motivation and reassurance that I, too, am embarking on the right path of teaching.

  27. Fantastic post. :-) Every first year teacher should read this. I’m convinced college teaches nothing except how to jump through hoops. Everything I know about teaching has come from the real-life experience in my classroom. It’s been 11 years now and I think the moment I became a good a teacher is the moment I decided to forget everything they taught me in college, (that was right around my third year). Our students, now more than ever, need teachers that are creative, strong, and ready to try anything to make them learn. It’s not about creating the perfect lesson plan, but rather creating a lesson that works. Creating an atmosphere that works. Creating an attitude that believes any student can learn.

    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed! :-)

    • Thank you for saying this. For me it’s all about what you said at the end – that any student can learn. I think of so many of my students who came to me with reputations that I refused to stereotype them with. They have been my greatest joys and have left some very important impressions on my life.

  28. I’ll be starting my English teaching career next month. My first students are aged 16-30. I’m more than a little nervous as well! I think I could use a letter of encouragement.

    • Good luck with your career! I hope you’ll find it rewarding in so many different ways. Don’t let yourself lose sight of why you entered the field to begin with!

  29. I feel you :)
    I’m a teacher by passion and calling, if I may say. I always take this profession very personally. I always believe that somehow, someway, I am investing a bright future in these children’s lives. No matter how small my contribution is in their lives, it is significant.
    Enjoy your teaching experience, you’ll love it! :D

  30. I hope that my little nieces and nephews are lucky enough to have teachers as passionate and dedicated as you. :-)

  31. As somebody who is in exactly the same position as you, this leaves me with tears in my eyes. Tears of excitement of what is to come and also some healthy fear!
    It’s hard to explain the feeling but knowing that we are going into something to worthy and nourishing enthuses me all the more and it seems you think exactly the same.
    Good luck to you, good luck to all of us out there who are just starting out. It’s going to be a rollercoaster and a I look forward to it all! Crank up the engines… – and proplus…. :)

    • Well, we’re not exactly in the same situation, but I have been in your shoes before. It’s exciting and scary when you stand on the doorstep of this awesome responsibility. Just wait until you see your first class.

      • Oh yeah, oops i missed the first paragraph before the letter starts! Either way – tis a good read :)

  32. Thank you for writing such a heartfelt post! I have been teaching in special education for 7 years and there isn’t a year that is the same as the next. I am very proud in what I do and stay focused in what I believe. It is true that one can be swayed by many colleague’s points of view, but if you stay true to yourself and your students; phenomenal years of teaching come forward. You are very committed in this particular field, as I am as well. I hope you have an awesome year with your students!

  33. Ah yes, I remember that first year of teaching (as much as I’d like to forget it sometimes). I remember the tears, the frustrations, and those little moments of victory that kept me going. The first year was tough, but I stuck it out, and nearly a decade later, I can honestly say I’m still learning and growing (which is a good thing!), and I still need reminders like the one you shared with us today. Thanks.

  34. Hi There,
    I am a semi retired secondary school teacher and I would like to congratulate you on your choice of second career as a teacher. You convey the impression that you are a caring and thoughtful person and these qualities will serve you well especially, I suspect, in the elementary school landscape.

    I think that your journalism degree need not be regarded as a waste of time. It has taught you how to write, to do research, to be sensitive to others’ plight, how to ask sensitive questions….

    I have recently signed on to wordpress blog because at this stage of my career I have returned to school to pursue a Ph.D degree and I am scared. Your ‘Dear me’ letter to yourself is a wonderful idea and I think I will follow suit. Good luck with your students.

  35. I’m thinking of getting a degree in journalism because I really like to write. Why is it a bad idea?

    • For me it would have been a bad idea. For you it may be your passion and you shouId always follow your passion. I love to write, but I couldn’t do journalism because I was never going to be able to go talk to the mothers about their children who died in their house fire 10 minutes earlier. There is a crude expression in the business: “Death du jour.” I could never allow myself to become desensitized to others like that because I would feel like I was losing my humanity, honestly.

      That’s only my perspective. I had many classmates who rightly believed that the journalist’s job is to share news, and that anything else is incidental. True, but I never saw myself being able to remove my feelings enough to do it and not have regrets or misgivings.

      I loved a lot of things about journalism – the adrenaline of writing on deadline, the thrill of seeing my byline, the incredible experience of calling sports on the radio. However, it wasn’t my passion. It didn’t drive me. Working with kids did.

      I can’t tell you if journalism is a bad idea. I can only say why it wouldn’t work for me. I hope you make a decision based on your own values, not someone else’s. And by the way, whatever you choose may not be where you wind up. My uncle once said to me, “If you work in 5 different jobs before you find one you love, you won’t be the first one.” Just go with your gut…even if your gut leads you in different directions. I wouldn’t be teaching now if I hadn’t.

  36. Right on, Brother!

  37. Outstanding post!!!! I can’t tell you how appropriate this post is for me to read on this very day. My oldest is heading off to college, with the hope that at the end of her time there she will leave with a degree in elementary education. I will save this post and have her read it at a later date.

    Also, just the other day I received news of a former teacher of my other daughter; he is having difficulties with an administrator and fellow colleagues. He has to be one of the best teachers that either one of my children have had the privilege of learning from.

    As a parent, I think teachers rock, well – maybe not all of them, but fortunately the ones that I remember from my past and those of my children have more often than not exceeded my wildest expectations.

    Best of luck to you in the upcoming year of teaching. You truly are part of the most nobel profession!! :)

  38. As a special education teacher who thought she would be a regular education classroom teacher your post really struck a chord with me. I’m going into my 4th year as well and though I feel much more prepared this year than I did when I started out, I know that I still have a lot to learn. The challenge is frightening and exhilarating at the same time. I think next time someone asks me why I do what I do despite all the frustration and bureaucracy, I’ll just point them to your post.Have an awesome year!

  39. Pingback: Dear Me (On the Eve of My First Year Teaching) (via From the Desk of Mr. Foteah) « blessed birdy

  40. I truly enjoyed your enthusiastic, positive post–especially now, right before school begins.

    As a 15-year high school teaching vet, I often find myself falling into the pit of cynicism (just read my whiny post from today)–but, like you, I am passionate about my job. Yes, I love my subject, but I teach for the human connection. Thanks for the reminder.

  41. I believe you but it’s not something I could do. I’d be screaming at the top of my lungs every 5 minutes. There is nothing worse than a screeching teacher.

  42. Great post. Keep going.

  43. This is amazing. I just graduated in May with my degree in elementary education, and now I am working toward my masters degree in special education. This really touched my heart, and I love everything about it! I just read 32 Third Graders and One Class Bunny and this really reminded me of it! Great book for teachers! :)

  44. Yes, we need more champions! Thank you for all you to champion for these kids. We all benefit from teachers who themselves refuse to ever stop learning. Well done!

  45. Great post. I write about teaching a lot myself (I teach incarcerated teens)…check it out if you ever get a moment :)

  46. congrats on your first year! my sister is currently looking for a teaching position…rough market these days. but i’m excited to hear about her experiences once she gets started. thanks for sharing. i’ll be sure to pass this along to her!

  47. Being a teacher would be increadibly hard. Especially knowing some kids need help beyond what you can give them. I respect those who are able to do this.

  48. Incredible post! I’m a lecturer in Higher Ed., and your post so resonates with me.

  49. I enjoyed this, because it seems like the polar opposite of my own blog. I’m a very young teacher who posts about the hard times and troubles all young would-be educators are currently experiencing.

  50. Being a teacher myself in an environment you just described I can support your thoughts. Well written!

    All the best for you :-)

  51. This reminds me of the 20 years I spent in the wrong profession. However, it has given me a pension. I took early retirement in December 1992 for health reasons. I take my hat off to all teachers. You as a teacher have to see your work as a vocation. And you have to have a thick skin. Anyway, that is my impression. I was not suited to being a teacher.

  52. Dont think that what you have entered to was a waste, in fact that is just part of the whole thing. I hope that you will be able to enjoy your career. Just continue to write what you think and feel. Nobody’s gonna harm you with your thoughts. It is the mind that is very powerful. The word that you think you can write is your medium along with your feelings. And the tool can be your paper or your blog.

    Be empowered and Good luck !

    - Kaye (http://lollipopsvscigarettes.wordpress.com)

  53. As a teacher entering my fifth year of teaching after leaving the world of photojournalism I think you nailed it. We each have our own experiences, but I can see bits of me in your thoughts and concerns. I’m two weeks away and am already having that “first day of school jitters” that teachers also experience. I love the night before class begins and I don’t sleep for fear of doing the right thing for the students. I wish you nothing but luck as your year begins. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

  54. Pingback: Dear Me (On the Eve of My First Year Teaching) (via From the Desk of Mr. Foteah) | rantings of a loon

  55. Beautifully written. I know your challenges will be overflowing, but please try to remember one thing when days seem as long and laborious as passing a kidney stone. Try not to let any child fall through the cracks and pass them just because you become too overwhelmed or tired to care. I know it’s a tall order, but I only remember one teacher in all my years. One stood out. She wrote in red pen and covered my paper with sweeping broad strokes highlighting every grammatical error. Over and over she vowed to flunk me. If only she would have given me a little artist rein instead of squelching my dreams. I know you will do a phenomenal teacher. Those kids are lucky. I think some (if not all) will remember you.

    • Your story breaks my heart. I never realized how many people only remember their worst teachers. I remember my worst, but I care so much more for the memories of my best.

  56. Letters people write to themselves can be a very powerful thing. You certainly are perceptive, and I hope your employer recognizes the depth of insight you have in the lives of your students as well as the work. Well done!

  57. Mr. Foteah,

    Thank you for posting such a tough and tender letter. I’m studying Elementary Education now, and with any luck I’ll be teaching in two years. But I’m so passionate about teaching that I’ve spent a couple days a week for the past year in the classroom as an assistant. I’ve learned infinitely more from that experience than I have from any college class. And I’ve encountered a lot of the difficult situations you warn your younger self about in this letter. Just reading your words brought tears to my eyes. From an aspiring teacher, thank you not only for your encouraging letter, but also for your passion for kids. They need us.

    -L

    • This is such a sweet comment. Thanks for leaving it. I wish you the best as you move toward your career. No doubt, there will be times when you find yourself incredulous about what is going on – just keep the outlook you have now and you will never lose sight of why you became a teacher in the first place.

  58. Thank you for posting this! I’m starting as a secondary special ed teacher next week. This is my first year in a full-time position; last year I long-term subbed so I gained a lot of experience but not the whole enchilada, if you will. I’ve ended up in special ed without really ever intending to- like you, I would’ve been shocked and laughed at you if you’d told me what my job would be this year. I’m terrified and thrilled and excited. Helps to read posts like yours. Thanks.

    • You should feel all those things…but I hope you find inspiration in knowing you are embarking on an important task and that you have the potential to make a major impact. Best of luck.

  59. This is so true and very moving. I was exactly in the same situation as you back in 2009-2010 when I was a special educator in Baltimore (I’m now back in my country, the Philippines).

    When I was teaching special kids in Baltimore, I learned so much of myself from these children. They have taught me compassion, to persevere and how it matters to others when you show them you truly care. It brought tears in my eyes when you mentioned kids who wear the same clothes to school everyday. Well, I had that kid. He only had one jacket that he kept wearing from Fall to Winter. Often times, he comes to school really hungry or very sleepy and he was just four years old. Despite that, he never misses school. that boy has taught me so much, more than what I learned in graduate school.

    Sure, you’re swamped with so many paperworks for their IEP and all that. But what I took with me were the good memories, the smiles on my student’s faces (four to six year olds) and the friendships I’ve forged with my colleagues (well-meaning or otherwise).

    We all have our choices to make. I have made mine and this is what I always tell people if they start getting curious why I left the corporate world: “Some people choose to become doctors because they want to help those with illnesses. Some choose to become lawyers because they want to uphold justice. I am teacher because I CHOOSE TO INSPIRE.”

    • Love it. No doubt that young man left an indelible mark on you. I bet you did the same for him. And I agree with the paperwork thing. It’s a part of the job but it’s not the job. It’s all worth it when you can reflect on the growth in the students, anyway.

  60. As a teacher for over 25 years (now retired) with an additional 10 years industry experience interspersed during that time, I need to disagree with your opening statement “…finished college with a degree that turned out to be useless.” I had a very wise graduate school professor, when I was 22-years-old and beginning my first year of teaching (who happened to also be a working school district superintendent) that said (1) ask yourself every day “am I teaching a subject or am I teaching a child” and (2) never remain in any one teaching job more than 5 years. I started my career as a history/theater teacher and ended it as a Chef/Educator. My only mistake, out of 10 jobs, was remaining in my last position for 17 years. Nothing in education is “useless.” All of education is to prepare the individual to “teach yourself” for the rest of your life – it’s a process, not a commodity. This disconnect in America today is the fundamental reason for our decline and what will be our eventual fall. I am now in my “11th. job” as a successful international freelance writer on travel and culinary tourism. I could not have achieved this goal without my diversity of experiences and the education I learned from the thousands of 7th graders through young adults that I had the privilege to teach. Nothing is “useless” – except the absurd paper work and tests that politicians believe make people “accountable teachers” – resist that like the plague.

    • You are right. I should have been clearer in that opening salvo against my undergrad degree. What I really meant was that the journalism degree wasn’t leading me directly to employment. Of course, I learned so much in college that I apply to my professional life, especially how to work with others.

  61. What an excellent idea. I would write something similar to the “just broken up with the guy I thought was the love of my life” me to tell her how actually this was the best thing that ever happened to her!

  62. This was really good. Thank you for writing this. I am a teacher myself – got a degree in journalism, realised that it wasn’t really what I wanted to do (didn’t have the ruthless personality needed) and somehow got a job with a teaching company. I’m now about 7 months in and, although teaching was never where I saw myself going, I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. Never before have I learned so much or experienced a job with so much reward (perhaps offsetting its fair share of difficulties)! You’ve reminded me why I love teaching so much. Thank you!

  63. Garvingambia
    After 45 years in education, most of it spent in Elementary grades as teacher and administrator, it is wonderful to see that there are teachers who are still willing to still give of themselves to their students and to buck the system. Good on you and keep the faith.

  64. What a great letter – inspiring – and so true! This is my 22nd year of teaching, and I still love what I do with a passion. Best wishes to you and your students as you begin a new school year.

  65. Hi…

    Your post made me cry, and it made me cry for a couple of different reasons. The first is that I have made the emotional well-being of children my priority for 10 years or more… I go into the classroom caring more about depositing self-esteem into the kids than about how much academic work they master (though I care about that too, of course). I write books on their behalf. And I know how often teachers grow cynical or weary because they’re underpaid, because they can’t change the terribly sad circumstances through which some of their children live, because of test scores or politics. Good teachers, the ones like I have every confidence from this letter alone that you are, understand that being a teacher is about remembering each individual child. It warms my heart to be reminded that children are being sent into classrooms where they are treated with respect, warmness and appreciation for who they are and all that they can accomplish. The post also made me cry because it made me remember a teacher who went out of his way to make me feel cared for when the earth spun of control during my eleventh grade year. I still maintain contact with him, because he was so pivotal an influence. He did teach me grammar and literature—but he also taught me to believe in myself simply by convincing me that HE believed in me. Thank you for all that you do your students, and for not forgetting that care through all the surrounding stuff that comes along with the job. I usually send a note home with my students that thanks the parents for “sending me an important member of your family” as a way of reminding myself that the child I see every day is not just one in twenty faces—she/he has a story and, if I really care, if I’m really going to “change the world,” then I will care about WHAT that story is—–regardless of whether or not I can “fix it.”

    Thank you for the post…

    http://storiesthatmatter.wordpress.com

  66. Congrats on Freshly Pressed! Great post!
    I taught for 12 years, the first 7 as a self-contained special education teacher. Your words spoke right to my heart. I am home raising my own kids for now, but expect to return within the next few years, and it will feel like Year 1 again! Scary, but exciting!
    There is always something to learn, and with every year you will gain experience, perspective, and skill. You will also learn to use your voice with confidence within your district…then the real fun will begin! :) I always think back to my first group of kids, and wish I could have a do-over with them now that I know so much more. There are so many things I would do differently, and so many things I would try that I learned in later years. I value every child, every parent, every colleague, especially my biggest challenges because it is from them that I learned the most. :)
    Have a wonderful year!

    • You know what? Part of me regrets some of the ways I’ve handled things with my kids. I still wonder if I scarred them because of my own foolishness. But the other part of me knows I learned from those experiences and have taken steps to make sure they don’t happen again, so that’s a plus. But yes, I do wonder about those kids. We hold so much power by virtue of the way we interact with our students, what an incredible position to be in. We can’t abuse it.

  67. Hello! I think we are almost in the same shoes. After finishing graduate school, I was given a part time teaching stint in the collegiate department. I suddenly recall my first day. At that time, I wasn’t yet into blogging and I’m regretting it now. I should have documented everything. I agree with your points, students interest vs. colleague vs. administration, I can totally relate. It’s hard to harmonize the three parties. And with dealing with the students, as I look back, I never realized that it was an accomplishment of being able to deal with 30 or more students with different personalities, family and status in life. If I was able to make even just a little difference in the lives of these 30 students, then I can happily say that I am really a teacher.

    Great post and congratulations for making it in the freshly pressed. Savor the moment!

    • So thoughtful of you to leave this insightful comment. I, too regret not blogging from the beginning, although I suspect I’d shudder at many of the stories coming out of my first year. I also think about having nearly 30 kids and wonder how I was able to keep them in a line, let alone be able to know something about each of them.

  68. marleneretiredteacher

    Really enjoyed reading your post, especially since I just starting writing one also. I decided to blog during my final year of teaching. I am retiring after 34 years of teaching sp. ed. in Chicago. Reading your post brought back so many of the feelings that I had at the beginning of my career. For me teaching has been a most rewarding experience with all its ups and downs. I don’t think I could have expressed it as you did, probably because you have a degree in journalism and English. You have such a great way of describing your experiences. I could really feel them. I definitely will be following your blog. I can’t wait to hear how your year goes.

  69. We need more teachers like you.

  70. I’m glad I read this before I went to bed. It’s nice to hear from other out there who’ve been in my shoes. I’d say more, but I just don’t have the energy. Best of luck.

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  72. from someone who has never had the desire to teach, i commend you. its reassuring to hear that there are people like you out there who have the desire, passion, and drive to teach the youth of the world. best of luck and congrats on being freshly pressed.

  73. Your words are powerful and it is not easy to be a good teacher. “if you find you can’t do this without insulting people, then just remove yourself from the conversation.” love this sentence

  74. Thank you for sharing; I’ve learned something from it. I think teaching special education is very noble and I hope Allah rewards you with more blessings.

    I’m also at about the same stage in my career as a teacher. However, lately I mainly teach able rich kids.

    I’m Muslim. The Qur’an doesn’t explain how to teach remedial reading for the disadvantaged or disabled. The Qur’an says ‘do good deeds’.

    I also experience some success and some failure. I work privately and that seems to be a luxury. I thank Allah for the work of the school teachers who provide the groundwork for my students. I feel like I’m just giving a supplement.

    A private setting gives me the freedom to set the direction according to the student’s needs. I also enjoy having good relations with the parents and communities of my students. We often eat together or somehow become friends.

    Abdullah Reed

  75. Amazing reflections. (I spent my day today scraping gum off the bottoms of desks and trying to get into the midset that school starts next week.) But, I also spent my day getting hugs from students and having another “Make an appointment with me” to get my advice on a guy situation (I teach junior high in a junrio/senior high building) It’s good to begin with the perspective of why I do what I do. Thank you for the reminders and for showing just enough of the road that those beginning the wonderful roller coaster of teaching will know a bit of the ride. Blessings on your next year!

  76. This was a fantastic read~ I hope you don’t mind my posting for those teacher friends of mine… thanks for sharing!

  77. Maya Angelou once said “..at our very best, we are a teacher”…..so thank you for being the best of our humanity. May God bless you as you commit your work to your students and I pray that your positive investment multiplies within and out of them.

  78. hmmmm…such a nice review…
    i’ve passed my first year as a teacher…
    and i found that being a teacher is about how well we can touch and speak to our students from the deepest heart….

  79. i’m so impressed by your passion as a teacher (and your vision)
    Of course teachers like you are needed in this society but I’m inspired by your sincere attitude to your carreer and your students.
    Thank you for sharing your thought ;)

  80. Great post! I’m going on year 6 (step 7 counting the year I was an adjunct at my alma mater). Loved it… Going to share with my colleagues. I’m actually still “new” in the sense that I just left one teaching job, moved across the country, and have started another. It’s just like starting all over again.

  81. Wonderful post! Due to be in the southern hemisphere I’m about 6 months out from being in your shoes but have bookmarked for future use.

  82. It would be a great experiment to write a new letter at the beginning of each year, without looking at the other ones till after you write it. I’ve taught for 26 years now at different grade levels and in different cities, both private and public. I’ve also completed 2 more degrees since getting my Bachelors way back in 83, and have since become a specialist. Society changes, you change, kids change, the curriculum changes … and so on. So, your perspective changes along the way too. Best of luck to you. Do what you can with what you’ve got, and don’t forget to take care of yourself too.

    http:overcomingbarriers.wordpress.com

  83. I believe that the writing of letters to ones former or future self is often underated! What a powerful reflection. It really took me back to my few years in schools. I have left teaching now, but still work in the education field. I admire your persistence and resilience. It is a tough gig, especially when you are determined to stay true to yourself and your values. Well done.

  84. Hello Mr. Foteah. I was completely moved by your words and really liked the second hand approach(Letter to self) I can only imagine what you teachers,especially ones like yourself who care to the point you wear your heart on your sleeve openly and available only for it to be seen as weakness in some situations and not for caring and compassion. I commend you for your dedication ,your duties and your honesty and for sticking to what you believe is right and what is best for your students regardless of anything else. Hang in there,your one the ones who help dictate and direct the ones who will someday change our world. You have the seeds continue to nourish them. Continue to be true and honest.Continue being you Mr.Foteah. You are truly a blessing to those children. God bless

  85. This was a lovely post, thank you for sharing your letter. I am halfway through my first year teaching (in Australia). I teach in Secondary school, predominantly English and Humanities and am regularly exhausted. I find myself waking up panicking about one student or another, but despite the massive bags under my eyes and the outrageously steep learning curve I have been climbing, I adore it, all of it. Thank you again for sharing your journey 3 years on, I look forward to writing to past me in the future.

  86. Thank-you for reminding me why I’m there! I feel slightly jaded after twelve years of teaching and have found myself in the type of school I never thought I’d end up in. I love being in the classroom but find the politics, both in and outside of school demoralizing. You offer good advice regarding conversations with colleagues! I find Taylor Mali’s ‘What Teachers Make’ very inspiring – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpog1_NFd2Q&feature=related

  87. womanofsubstance

    Great post. congrats on being freshly pressed.

  88. This letter is such a brilliant idea. I am a teacher also (five years experience) and found I could relate to everything you wrote in your letter. Thank you. You have reminded me again why I do what I do. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  89. As a to-be teacher in a couple of years, this was very inspirational. THANK YOU!

  90. I haven’t read the other responses to your wonderful blog but it’ll probably be similar to what I’m about to say. THANK YOU! I’m currently finishing my degree and looking forward to becoming a teacher and teaching in the same field. I really needed to hear this. Keep it up :D

  91. This, is why I would like to continue my studies one day.
    Reading that you, after what seems like years of struggling, still love your job and appreciates what the bumpy road has given you instead of hating it. Great post (letter)!

  92. I’m about to enter my second and final year of graduate school for adolescent to young adult education. It’s nice to see such an honest portrayal of emotions–most of my classmates act too tough to be scared (although I’m well aware it’s a defense mechanism for their own insecurities!) I really appreciated this!

  93. Thanks for your words of truth and reason.
    I took leave of absence in May after putting in my resignation following 7 years teaching middle school. The stress of the last year and a half were something unforeseen and truly awful.
    Things were fine until year 6 but then, still not sure why, I began to unravel. Before this ocurred they gave me tenure, checked the evaluation boxes on me, gave me compliments along with feedback on areas of weakness… But even on a good day I felt I was just surviving, period to period, week to week, quarter to quarter. I enjoyed teaching those bright students with minimal inclination to do well – and I feel I taught them well – but I realize now I have NO CLUE how to motivate the others – besides being a third-rate stand-up comedian and trying to be helpful and positive [when all factors seem to work against it].
    I am no longer sure of anything. I am not convinced I am an educator. Definitely not a middle-school teacher at any rate…

    Right now I am half-hearted in my search for a new education job. Words like “data-driven outcomes”, “differentiation”, “collaboration”, “objectives” and all the rest of the jargon make me want to retch.
    You words are encouraging and I am grateful for your candor. I will continue to follow your blog…

    • The most motivating words I have heard in my work are, “I can teach now!” from a Peruvian teacher whose students had received One Laptop Per Child XO computers.

      I don’t know how to provide that experience to teachers in the US, who are tied up every which way with politics, bureaucracy, and culture wars.

      * Data-driven outcomes: If you are asking the wrong questions, you cannot possibly get a right answer.

      * Differentiation: I don’t even know what that means for education.

      * Objectives: Yours, prospective employers’, the education system’s, the child’s,…?

      * Collaboration: Aha! I don’t know what they mean, but I know what it means in the OLPC program with collaborative Sugar education software. Firstly, it means that collaboration is no longer defined as “cheating”. Second, we build collaboration into our software, so that children can write in the same document at the same time, or draw in the same picture, or play music together, or observe the same data from an experiment, or whatever.

    • Drew,
      Wow, I am so sorry to read that you have these feelings, but I can understand where you are coming from. Middle school is a totally different animal than elementary, and I’m quite sure I could never handle it. Those buzzwords you mention are all necessary and good as they are originally intended, but their meaning has become skewed and tainted by misuse. At least that’s how I see it.

      I’m not sure what to say, but I hope that your 7th year was a fluke because there must be a reason the first six were okay. What changed from year six to year seven?

  94. Words We Women Write

    Fall seven times. Stand up eight.
    Best of luck, and trite as it sounds, you will touch the future.

  95. A perfectly composed letter and for me as a teacher taking his first tottering steps into my career, it was a perfectly timed read.

  96. Oh! So, this is how teacher’s think.

  97. Great posting. I think that only people who have taught or are the sons, daughters or spouses of people who have taught truly know how tough it is. I’m a 25-year-old small business owner and I’ve often thought about going back to school to teach, although I’m not sure my personality is right for it. My friend just decided to go back to school to teach math at the middle-school level, and I can hardly describe how excited he is. I don’t think I would teach at the high-school level, though. Kindergarten/elementary school sounds good to me.

  98. Your doubts, beliefs, ideas show you are ready to take that step into teaching. Being at the other end of a teaching career, I can say you will have ups and downs, question yourself and your methods, learn from your students, deal with issues that may be difficult but, looking back over the years, there is little I would want to change. My former students have felt strongly enough to tell me I made a difference. That is the reward you will start to get once in the class. Downs sometimes, yes, but my career was full of many more ups.

    Good luck in your first year. I hope your career rewards you as much as mine did me.

    Ross Mannell (teacher)
    Australia

    • Ross, so glad to see you had such wonderful experiences and can reflect so positively on your career. Sorry for the confusion but this is actually going to be my fourth year and I have already reaped so many rewards! Thanks for the comment.

  99. An inspiring post. Now is the time to write that letter to myself.

  100. Great Post! I especially like the point of “steer clear of the negativity”. It DOES seem like the conversation in the lunchroom is often “the problem with school is…” The fact is, we’re all lucky to have jobs. You make some great points to the YOU from the past, but good things for us ALL to remember. Thanks!

  101. I have been a teacher for the last two years and I found your post so easy to relate to. I am an ESL teacher and got a certificate to be a teacher, so I felt unprepared going into it based on the quick education given for such a career. Your insights are great for any to-be teacher to read. I wish I read it years ago! :) Thanks for posting!

    whimsicalnomad.wordpress.com

  102. Wow this is inspiring!Your post just made me hungry. I really enjoyed your post .Love the photographs and your story!Thank you for sharing that. I was waiting for someone with the correct perspective and background to post something.

  103. Pingback: Nominations for the 2011 Edublog Awards « Teachers' Bag of Tricks

  104. Pingback: Surviving the 1st Month of School: 10+ Tips & Resources : Teacher Reboot Camp

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