As the pines sway in the woods and snow continues to fall outside of my window, I figured now was a good opportunity to pause and reflect upon my first year of teaching so far. Most people that I know have been following my first year of teaching by the funny quotes from the students that I post on Facebook, but that’s all that they typically see. While I do enjoy those daily moments of laughter, there’s also other moments that I would like to share with you.
College is meant to prepare you for “the real world” and I believe there is some truth to that, but nothing could prepare me for the whirlwind of an experience that would be my first year of teaching. Picture this: say you’re planning to go on a vacation to California for instance. You’ve been planning this trip for the past four and a half years (odd, but stay with me here) and once the day of the trip finally comes, your plane ends up taking you to Alaska instead. That’s what teaching can feel like sometimes. You’ve made all of these plans, you imagine the perfect day in your head and everything is going to be flawless. Then reality sets in. One of your students is misbehaving, another student is feeling queasy and feels like they’re going to throw up (which causes everyone to feel the same way), someone’s family member went to jail and the pencil sharpener is broken. All of this happens before 9 o’clock and you feel as though you’ve been hit by a hurricane. There’s no way that PRAXIS exam you took in college could have mentally prepared you for days like this. But don’t give up hope yet, because there are beautiful moments you’ll have that make days like this easier to process.
I firmly believe that the reason I have made it this far into the school year is because of the team that I get to work with and God. My teammates have taken it upon themselves to be my “seven new moms.” On days like the ones I mentioned above, they are constantly there to support me and lift me up. What truly brings us together is our team meetings on Fridays when we all gather around a table. Someone usually brings in a sweet treat and we are just able to be ourselves. I cherish those times because it’s just like being with family. God has also been my foundation this year.
I can’t tell you how much my faith has helped me this school year. God has seen me through time and time again. I know it’s rather taboo to talk about faith as a teacher, but I can’t tell you how many times I have prayed in my classroom before the school day begins, when the students are at recess and after the school day is over. Prayer is something that constantly keeps me in check. I didn’t do it for a week this past month and it really affected me. I was quick to anger and easily annoyed. That’s not the kind of teacher that I want to present to my students. When I pray, I not only am praying for patience, but praying for my students as well.
I don’t say this to paint you a picture of me being a “perfect Christian” because I am broken and human as well. We all deal with stress in our own ways and I have found that prayer works best for me. Early on in the school year, I turned to alcohol on the weekends to help me cope (and still sometimes do), but as the year has gone on, it’s been active prayer that’s gotten me through. I wrote this prayer a little while ago and if you’re reading this as a first year teacher or a teacher in general; I hope it helps.
Dear First Year Teacher,
I pray for you during this school year. I pray for you as you spend your Sunday nights stressing about what your week is going to be like. I pray for you as you sip your coffee in the morning and are trying to make copies on a printer that constantly seems to be jammed. I pray for you when things happen that aren’t on your lesson plan. I pray for you when you forget your lunch because you’re mind feels like it’s going a million miles an hour. I pray for you when you feel inadequate; like you’ll never be the teacher you envisioned when you practiced in your basement as a kid. I pray for you when you have those moments when you begin to question why you chose the profession that you did. I pray for you when that student that has been testing you acts up again and you’re not sure what to do. I pray that you are able to find moments of peace. I pray that you’ll focus on the lives that you’re making an impact on, whether you realize it or not. I pray that you feel loved and supported by your fellow teachers and administration. I pray that you get rest. I pray that you’ll begin to see yourself as more than “just a teacher” because He sees you as so much for than that. You’re so much more than that. I pray that as you write your lesson plans, know that He has more lessons planned for you. You’ve got this.
Now, I don’t want to give off this impression that teaching is this horrible job, nor do I feel like a hero for doing it. I wrote this reflection today because this isn’t something I could tell you off of the top of my head when asked how my first year of teaching is going when I’m at the coffee shop. I love teaching and I love the people that I work with. This first year of teaching has been filled with many challenges as well as many bright spots.
While I often worry about the lesson plan getting off task, the unplanned things are sometimes the most memorable. They are found in a student confessing that his dog recently died and everyone hugging him. They are found in a high five to start the morning and a race to the buses at the end of the day. They are found in getting just one more word right on the spelling test this week.There are so many beautiful moments in teaching and they often get overlooked by the negativity that surrounds us.
This Thanksgiving, I cannot emphasize it enough at just how thankful I am for my students and their families, my teammates, my friends and my own family. This first year of teaching is a journey that isn’t a solo trip and I cannot wait for the adventures that are ahead of me.
- Dalton Hessel