If I Knew Then: A Letter to Me on My First Day of Teaching | Edutopia
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If I Knew Then: A Letter to Me on My First Day of Teaching

If I Knew Then: A Letter to Me on My First Day of Teaching

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If you could write a letter to yourself on your first day of teaching, what words of encouragement and insight would you offer? Edutopia and SoulPancake teamed up to see what teachers had to say in this video for Teacher Appreciation Week.

See a behind-the-scenes video here!

Ready to write your own? Jump in the comments below and share how #TeachersMatter!

You can also share this video on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.

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MHS_Ankrom's picture

You did it! You entered into one of the most complex but the most important profession in the world. You will age quickly and at the same time remain young because you are surrounded by young people. No matter how the teaching day goes your actions and your tone will impact so many students that day and you will probably not even know it......but you are impacting them so keep smiling throughout the day.......they are watching you closely.

Kristin's picture

Dear First Year Me,

You will feel a mix of apprehension and excitement on your first day, but just remember that time flies when you're having fun. That first day will fly by, so cherish each moment of it. You thought that this year was going to be difficult, but it will be even more difficult than you ever imagined. Your patience will be tried and you will be at a loss as to how to handle many situations, but you need to just keep trying and know that you will be ok as long as the kids are ok. You are doing the best you can, and that is all anyone expects from you. Ask questions, try to find innovative ideas, and make learning fun. Never let anyone dull your sparkle, and never loose your confidence. It's what makes you the teacher that you are. Always strive to be a lifelong learner :)


Jen W's picture

Excellent information here. Will be sharing with student teacher for sure!

magicalmaths's picture
"Maths is like magic, but without the lies."

I love this idea and will be doing a twilight CPD with all my faculty with them writing letters to themselves this year!!! Brilliant!

Melanie Ann's picture

I love this video! I haven't started a full time job yet (only student teaching and a summer school position), but I can already relate to most things. For instance, I hated the first time I heard a student say the assignment I had planned was boring. I definitely took it personally, and still do. I need to try and get away from taking it personally. Also, the idea that a student who would once throw a book at you, but down the road remember you and still keep in touch is amazing. That is honestly my dream!

"Professor" Paul GTO Briones's picture
"Professor" Paul GTO Briones
Host and Co-Creator of Virtual Science University & Anatomy & Physiology/Advanced Biology Instructor At KHS

Dear "Professor" Paul O. Briones

You are almost at the end of an incredible and adventurous journey! You have been in the trenches of Texas Biology Classrooms for the last thirty three years! You know you have made a difference by the hundreds of notes that you have received through out the years. These last few years have been incredible for you with over 8 million unique visitors coming to your on-line teaching site and more than four thousand students that have been in your classroom! But, you are not done! You have so much more work and adventure in front of you. You have been on an innovative journey but you have not landed on MARS yet! Yes, one day one of your ex-students will end up being one of the first human beings from Earth to explore MARS! You have been challenged at all levels of your mentality but you will rise up every morning ready to "LET IT SHINE" cause you know you are on a journey that is far greater than your personal life! Your are on a journey to empower as many young people as possible and they will be the STARS that will radiate back at you when you have run out of energy and will be ready to officially leave this world. Your legacy is to carry on the legacy of your 2 G Grand Aunt who never gave up on anyone! So move on and remember this is a DREAM that is being lived out and will be attained! All of the STARS that will radiate out in the sky will SHINE back at you remembering that you never gave up on anyone and always made a difference!
"Professor" Paul O. Briones

Mary Langer Thompson's picture

You will reach many. Listen to others, learn all you can, be creative, go to conferences, and wear comfortable shoes!

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Manager

Mary, I think the point about wearing comfortable shoes can be a blog post all on its own. That and something about bathroom breaks. :-)

Nancy's picture
I'm a second grade teacher trying to stay "on top" of new trends.

I just finished my 24th year teaching second grade. Second graders are like little sponges who want to know everything, and also want ALL of your attention. Early in my career I would grow impatient with the neediness of these little sponges - I use that term with endearment, by the way. Words like, "sit down", "be quiet", and "go raise your hand" would come out of my mouth constantly. I had not learned to distinguish emergency situations from non-emergency situations. Essentially, I was not paying attention to my students' emotional needs.

One day I was turned away from one of my students who was trying to get my attention. She had a very soft voice. Without looking at her, I told her to go sit down. A few minutes later I found out she was trying to tell me her face hurt because her father had beat her with an extension cord the night before! It hit me SO hard. I wasn't listening to my students, and I wasn't taking care of business.

If there is any advice I could give you to save you time and heartache, it would be to take that extra minute to listen to your students. Not only will it cut down on problems going on behind the scenes in your classroom, it may save a life.

Miss's picture
High school special education teacher

Dear August Miss,

You're standing in your classroom, staring at the mess left behind, thrilled and ready to throw up. You're not sure you will ever be able to dig through all of the paperwork, outdated materials, and general oddities in the way. You won't right away, but it will come in time. You're going to set up your classroom with your parents and your partner. It will not mean a whole lot once the kids show up, but you will feel good.

You will wonder what your staff will be like, since everyone in the building has "opinions" about them. But don't judge too quickly. They will drive you insane, sometimes be petty and cranky, but those nine people will help you through a very hard year and become your friends.

The general ed teachers won't be as welcoming as you hoped, but that one down the hall, M, will be unbelievably kind to you and when the two of you go through similar personal struggles later this year, she will comfort you. The other SpEd teachers will be there for you with fierce love and will surprise you with their belief in you and your passion.

You will be scared of parents. Of their needs, their demands, their anger. You've heard horror stories, right? Those weren't your parents. You will find that when you are honest and funny and ... well ... just yourself, even the parents that people told you to be 'scared' of will respect you and treat you with kindness. You might actually like them!

Unfortunately, one Wednesday afternoon in January will not be like the others. It will be painful, and change you forever. You worry it will keep you from teaching. People thought you wouldn't come back. You hate the way it makes you fear your students. It makes you feel inadequate. But you will make it through every day with love. One day at a time.

In fact, as you type this letter, you just got off the phone with a parent who stormed out of a meeting crying. He feels inadequate. He feels that he and his student were lost in the system. He is scared. You will call him when he gets home, apologize for all the times you let procedure get in the way of his desire as a parent to simply communicate with his son. The two of you will cry on the phone together. And after the real heartbreak and misery of the last month, and the constant fear that you can't make it another day (let alone year) you will write this letter to yourself, knowing that you can, because you remembered why you love this so much.

This will be, undoubtedly, the most painful year of your life. You will question everything and, at times, you will hate yourself for making this choice. The time between spring break and Memorial Day will be awful. You will fear work. You will cry to and from your front door. You will dread Sunday evenings and you will consider leaving everything behind. Please don't. You will look for jobs at Starbucks and think of being a lifetime doctoral student. Please don't.

You will be okay, because those kids need you. You will be proud. And when your senior boys do something stupid, you'll just cry because you know how much you will miss them.

You're okay, kid. Just don't fight the current.
May Miss

Love Teach's picture

This is so fun!

Dear Teach (me),

First of all, you look so cute! What an adorable cardigan. (Lay it flat to dry like the cleaning instructions say, or in a couple of years it'll look and feel like a washcloth and you will be a sad girl.)

Wow. Your first day. Your FIRST first day. I know how you're feeling. Nervous. Excited. Hopeful. Diarrhea-ish. It's like how you felt about that piano recital, except instead of five minutes in front of people it's fifty minutes times six periods times five days times four weeks times nine months, and instead of everyone listening to you quietly NOBODY will listen to you quietly unless you train them, and instead of memorizing something and delivering it your job is to improvise while convincing everyone in the audience that it's something worth playing; that they want to play it, too.

You have every right to feel diarrhea-ish.

I wish I could tell you that you'll have more good days than bad days this year. That you'll get a hang of this teaching thing after a few weeks and after that it's smooth sailing. That, like babysitting and being a camp counselor and volunteering, if you can just get the kids to like you, that means they'll do whatever you say.

But it won't.

It's not like that.

This will be the most difficult, challenging thing you will ever do. It will push you to your limits as a person. It will almost break you. There are times when it will feel like life has sucker-punched you, then offered you crutches, then taken the crutches and is beating you over the back with them while laughing hysterically.

Teaching will also be the most beautiful thing that has ever happened to you.

Weird, huh?

There will be a whole month where it feels like you don't go a day without crying. But guess what? In a couple of years, most of the crying you will do at school will be because of stuff like how awesome Poetry Day is, or from when you will read that darn chapter at the end of Wonder about standing ovations (it's this book coming out soon--trust me, it's the best), or from the time your choir students will sing "Gentle Annie" on a day just a liiiiittle too close to your period.

You know all those cute bins and folders that you think will keep you and your students organized? They won't. Part of teaching is learning how inept all your systems are and adjusting them to work for you. But you are about to embark on a journey that will leave you as THE MOST ORGANIZED PERSON IN THE ENTIRE WORLD! Or at least out of the people you know who are non-teachers.

Other perks:

-You know those super annoying kiosk salespeople in the mall who accost you with flatirons and phones and perfumes? After you have a few years in this gig, THEY WON'T BOTHER YOU ANYMORE! Teaching has made you more confident; taught you to walk with your shoulders tall and with a purpose. Or maybe you just walk around with Teacher Face now.
-You will the master of time management. (This doesn't necessarily mean you choose to employ these skills all the time, but you can when needed.)
-Summer, my friend. Just wait. It's glorious.

But the real perk--the thing that is going to keep you coming back--is something that's hard for me to explain. It's not because of what you're thinking right now on your first day: that you will be the hero in this story, or that you are about to change lives/the world by bestowing your benevolence and your knowledge upon them.

This isn't about you.

You are a vessel. You are at your most important when you make yourself the least important. You are here not to be in front of everyone, but to stand beside them. You are here not to impress others, but to encourage and lift up the kids in your classroom and the people around you. You are here not to be recognized, but to help other people figure out what is recognizable about them and how to use that for good.

I'll let you figure out what that means (I still am).

Good luck out there, kid.

Oh, and go ahead and put that Keurig in your classroom now. You'll need it.


Future Teach

jrushing72's picture

The life of a teacher is hard to explain to people outside of the educational realm. Everyone has their thoughts and opinions on how easy or hard this career can be. Not until you have gone through that first YEAR (or first FEW years) of teaching can you ever really know how challenging -- and rewarding -- this profession is. I'm finishing my 20th year of teaching this May. As long as my career has been -- I can still remember the first day of my first year. I can remember the excitement and the fear I had when those children walked into my room for the first time. I was their leader. I recall the lessons that I thought would be so great and engaging ended up being complete messes. The eye rolls and the heavy sighs of boredom can still be seen and heard in my mind. I remember the kids that pushed me to my limit and tested every ounce of patience that I had....but I also remember watching them grow and mature while they were in my classes. I was surprised to discover the times when the simplest lesson became the greatest learning experience for me and the kids. I learned over the years to let the students help guide the learning process. I learned to listen...to observe....to facilitate -- and not just lead. I learned how to be a teacher....not from a text book or a course in college...but by my students. They taught me to expect the unexpected, to see genius in the little things, and to believe that anything is possible if you just keep trying.

To my friends in the teaching profession during Teacher Appreciation Week -- I say thank you!! Think back through your years of teaching all the way back to that first year and congratulate yourself! Think about the difference you are making each and every day in the lives of your students. Be proud!


Rafranz Davis's picture
Rafranz Davis
Executive Director of Professional and Digital Learning, Lufkin ISD

Dear Rafranz

Tomorrow is a new day. Today you will embark on one of the greatest journeys of your life as a classroom teacher. You're so nervous and I need you to know that nerves are normal.

In college, someone told you not to smile, sweat or show emotion. You're thinking right now about that advice and how ridiculous it is. Please ignore it entirely because the best advice that I can give to you are two words that will mean more with each passing day...Be Human.

You're taking on a classroom mid-year that is accustomed to marching to the beat of their own drum and not in the best way. What they need is to see someone who is human enough to understand them...to feel who they are...and to push them in ways that they have not been pushed.

Your students will fight you every step of the way but you won't budge. You'll continue to make the necessary choices because you care.

Even when you think that your students do not...they do. Eventually, they will show that but they have to see your humanity first. They need to feel your emotional connection to who they are.

So...laugh, smile, tear up, hug, play, engage, make mistakes out loud, correct yourself....and then repeat it all again in every period of the day. Repeat it again the next day...and every moment thereafter.

You've got this!

Be Human

-Your Future Self


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