Saturday, November 23, 2013

If I Knew Then

After my first year teaching, I quit.  I still remember calling my friend Heather and telling her I had turned in my resignation letter at school that day.  “You just started!” was her immediate reply.  I HAD just started.  And I had already quit.
Brent says I cried every day that school year because I wanted to quit.  Then, I cried every day because I did quit.  “Just like a woman,” he joked.  The same way he joked two years later when I returned to the classroom and he continually told people that I work “every other year.”  Finally, seven SOLID years into my teaching career, I think I’ve dispelled that rumor.  While I hope to survive long enough to retire, I have no plans to quit ever again.
With that said, I wouldn’t take back that letter of resignation even if I could.  Quitting taught me more than pushing through ever would have.  So, to every first year teacher out there who is secretly wishing they could quit, here’s a little dose of “if I knew then what I know now…”

Teaching isn’t a job; it’s a calling.  If you’re meant to teach, you can run, but you can’t hide.  During my year “off,” I pursued other avenues but decided to substitute teach in the meantime.  By Christmas break, I found myself wishing the class I taught could be mine.  And they were first graders…not even my strong suit!  I had to give them back to their real teacher after six weeks, but I knew at that point I had to have my own class again.  It was like a hole in my heart that couldn’t be filled any other way.

No one may tell you you’re doing a good job, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t.  I had always made good grades and was used to positive feedback on a regular basis. This made me feel like no feedback = negative feedback.  Administrators and your fellow teachers are busy- some of the busiest people on the planet in my opinion.  They may not have time to give you a pat on the back, but that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve one.  Keep on keeping on, and remember- now you’re giving the grades, not receiving them.

It’s never going to be perfect.  It doesn’t matter if you work 6 hours, 12 hours, or 18 hours a day, there will always be things that must go undone.  It doesn’t matter if it’s not perfect.  What does matter is that your heart is in what you’re doing and when you’re with your students, you’re all there.  That’s what they’ll remember and that’s how they’ll learn most- from a teacher who cares, not from one who is perfect (because that teacher doesn’t exist anyway).

It’s important to find a colleague that you trust and talk to them.  This one may take some time, but you’ll know who it is when you find them.  Look outside the box; it may not be someone on your grade level.  Most of the good advice that you’ll need won’t involve planning or curriculum anyway.  The circumstances that will most often leave you at a loss will be how to handle a parent, a behavior problem, or a situation with a colleague or administrator.  When it comes to these things, finding someone to confide in who has more experience but whose values line up with yours can make all the difference.

Teaching is a lifestyle, but you still need to have a life.  One of the reasons I quit was because I felt like I was missing out on too much of the rest of my life.  I didn’t think I could do a good job in my classroom and still have a life outside of school.  That’s simply not true and I needed a change in perspective, not a change in career.  “You’ll learn to work smarter, not harder,” a colleague told me once my first year teaching.  It’s true, and the time you’ll save once you get that figured out WILL enable you to still have a life outside of school.  Until then, sometimes you’ll just have to work less.  Don’t bring home a whole rolling cart of files every night.  Be realistic, prioritize, and set short-term goals.  And set aside time for you, no matter what.  It’s never going to be perfect anyway, remember?

Some things just take time.  College classes, student teaching, those books you read and those blogs you follow couldn’t have possibly prepared you adequately for this.  It all helps and I’m not saying any of it was a waste of time, but no one can possibly imagine how overwhelming your first year teaching feels unless they’ve been there.  Take it a day at a time, an hour at a time, and minute-by-minute when necessary.  Keep smiling and keep trying, and before you know it you’ll have survived to see Day 180.  And soon, you’ll be patting a first year teacher on the back and promising them they’ll make it, as you think to yourself, “Thank God it’s not me anymore.”

It’s worth it.  There isn’t another job in the world I’d rather have and if you can see past the pile of papers that need to be graded, phone calls that need to be returned, bulletin boards that need to be updated, lessons that need to be planned, and e-mails that need to be read…if you can see past all that to those little faces, looking at you to fill their days with happiness, learning, and fun, you’ll see that it’s worth it too. There is no job more fulfilling, more honorable, or more important.  And you’ll be glad you didn’t quit.  I promise.

I know how it felt when I gave up teaching so I’d never consider giving it up again.  I’ve never regretted that year “off” yet, although I’m thinking that might change one day when I’m looking at 29 years of service completed.  When I’m wishing I could retire and head for the beach permanently, I’ll re-read this post and remind myself I didn’t know then what I know now.


  1. Love this! So well written and so true! Nothing completely prepares us for that first year!