My back-to-school rituals include: setting up my writer’s notebook, organizing a snazzy course calendar I’ll inevitably abandon, watching School of Rock, and feeling guilty that I haven’t checked in more with new teachers once the year is underway. Back in the day, I started my career mid-year and was briefly mentored by a well-intentioned educator who solemnly said, “Teaching is a very lonely profession.” Welcome!
Luckily, she was wrong. I worked with some wonderful and wonderfully supportive colleagues those first six years at Cudahy High School (shout out to my Packer peeps!) and throughout my career I have come to realize that teachers are some of my absolute favorite people. Still, teaching can feel lonely at times. And I don’t always think I do enough to ensure my colleagues feel supported in the same ways I have. I want to remedy that and I’m starting now with a brief (I know your time is valuable) letter to new teachers.
Dear New Teacher,
Welcome! Isn’t this exciting? And slightly terrifying? Yeah, it’s the best.
Now, I know you’re busy, so I’m going to keep this brief. I just want to reach out and provide some insight and initial support. I’ve narrowed down my advice to four main points. Hopefully this helps. Feel free to reference back as necessary throughout the year–and, just maybe, throughout your career.
- Brace yourself. Kidding! (Not kidding.) Teaching in hard. It will get easier, but it will always be hard. There are just too many variables beyond your control to ever make it even seem easy. But, whether you realize it or not, you already know this. In fact, it’s one of the reasons you chose this profession. You like–no, you love a challenge. So, in the words of Jeff Probst…
Again, I kid. (Sorta.) Know this: teaching is hard for all teachers. Don’t let the cool demeanor of veteran educators fool you. Some of them have spent years perfecting their duck faces.
No, not this duck face:
This duck face:
- Find your people. NOTE: Your people should genuinely enjoy teaching. None of this, “Don’t smile until Christmas stuff.” (Or maybe that’s just me…)
These should be colleagues you feel you can turn to for feedback, advice, and/or to help you fix the copier when it’s broken (again). Do keep in mind that even the best of colleagues may seem frazzled at times, but we’re all in the business of helping people. So, if you have a question or few, ask away! If they’re “your people,” you generally won’t feel like you’re bothering them.
- Figure out what’s really important. Remember how I said teaching is hard? Well, the hardest part is that there will always be a bajillion things to do and they will all be important. Or, rather, deemed important. Of the utmost importance, really, because, in the field of education, there is no prioritizing. Everything is important and it all deserves your immediate and undivided attention. Good luck!
Just kidding. In all seriousness, determining what’s really important and prioritizing accordingly is the single most important teacher skill you can and should develop. It’s a survival skill, really. Trusted colleagues (i.e. “your people;” see #2) may be able to help you in this regard. Otherwise, and/or in addition, allow #4 to be your guide.
- Remember that the individuals seated in front of you every period of every day are the most important. If what you’re doing doesn’t directly and positively affect their lives and their learning, it’s not all that important. Full stop.
Maybe I should have led with that last one. As another year starts, I’m definitely going to lead with it.
Have a great year, Teach! You’re going to do great things.
An admiring and supportive colleague
Amy Menzel is excited to join her students and colleagues at Waukesha West (WI) for her 3,007 day of high school in just a couple of days. Until then, it’s more reading and writing on the back patio. Ahhh, summer…