Dear New Teacher,

Dear New Teacher,

I made mistakes that still keep me up at night. But I also built a classroom library. Isn’t it beautiful? I dismissed it at the time because it was easy and fun. Now I realize how cool it is.

I have a teensy, weensy bit of bad news for you: This year is probably going to suck. You’re going to work very, very hard, lose sleep, care so much, and still be convinced that a potted plant would teach them more than you can.

Here is a short list of the mistakes you will almost certainly make:

-Forget to make copies of an assignment in time to give it to students before the due date. Or forget the assignment entirely.
-Answer a student question TOTALLY incorrectly, and be corrected by a student in front of the class.
-Lose important papers.
-Give a student the benefit of the doubt even though you KNOW she is lying.
-Choose the wrong moment to be a hard ass.
-Write a bad test.
-Confuse your students and then yourself.
-Plan WAY too little for one day, and spend a very uncomfortable 20 minutes waiting for the bell to ring.

You’ll do lots of great things, too, but you’ll dismiss those things, or fail to realize how great they are. You’ll be wearing goggles that allow you only to see your shortcomings, and there will be many of those.

The good news is that the first year ends. You will learn from it. You’ll start your second year with a much better sense of self, and you’ll be much less worried about things like whether or not you’ve got chalk on your butt. You’ll stop feeling like an imposter. You’ll let fewer things slide, and have more days that go smoothly. More and more, you’ll feel that you don’t have enough time to teach them everything you want to teach them. The period will end and you will think, “Wow, that went fast.”

You’ll reach someone. You’ll take things less personally. You’ll work hard, but more efficiently, and you’ll enjoy the work more.

By your third year (and I know that sounds like it’s a million, billion years from now, but it’s not. It’ll be here so fast it’ll make your head spin), you’ll have a few lesson plans you love. You’ll have moments you feel proud of, and students whose lives you’ve improved, if only by a small margin. You’ll be more pragmatic about the students who’ve slipped through your grasp, and, while you’ll keep stretching yourself to reach those difficult students, you’ll recognize that they do have to meet you halfway, and that you can’t force them. You’ll know when you’re being lied to, and feel more confident about how to deal with it. You’ll be a hard ass when you need to be, and you’ll be forgiving when you can. You’ll begin to know what kind of teacher you are. By now, you’ll have a reputation among the students. Don’t worry–they’re quite perceptive. If you’ve been working hard, and if you like them, and if you are passionate about your subject, you’ll have a good reputation. That reputation will help you. Students will conform to you more quickly, and test your boundaries less often.

You’ll suddenly realize that you haven’t worried about whether or not your butt was covered in chalk for weeks. When a student asks you a question to which you don’t know the answer, you’ll simply say, “I don’t know,” and then you’ll find out.

You’ll ask the class a question, and be comfortable letting the silence stretch for longer than 5 seconds.

You won’t be scared of your students anymore.

You won’t hate Sunday nights anymore.

You’ll love summer, but you’ll also look forward to September, because a fresh slate is now more exciting than it is terrifying.

You will remember that first class, and you’ll remember the students who were sacrificed on the altar of your first year. You’ll remember the student whose face fell when you made an ill-timed and overly harsh joke. You’ll remember the student who showed signs of needing real help, the one who might’ve had an eating disorder or whose parents might have been neglecting him. You’ll wish you’d gone to the counselors, and you’ll wonder how that student is doing now.

And you’ll remember that student when one of your new ones comes to you with a problem. You’ll stay on top of that problem. You’ll follow up. No matter the outcome, you’ll know that you took action.

You’ll be organized, and aware, and you’ll love your job.

Because nothing worth having is easy to get, and being a good teacher is very, very worth all the pain it takes to get there.

Good luck, New Teacher. You’re gonna need it!

Sincerely,

Me.

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But If You HAD to Pick…

sequin overload

Seriously, if you HAD to pick. (Thank you, sassyscans.tumblr.com, for making my DAY with this picture.)

G and I were browsing through some music blogs the other day, looking for a good resource for new music, (Remember when you were 20 and amazing new bands just came to you through osmosis? I miss that.) when we stumbled upon what can only be described as the most inane blog interview of all time. Here’s a smattering of the questions: What’s the worst lie you’ve ever told? What was the last time you laughed until you cried? If you were stranded on a desert island, and you could only have one CD, which one would you pick?

Yes, that last one was actually included.

And the answer managed to be even worse: A mix tape.

How the hell am I supposed to judge this woman properly if she won’t give a real answer?

Everyone knows that the only reason to ask the desert island question is to judge someone’s worth, intelligence, personality, and level of coolness based on their answer. This is why it is a favorite pastime of seventh graders everywhere.

When I was in seventh grade, the game went like this:

If you could be stuck on a desert island with one guy from our class, who would you pick?
If you could be stuck on a desert island with one of the Kids in the Hall guys, who would you pick?
If you had to be stuck on a desert island with one of the New Kids on the Block , who would you pick?

See, it works both ways–you can pick the best from a group of great choices, or the least awful from a group of bad choices. (For the record, I was in seventh grade in 1994, when Kurt Cobain was the Most Amazing Man Alive and boy bands were the height of bad taste. As a third grader,  I would possibly have committed murder for the chance to be stuck on a desert island with one of the New Kids Joey.)

We only deviated from our favorite topic (boys with whom we might choose to be stranded) once a year, when the much-anticipated Seventeen Magazine Prom Issue hit news stands (and by news stands, of course I mean grocery store check-out lines). We’d paw through that issue at least a dozen times, asking the same devastatingly important question:

“If you had to pick one of the dresses on this page, or go to prom naked, which would it be?”

Oh my gods, that was a great game. I could still play that game.

Hmm.

I wonder if there’s an app for that?

The thing is, the only real way to lose the “if you had to pick” game is to refuse to pick. Will you be judged based on your choice? Of course. Does it matter? Hell no.

I mean, every one of the Kids in the Hall guys has merit. The New Kids are all equally cute and/or annoying, depending on your point of view. You could make a solid argument for any one of them. But what you can’t do is take Donny, but give him Joey’s hair and Jonathan’s personality. That’s not how the game works. You have to pick just one.

Without rules, there’s no order in the universe. If you answer “Which CD would you take with you on a desert island” with “a mix tape,” you contribute to the disintegration of civilization.

Seriously.

Out of curiosity, I asked E the same questions from the blog interview, just to see how she’d fare. And because, if I don’t prepare her for seventh grade, who will?

Here is her interview:

Q: What is the worst lie you ever told?
A: Cocoa-pah. [She thinks this is a lie because she’s saying a word that isn’t a real word. She thinks it is a hilarious joke for the same reason.]

Q: What was the last time you laughed until you cried?
A: When I told a funny joke.

Q: If you could only listen to one song [she has no idea what a CD is] for the whole entire rest of your life, which one would it be?
A: My favorite.

Nicely played, E. Nicely played.