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.