A few weeks ago, another NYC teacher blogger, Mr. Foteah, wrote a letter to himself on the eve of his first year teaching. (I hope he doesn't mind me co-opting this topic here.) I enjoy reading Mr. Foteah's blog because it's so earnest. He comes across as incredibly passionate and dedicated, which makes me feel bad about my unkind thoughts toward the profession. Like this one: After I read Mr. Foteah's heartfelt letter to himself, I asked myself what I would have said to myself on the eve of my first year teaching. And as I told Mr. Brave, my letter could have been written in a single word: "Run."
Teaching will make you crazy, I would have told myself. Some nights you will come home so exhausted that you will eat Cheez Doodles for dinner and pass out on the couch by 8:00. You will find yourself hiding in your classroom with the lights off, alternately crying and blotching the redness out of your eyes so no one will notice you have been crying. You will feel anger directed at copy machines, hole punchers, staplers and staple removers. You will be called a "stuck-up bitch" by an eight-year-old. You will want to quit.
...which is why, four years later, I'm glad I never wrote such a letter. I've lived through a great deal of the teaching horrors I feared, and I survived. Even more miraculously, I stayed. Because I think I can do better. I refuse to be a cliche and tell you that it was all worth it when Michael learned to read or when Meredith thanked me for being the best teacher ever. Of course teaching has its magical moments; I've even written about some of them in this blog. But I would have wanted myself on the eve of my first year teaching to be clear on this: Teaching is not a movie, and being a teacher means so much more than teaching. On any given day, you may have to carry forty notebooks up six flights of stairs (manual laborer), mediate an argument between two seven-year-olds (marriage counselor), decide on a just punishment for misbehavior (judge), console a distraught parent who can't control her child (social worker), copy two stacks of handouts (secretary), bag a lost tooth (dentist), fix a broken zipper (MacGyver),...and the list goes on. No one teaches you those things in college when you're learning about Piaget.
Now, I wouldn't want Mr. Foteah (or you!) to think that I'm getting all bitter and jaded, so on the eve of my fifth year teaching, I issue myself this challenge: Find the good in every day. Last year I ended too many days feeling frustrated -- with my students, with my co-teacher, with myself -- and began too few days feeling refreshed and ready to start anew. I once read an anecdote about all these teachers in the faculty room comparing classroom horror stories, and another teacher comes along and says, "It happened to [the kids], not to you." Last year I too often felt selfish: What a bad day I've had, instead of realizing the kids had lived it too and it was up to me to change it for the better. I've already set all sorts of teaching goals for myself this year: Conduct targeted small group strategy lessons in reading and writing at least three days a week, squeeze in read aloud every single day, do an end-of-the-day wrap-up meeting as often as possible, make better use of my vocabulary word wall. Now my personal goal is to dwell on the good instead of the bad, to do my best to do better.
There are 185 days in the school year. That's 185 things I can teach, 185 good things that can happen for my class, 185 times we can all think, "I'm glad Miss Brave is my teacher." Let's make it happen!