I love my students. If you and I have ever had a conversation you know that I say that phrase regularly… not because I have to or because I feel obligated to, but because I genuinely mean it. I am a teacher. It is in my blood and I know this because of the relationships that I develop with my students- past, present and I am confident future. Some people believe that everyone can teach… and I say that those people are not only wrong, they’re naive.
I read an article recently in the Washington Post called You think you know what teachers do. Right? Wrong. The author, Sarah Blaine a mom, former teacher and full-time practicing attorney in New Jersey shares, ” We were students, and therefore we know teachers. We denigrate teachers. We criticize teachers. We can do better than teachers. After all: We do. They teach. We are wrong.”
She goes on to explain her experience switching careers from teaching English Language Arts to going to law school to be a lawyer after two years in the classroom. One piece of the article that struck home to me was when she wrote, “New teachers take on full responsibility the day they set foot in their first classrooms.” She couldn’t be anymore right.
Let me share with you a little bit about my first year as an educator.
I just graduated college and turned twenty-three two weeks before the morning of my first day as a Middle School Science teacher in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I barely slept the night before in anticipation of what the day ahead had in store. I climbed out of bed extra early and tried on numerous outfits before I decided which outfit would be the best for my debut. Clearly this was before I realized my clothing meant nothing… which I would actually learn a few hours later.
I was at school an hour ahead of time so I would have time to double check every single thing I laid out just right a few days before. I wanted to make sure everything was perfect. This is a common quality of teachers. I wanted to make a good impression.
That morning we were asked to walk outside and help monitor the students as they lined up in front of the school. Truth: as soon as I looked out of those double doors I wanted to run away. Students were everywhere, some loud, some quiet, some small, some taller than me… and I stand at 5’9″. The aide called out to the students to start organizing them by homeroom. He yelled my name and students started to follow him… some more willing than others. Little did they know, they would be greeting me, their right out of college twenty three year old teacher.
I learned a lot that year, none of which were lessons learned in my college courses.
#1. I was never taught how to walk into a room with thirty five middle school students and have them listen to me immediately on day one.
#2. I was never taught how to walk into a school as the minority and have to prove myself to so many people- particularly students. This sounds naive, but it is honest. I wasn’t sheltered as a child. I grew up in a city, I went to public school and I had friends from a variety of backgrounds. The difference was, I always got along with everyone. No one ever looked at me and made me feel like I didn’t belong because of the color of my skin. Until my first day as a teacher.
#3. I was never taught how to plan engaging curriculum without having enough textbooks or even textbooks that are less than ten years old for that matter.
#4. I was never taught how to manage the amount of paperwork involved in teaching. When you’re learning “HOW TO” be a teacher, you aren’t dealing with progress reports, IEPs, report cards, documenting student behavior, correcting homework, grading assessments, writing parent emails, on top of researching, learning new content, planning lessons, units, and school years.
#5. I was never taught how to continue to teach as if nothing was happening when cops interrupted my lesson to “check my classroom” for weapons and drugs.
#6. I was never taught how to take it when I would find a butcher knife wrapped in a towel at the back of my classroom before the students arrived that day.
#7. I was never taught how to wait patiently as my students walked through metal detectors as they entered the building.
#8. I was never taught how to help students who have been told they are failures time and time again understand that they are NOT failures and have an opportunity to succeed.
#9. I was never taught how to sit across from the school basketball stars and tell them they wouldn’t be playing in their next games because they were failing Science.
#10. I was never taught how to make the call to report a sixth grade student telling me they had intimate relations with an eight grade boy that wasn’t voluntary.
#11. I was never taught how to comfort her either.
#12. I was never taught how important it was to have a support system at work. I am still to this day, in debt to the fellow teachers, Angels that helped me get through my first year.
#13. I was never taught how much I would love each one of those students as much as I did at the end of the school year.
#14. I was never taught how much of an impact those moments would have on my life- including how much that first year would have an affect on how I would teach every year there after.
#15. I was never taught that no matter what was thrown at me, my heart was made for teaching.
I tell you all of this not to talk negatively about the students I taught, the decisions they made, the teachers I worked with, or the school that I was at. The students I taught continue to be some of the sweetest kids I have ever worked with. The teachers I worked with continue to be professionals I look up to still to this day. That school continues to be a place of memory and reflection that has made me into the educator and person that I am today. I am forever grateful for that experience.
What are some things people do not realize about your career? Your profession?
What are some lessons you learned AFTER school to help you get to where you are today?
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Email–> olivetorun (at) gmail (dot) com