Life as a first-year teacher
Nothing could have prepared me for the immense joy and chronic exhaustion that accompanies the life of a first-year teacher. It is true when people call our profession one of the “toughest jobs you will ever love,” and I was sincerely elated when I was able to officially bid farewell to my days as a substitute teacher and join the staff at Altimira Middle School.
This distinct memory permeates my recollections of the summer of 2012 as I cried tears of happiness into my then-fiance, now-husband’s sturdy arms. No more 5 a.m. phone calls from God-knows-what district, no more searching for the light switch in strange, unfamiliar classrooms, no longer would I have to deal with the unpredictability of substitute teaching.
I had been hired to teach sixth and seventh grade English Language Arts to more than 150 students. It was a subject I had never taught before and, while it was indeed a daunting task, I was eager to decorate my own classroom, implement my own rules and, most important, shape the young minds of my own adorable group of middle-schoolers. What follows is a reflection on the pleasant surprises and unexpected, albeit worthwhile, challenges I have encountered along my path as a first-year teacher.
Every naïve, starry-eyed new teacher undoubtedly has an ideal notion of how her first year will go. Reality quickly sets in, however, and you soon learn to embrace and accept the challenges of the profession. After all, the rewards that teachers gain far outweigh the controlled chaos that can accompany the task of helping to steer 150 12-year-olds through the labyrinth of life.
One reason I love teaching at Altimira, besides the fact it is nestled in the heart of our bucolic Sonoma Valley, is that our student population seems to genuinely appreciate the education they’re receiving. They are simply eager to learn and determined to succeed. Furthermore, I have been astounded by how genuinely my fellow teachers and the administration at the school show concern for the academic, social and emotional wellbeing of all our students.
While I may have trouble turning off my perfectionist tendencies, waking up at 3 a.m. worried if my lesson that day will go as planned, or beating myself up when students don’t seem as engaged as I would like them to be, nothing could have prepared me for the simple pleasures that accompany teaching.
Seeing that light-bulb go off in a students head when you have empowered them to learn something helps me feel like this profession is truly worthwhile. Receiving a homemade ornament from a thoughtful student that I was able to hang on the first Christmas tree my husband and I shared as a married couple made me realize that teachers have the privilege of touching young lives. (I made sure to wrap it extra carefully so we can use it for years to come, and I can warmly remember my first classroom).
A close colleague of mine calls middle school the “hidden gem” of the teaching world, and I couldn’t agree more. These adorable and sometimes adorably-awkward students of ours are still sweet and eager to please, greeting you on the Plaza with impromptu hugs, or popping into your classroom without warning to share the fact that they scored a goal in their soccer game that weekend. As I was writing this, a student came in to give me a home-made Valentine. It is at moments like these that I realize teachers are able to weave themselves into the fabric of their communities in meaningful ways.
Seeing my students’ distinct personalities evolve and helping them assert themselves and celebrate their strengths is why I became a teacher. They may drive me crazy at times, with their seeming ability to survive solely on hot Cheetos and sugary drinks (anyone with a pre-teen or teenager at home can attest to this feat), but the sparkle in their eyes and the warmth of their smiles as they enter my classroom lets me know that I am exactly where I’m meant to be in my life.
I’m proud to be an Altimira Wolf and I am amazingly proud of every single student who walks through my door, ready to take on the world, orange-hued, Cheeto-stained fingers and all.