The first year I taught in my own classroom, I was 23 years old and I was naive. It was my first experience teaching fourth graders, after having completed my practicum teaching in a second grade classroom. Of course, just like all new teachers, I knew what I was doing. I was armed with Harry Wong’s The First Days of School and a brand-new tote bag full of good intentions.
I hung forty-four posters in my classroom that year. I know, because in the middle of one of my lessons, a student interrupted me to say, “Do you know that you have forty-four posters in here?” But still. I knew what I was doing.
As any veteran teacher will tell you, your first year of teaching is the hardest. Sure, you’ve got the pedagogy down. You’ve written ten-page lesson plans that address academic standards in seven subjects while encouraging student discourse and allowing for creativity, all while maintaining a focus on some irrelevant theme, like ladybugs. You know stuff.
But the stuff that you don’t know is what matters in that first year. You don’t know just how important those rules and routines are. You don’t quite know how to teach kids on such different levels at the same time, in one lesson. You don’t know how to console the child whose father went to jail last night. You don’t realize how many of your students are too hungry to focus on classwork.
But you learn these things. During that first year of teaching, you learn just as much as, if not more than, your students. And you get better.
At the end of that year, I wrote a letter to each of my students, telling them how they impacted my life over the course of our 180 days together. One of my most difficult students, even at the end of fourth grade, could barely read on a first grade level. He asked me to read his letter out loud to him, so I did. And by the time I finished, he and I were both crying.
Despite all of the things that I didn’t know that first year, we learned together. I bonded with these kids, and despite my failings as I struggled to take on the overwhelming task of being an educator, we became a family.
Oh, and the fourth grader who could barely read? He graduated from high school two years ago. He is my favorite success.