Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Slice of Life Tuesday: First Year Teacher


Today I said to someone that my job in 2020 feels like being a first year teacher. I'd said it before, and I'll probably say it again. I'm learning new software, teaching almost all novels I've never taught before (some of them I'd never even read), making do with half as much class time as last year, adding on a new grade level. I'm keeping a week or two ahead of my students, using a curriculum I've never used (purchased by the school to make the back and forth between online and in-person more doable), and managing both groups (online and in-person) at the same time. I'm Zooming and wearing a mask and disinfecting desks after the kids leave the room. It all feels new and strange.


Then I started thinking about my actual first year of teaching, a very long time ago, in a different millennium from this one. I was 21, a first year graduate student, and in addition to the courses I was taking, I was given two sections of college French 101 to teach. I was a newlywed, living in our first apartment, reading many fat novels, and writing about them, in French. Those were exciting days.

But though I would love to relive some aspects of that life, I wouldn't want to be a first-year teacher again. I'm grateful for that year of experience, and all the others since, and in spite of everything that is new this year, it's the experience that makes the difference. 

I remember how I used to agonize over the mistakes I made in class, and there were many. Each one would bother me for weeks, and I'd get hot and cold all over when I thought of them. I had a tiny fraction of the grading I have now, but it overwhelmed me. I dreaded teacher evaluations, from my students or my professors, and would fixate on the (few) negative comments and forget all about the (many) positive ones. I had no confidence at all, none. I faked confidence every day, pretended I knew what I was doing, and knew deep down that I didn't. 


And now? While still a pretty intense over-thinker, I am completely chill compared to that long ago youngster who had the same name as I have now. When I make mistakes, I fix them and move on. Although I have mounds of grading, I can handle it, and in fact I pride myself on getting it done and turning work back quickly. I don't love being evaluated, but I don't worry about it, either. (And it can't really happen this year, anyway, since we can't fit any more people in the room and still distance appropriately.) Best of all, I have confidence now. I do know what I'm doing. There are still many things I don't know - I learn new facts and skills every day - but I know now that it's not about me, performing at the front of the classroom, but about my kids, and figuring out how to reach them. I'm not faking any more. If I don't know the answer, I don't hesitate to say so and to look it up, sometimes right there in front of my students. (We didn't have the internet when I was a new teacher - how did we manage?) I've been teaching much longer than my kids have been alive, and I've learned a trick or two along the way.

Yes, 2020 brings challenges I haven't faced before. No, it won't be an easy year. But as the T-shirt says, "You can't scare me; I'm a middle school teacher."


Carol Varsalona said...

Ruth, what a great T-shirt message to depict your growth as a teacher. We are all seeing life differently these days. Best of luck this year as you navigate a new normal way of teaching life.

Tabatha said...

Love this post, Ruth! Learning to not rake yourself over the coals for your mistakes -- priceless! xo

Fran Haley said...

It is like being a first year teacher again, Ruth. This line stands out to me: "It is the experience that makes the difference." I am thinking of that line as we are seasoned, over time, to endure, stretch, and preserve in turn. We are better able to shake off the mistakes, chalking them up to our growth and learning (as in, Welp, that didn't work!) instead of thinking of ourselves as failures. I am smiling at your final line. I shot a look once at kids playing by a water fountain and a colleague said, "You could teach middle school!" Yikes! You have my greatest respect!