Dear New Teacher

For a while now, I have been meaning to write a “Dear New Teacher” open letter that acknowledges the challenges that teachers face but reminds all of us what an awesome opportunity teaching presents.

Last night in my graduate class of MAT English Ed students, I deviated from my plans for the evening and answered their questions and addressed their concerns openly and with brutal honesty for about an hour. One question led to another as I slowly pulled back the curtain and attempted to characterize the history and current state of public education (warts and all). I always hesitate doing this with pre-service teachers. I want them to hold on to their optimism, and I want to stoke that fire in their bellies. But, I also want them to go into the profession with open eyes.

I followed that class up with an e-mail to the class, expressing concern about dissuading anyone from pursuing this most important endeavor: caring for other people’s children. I received a few responses from students expressing gratitude for that hour. They were hungry for that kind of straight talk. One of my students e-mailed me expressing doubt if he had what it takes to “tough it out.” What I wrote in response is pretty close to what I had in mind for a “Dear New Teacher” open letter, so I wanted to curate it here (below) rather than leave it in my sent folder. I encourage all of you (citizens, parents, teachers) to write one of your own. In these uncertain times for new teachers, they greatly need our encouragement and support.

________,

Arguably, there hasn’t been a more uncertain time to enter the profession of teaching. However, the fact remains that those 40-50 minutes you have with students each day is magic. I can’t tell you how rewarding it is to be part of adolescents’ processes of learning and figuring out who they are in the world. I worry that we obsess about all of the challenges and issues and lose sight of the fact that facilitating student learning is awesome. You will find that you are stretched in ways you never imagined. You will experience some of your greatest joys and your most heartbreaking sorrow when teaching. Quite often, I miss the excitement of walking into a classroom of high school students with a plan and not really knowing what is going to happen next. That mix of setting out to accomplish something with students and being ready to ditch or deviate from that plan at any given moment to follow their questions and interests is like nothing I have ever experienced in other jobs.

And, teaching isn’t about toughing it out alone. We all fall on our face. Teaching is about building a system of support around you (friends, family, fellow teachers) who will pick you back up and dust you off so you can take those same risks the next day.

It’s the greatest job in the world.

-Ryan

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2 responses to “Dear New Teacher

  1. I really needed to read this today! I realized this afternoon that a student stole my stapler today, and I was seething with anger as I walked out of my classroom this afternoon. Reading this post reminded me to think of all the bright and kind students that I worked with on a writing piece today. I don’t consider myself an especially tough person or especially skilled at planning lessons, but I do love building relationships with my students and motivating them to love learning the way I do. I think teaching is going to feel like something I’m not very good at, at least for another year or two, but I’m willing to stick it out until I get there. I hope your MAT students keep their optimism about education. It is hard to keep intact once you’re thrown into the field, but our job is SO SO SO important.

    • Thanks, Mary Bess. Good to hear from you. You will have greater confidence your second year, no doubt. Much of that first year is about figuring out who you are with your students. I didn’t hit my stride as a teacher until about my 4th year of teaching; I suspect it will happen earlier for you. Don’t hesitate to reach out for support. We are all in this together.

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