It’s December. Two weeks to go until winter break. As a new teacher, you need to be ready for this moment. Because in this moment, you’re going to want to quit, run away, and never return. It’s that moment of fight or flight and we’re desperate for a flight outta town. You won’t imagine feeling this way in August, September, or even October. You’ll start to get hints of it in November, but Thanksgiving Break will bring some respite. Then you’re back in the classroom. And every day starts to feel like Groundhogs Day. But you’re no Bill Murray and there is no Punxsutawney Phil strapped into a passenger seat as you drive off the cliff in desperation. There’s just you, your students, and your colleagues.
Depending on your district (and state), you’ll have various responsibilities with which to juggle. For us, it’s our middle of the year DIBELS (it has a new name now, apparently), our Student Learning Objectives, completing (creating, proctoring, grading, and entering) our Common Assessments, and putting in our grades for quarter end before we head out for break. On top of that lays our planning, lessons, literacy bench-marking weekly, assessments, novel units, PBIS programs, PLC meetings, MTSS meetings and follow ups to name just a few. It can begin to feel as if we’re starring in a herky jerky production of “Chariots of Fire” by Quentin Tarantino with music by Ozzie Osborne.
First things is – don’t panic. I tell my 6th graders the same thing. I can’t help a panicking 6th grader. It’s like a Tasmanian Devil after drinking twenty Mountain Dews – you just walk away quickly and put a helmet on. Teachers panicking – it can look and feel the same at times. Especially us new teachers. We have an idea of what we’re doing. An inkling, even. But when it comes to understanding the complicated rhythm and movements of the things we have to balance, navigate, and surmount – we’re very much out of our depth. So, take a deep breath. And find those people you know that have talked you off the rhetorical ledge previously. If you don’t have someone like that yet, find ’em. Ask for help. Talk to a fellow teacher, even just for a moment. Many times you’ll find out you’re not the only one trying to swim upstream in the midst of a tsunami. And you should realize that even now, as you read this. You are not alone. I’m in my first year and there’s been multiple moments where irrational Mr. DeLay Brain has told me that I was going to get fired for this or that mess up / failure. That I wasn’t doing a good job because clearly I couldn’t balance all these plates as I weaved and wobbled my way out of the metaphorical teacher kitchen.
This first year has been particularly illustrative in showing me that I am constantly learning about this career – and that if I am to have any hope of surviving the next six months – I need to rededicate my heart and mind to looking through the lens of being OK with learning new and old things over and over and over and over. And over. We’re never going to be perfect teachers. Full. Stop. Perfection is a lie. It is a heresy, a blaspheme in this world of education. If you think it’s possible, take a seat. Breath in and out. And repeat after me – “I will never be a perfect teacher. And that is OK.” Add, rinse, and repeat until you reasonably believe it. Because you have to find a way to slowly but surely accept that idea. Anything short of that will lead you straight into the fires of Mordor and burnout. That’s where I think I’ve been this last week or so. I came into this week heavy in my heart because I felt like a failure. Like I wasn’t any good at what I had been doing. And I had to take myself aside and go, “Stop. You are good enough. It may not feel like it right now…and that’s OK. Those feelings are understandable and normal. But what you do with those feelings – that’s going to make the difference in tomorrow’s lesson.”
So I’m rewiring my heart and mind in the triage of the day to day in our classroom and in our hallways. I’m working to understand the teacher I am, the teacher I can be, the the teacher I will be. And I’ve started to accept that there are plenty more walls I’m going to hit as I continue in the marathon of this career. That those walls are there as reminders, check points, and the like. But like all things that get in our way, I can break through, break down, or simply take a step in another direction away from that wall.
Being a first year teacher is a real test of your mettle, your capacity, and your will. But it is also a test of those around you who claim to be there for you. Are they your ride or die? Are you their ride or die? Do you know they will return unto you the filling of strength, of courage, and of will when it is most needed? And will you do the same for them? I’ve been finding those in my school and district that are those people for me. And I am filled with hope, resolve, and fire to keep pursuing this career.