Dear Future Teacher,… Love, Ms. Cecilia (Part 2)
Dear Future Teacher,
Hello again! By the time you’re reading this, your first day just got a little closer. Just take a deep breath (and another, and another…)
You’re going to need more than deep breaths. But they will definitely help.
Teaching will bring you a confidence that you didn’t have before. You can interact with children for a year and emerge scathed but relatively unbroken, you can do anything.
For reference, I use the hand-in-the-air and wait til everyone stops and looks at you. You announce that you are not going to continue until everyone stops talking. If it’s really a problem (as it was one fine sleepy day after lunch), I counted til 10 and then said if there was more talking we would have a quiz. Everyone was quiet at 9, but at 10, one beautiful child spoke. We had the quiz.
Use your heart carefully. There will be days when you need your “Why.” (Although mine was ever-changing, so God only knows what it was, really. Spoiler: Every single student will, for some reason or another, become your why by the end of your first year). But there will also be days when your “Why” might stress you out, and you just need to take a deep breath and stop caring a little. There were days when I got a little too caught up in trying to do everything, to think of everything, aware of how important education can be.
Instead of pretending to be something I was not yet and telling myself over and over how important my job was, how education is the battleground for equity, etc., etc., what helped me the most was learning to breathe and tell myself that I would quit in December. No lie. I actually became a lot calmer in the classroom (while still preserving that Enneagram 7 energy) when I told myself that I would quit in December. Of course, I did not quit in December. Does that make sense? I hope so.
I thought about quitting not because of the actions of the students but of another teacher. You must find good teacher friends. Not the ones who complain all the time about literally everything. Not the ones who use the language of low expectations (“These kids can’t…” “There’s no way that she will be able to do that kind of thing…” “Some students are just dumb.”) Remember — you’re young. The world is possibilities! Woohoo! There are reasons that these teachers are so worn down. There are SO. MANY. REASONS. But no matter who says “you’ll see — it’s just your first year” remember who you are and the optimism and freaking HOPE that brought you here, to your school. Especially now!
You must find teacher friends who will laugh about ridiculous stories with you. (Remember: your actual friends may secretly get a little tired of you. None of mine have admitted it yet, but heaven help them because they endured HOURS of stories). Your children will say so many ridiculous and funny things. Keep track of them! You might find your conversations always turning to be about what funny thing the students said today.
It doesn’t matter how boring your subject may be — my most hated subject EVER was Precalculus— your children will enthusiastically argue about how to complete a square and your day will be made. And by “enthusiastically argue,” I mean screaming “You dumbass! That number is from taking the b and dividing it by two and multiplying it by itself! How could you not SEE that?” and the best friend yelling “THIS is the first time you know how to divide?” I have to say, I was laughing too much — what beautiful noise to be talking about math. Your students will try to tell you a bit of the tea (do NOT encourage them) and you’ll laugh and shoo their hot mess selves away (and then tell them that they should keep their gossip to themselves!). Shy, sweet students will talk about baby birds hatching and big, obnoxious football players will hold your class teddy bear in class. You will remember that despite a student getting high and lashing out at you in, of all things, a homework assignment, that he’s just a child who didn’t think about his actions. You must find teacher friends to share with you in the children’s craziness and their sweetness. It will get you through.
And you must find teacher friends to celebrate with you when you finally realize that the way to a student’s heart is through a consistent roast (most high school boys). Or that the student who lashed out at you wanders into your classroom and asks if he can eat lunch there because it is “vibing” in there. (Highest compliments!!!) Or when the avid soccer student-athlete chooses to come to 8 AM SAT sessions after a bit of back-and-forth of TikToks about famous athletes who didn’t need the SAT. Or when the non-binary student tells you that no other teacher has asked their pronouns before, and has the courage to use their chosen name months later in a letter to their future self. Or when the student with the perfect exterior learns a little about about vulnerability and authenticity through a letter that you have the students write on advocacy.
There will be so many moments and I can’t wait for you to experience them. And it’s all just a few breaths away.