I’ve always wanted to write something like this. It has taken so time, but is something I will certainly look back on in the future.
A letter to myself when I first started teaching…
Congratulations! You have a job. As you begin this journey, I want you to remember a few things…
You’re going to learn a lot here in southwest Philadelphia, but most of it won’t be about reading or math. You’ll become a master at classroom management because you’ll have to be. You put the buzzwords “mutual respect” and “building a community of learners” on your resume, but now you truly know what it looks like, and why it works. Make every child feel safe in your room. You’ll look back later and realize it might be the only time they really have someone care about them. You can’t change their whole world, but you can be a light in their world.
You’re going to learn to stretch resources, and you’re going to spend money you don’t have on your classroom. DON’T EVER FORGET THIS! Eventually, you’ll be in the position to have more resources than you can now think possible. APPRECIATE THEM! Don’t judge others if they don’t, but just remember that you can do with far less because you have.
You’ll drink a lot of wine your first year. Remember not to drink it alone. Share it with the teachers who were once strangers, but will quickly become friends. The friendships you form with other teachers will be long lasting. You’ll attend weddings and baby showers and comment on Facebook posts long after you leave the corner of 56th and Chester. You might even marry one of them. (SPOILER: You do!) Keep forming these friendships as you move through your career. Long days (or years) will be made easier in the company of good teacher friends.
You’re going to make mistakes. I’m not talking about the big mistakes, but I’m sure you’ll make those too. I”m talking about the small moment mistakes: when you snap at a child, when you make a poor teaching decision, or make a coaching choice that feels wrong. It’s OK to make these mistakes, but learn from them. Reflect on how to handle the situation in the future and practice what you will do. Remember these moments. You learn so much more from them than when you do everything perfectly.
You don’t know everything. Though you may have days that you finally have this job nailed, know that is always more to learn, another way to get better. As time goes on, what you need to improve on will change, but the idea that you should want to improve should remain constant. If you ever think you’ve learned all you can, it’s time to retire.
Question what’s happening around you. Ask questions when you don’t understand. Don’t be afraid of looking stupid. Ask questions when you think that students aren’t getting what they need to be successful. They are your #1 priority. Ask questions when you want to improve student learning and are ready to help make those changes. The more information you have, the better equipped you’ll be to make informed choices.
You’re going to have leadership opportunities. Embrace them, you’ll find you’re pretty good at them. You’ll also need to learn a lot, especially about how others view you. You’re going to have to get over the notion that everyone needs to like you, because they simply won’t. Be more concerned that they respect you and your ideas. Respect them as well.
There will be times when you will have to make decisions about the direction your career or your life will take. Think carefully, weigh your options, but above all, trust your instincts. Don’t be afraid to fail at something new. You’ll welcome the challenges that change brings and look forward to it.
This letter could go on forever with all you need to know as you begin your path in education. If you remember only one thing, remember this…every single day you have to opportunity to impact the life of a child. You have no idea how far your impact can reach. Don’t let even one day pass you by where you forget this. It is, after all, why you stated teaching in the first…for the children.