I probably wouldn’t have kept a blog during my first year of teaching. That year was defined by a constant sense that I was the weakest link, so I would never have had the courage to share my low points with the world.
I didn’t even speak up in meetings with other new teachers. I was too afraid that people would offer gently phrased comments like, “Why don’t your try setting high expectations? Or creating a positive, data-driven, student centered learning environment where all children can learn! That’s what I do, and all my students come to school excited to learn! Also, my students respect me. Maybe we should discuss why you are the type of person that children don’t respect.”
Most of all, I was afraid they would be right.
For better or for worse, there is no good way to “out” yourself as a struggling teacher your first year. We hide behind expressions like “steep learning curve” that do not begin to capture what it’s like to feel like you are failing at the most important job in the world.
If I were writing this my first year I would have ended up focusing on whatever resume-like accomplishments or success stories I could muster. Even if I had shared a mistake or two, I’d have taken great pains to show that no children were harmed in the making of the story and that I had learned an important lesson.
And yet… what I needed most during my first year was to hear from someone who would be brutally honest about how tough teaching truly is. Especially when you feel like the weak link. Especially when everyone around you is sharing success stories, or resume-like accomplishments, or minor mistake stories in which no children were seriously harmed. I needed to hear from someone who’d wondered, as I often did, if their students would have been better off with a different adult in front of the classroom. I needed to hear from someone who kept teaching in spite of these low points and became a successful teacher.
In other words, I needed to hear from a future version of myself.
This was what eventually inspired me to write See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers, in which teachers from around the country share the lessons they learned the hard way.
But even in the book, most of the stories are anonymous.
That’s why I finally created The Disillusionment Power Pack – a series of the emails I’d send to the first-year-teacher version of myself. They include records of my worst days as a new teacher, including pictures of actual journal pages and the stories behind the stories I now tell in speeches and public writing. You can read more about it in this NPR story, written by a former teacher and tellingly entitled, Hey, New Teachers, it’s Okay to Cry in Your Car. These are only for people who are having really, really bad days right now.
If that’s you, you can sign up here to receive the Disillusionment Power Pack to get you through one tough month of teaching. And, as you’ll see in one of the first of those emails, one month might be all you really need.