Being a First Year Teacher is Hard– But Not for the Reasons You Think.

This post  is less of a reflection on research and more  just reflecting on my first official school year. There will be a mix of both research, researchED, and teacher-life stuff in the upcoming school year.

Everyone talks about the excitement at the start of the school year. Getting back into schools, seeing students, and getting to know them. Everything is positive and for a small moment,  everything is right in the world. However, no one ever talks about the teachers that may not feel this. So, when I woke up on September 2nd– the first day of my first year– angry that things haven’t turned out how I wanted, not excited for my first day of school, all I felt was shame. Here I am on the eve of the first day of my second month in a similar vein. 

If you have ever met a teacher, especially a seasoned teacher, they all have horror stories about their first year. Naturally, they put this to me: 

“Don’t be too hard on yourself”

“It’s going to be a roller coaster”

“Just survive”

Well, by all standards, I am more than surviving. I have my routines set. I’ve established a learning community in most of my classes. Grading, behaviors, and overall management are running smoothly. Though it may be my first year as teacher of record, in many ways it’s not my first year. This is my 5th year teaching students, and my third full year in a traditional classroom setting, so when I walk into my classroom with the bank of educational knowledge I have, I see much more than the fires I need to put out because I’m a “first year teacher”. 

When I see my students, I see their futures, their dreams, and their academic potential. I also see the potential pitfalls.  I know what it’s like to have to climb your way of a trench that has been dug for you– systemic racism, barriers associated with poverty, and trying to set out a path that no one else in your family has done. 

Despite being a first year teacher recently graduated from teacher preparation, I don’t see a need to create an atmosphere for my students to find “authenticity”. My students don’t need to be taught how to be Black. They already know how.

 It’s my job to teach them the stuff they don’t know and won’t get anywhere else except for a school setting, but I’m struggling to do this in a cohesive way. It’s choppy, fragmented, and I’m scrambling, trying to be better than I realistically can with the time and resources I have.

As the only Black teacher and one of 2 Black staff in a school that has over 40% Black children (and around 90% students of color total), whether or not I need to, I feel an enormous amount of pressure to fight for what I’ve come to know that parents of color want for their children: academic success, and choices that they may not have had in the past. I see my students’ success, and their failure, as my own. There’s a lot of pressure on me, most of which I’ve put there myself, but more than fear of failing myself, I’m afraid that I’m failing my students. 

I want to be the best for my students who deserve the best education regardless of what their zip code may try to dictate. So while I’m dedicated to my professional development,  my students, and above all dedicated to trusting myself because no one else has the specific insight that I do, I’m constantly fighting a feeling of failure because I know that there is more that I could be doing, but can’t.

This is the real difficulty of the first year. 

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3 thoughts on “Being a First Year Teacher is Hard– But Not for the Reasons You Think.

  1. Ms. Jasmine, I hope you can learn to section off the portion of your students’ lives that you can have an impact on, and the portions that you can’t. This is very hard, I know, but it will lead you to a better place. I had to work hard to remember that I could not affect their past lives, only their present and (hopefully) their future, to some extent. It sounds to me as if one concrete thing you could do would be to publicize job openings at your school to teachers of color and encourage them to apply. Another would be something I’m sure you’re already doing — creating an atmosphere in your classroom that is pleasant and encouraging. Having the determination to graduate from high school is so key for students who feel marginalized. There is an opportunity to pursue post-secondary education for almost every student who graduates (and some could become teachers themselves), but getting to graduation can be difficult for some.

    I will be interested to hear, as the year goes on, what you think about the leadership in your school, and how well they are supporting all of the students.

    Like

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