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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

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!

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Brian Sztabnik's picture
Brian Sztabnik
AP Literature teacher from Miller Place, NY
Blogger

To My Former Self,

I greet you at the start of a remarkable journey. I reassure you, this is what you are meant to do. Throughout your career, teaching will touch the nerve of every emotion and challenge all facets of your mentality. But it will never be dull, not even after a decade in the classroom. You will rise each morning invigorated by the possibilities of the profession.

It will take time to find your sweet spot in the classroom. Teaching is a subtle art, full of styles and techniques. Be patient. Your style will emerge. Along the way there will be times when you will doubt yourself and wonder if you are making a difference, but each day will be a bringer of new things and yesterday's heartache will be replaced by tomorrow's unexpected note of thanks from the student you thought never paid attention. And each note that you accumulate will remind you that a difference has been made. In time, you will feel a pride akin to patriotism, as your do your part for the future of an informed citizenry.

Keep the literature you love close, but your students needs closer. Long after Act V closes in Macbeth, long after the essays have been returned, and long after the final page of a To Kill a Mockingbird has been read, they will remember that you cared. They will remember the safe place of your classroom. They will remember how you challenged them to think deeper and write clearer. They will remember that you never stopped trying to make a difference.

Brian Sztabnik

Jim Windisch's picture
Jim Windisch
5th grade teacher from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho

Dear Mr. Windisch,

I don't know if you realize what you've gotten yourself into. You are in for a challenge! Being a teacher is more difficult than you imagined. Each of the 30 students who will walk through that door later today is an individual: a complicated, growing, and changing individual who is colored by all of the triumphs and disappointments he or she has experienced in the last ten years. It is your responsibility to determine how to reach each of these students and help him or her learn and grow this year. Right now, that is an abstract concept, but it will become more real to you each and every day you spend in this classroom.

Read the rest at http://teacherwithtuba.blogspot.com/2014/05/a-letter-to-me-on-my-first-d...

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal
Facilitator

Dear Laura.
I know it seems impossible to believe, but you only have a few years to do this before you move out of the regular classroom so right now you need to do it with everything you have. Worry less about whether you're going to be a good teacher and more about the kids in front of your right now. Be with them, learn with them. Love them even when you don't like them. Be brave enough to stay in the hard conversations. Listen. REALLY listen. Laugh. Admit when you don't know and find good teachers to help you learn.

But, from a practical perspective:
1. Always check your zipper before you get up from your desk.
2. Cut down on the Diet Coke. Drink more water, get more exercise, and eat your vegetables.
3. That World Wide Web thing? It's TOTALLY going to catch on. Invest your time and energy in learning how to use it- you'll be glad you did.

It's going to be an amazing ride and your students are going to turn out to be amazing adults that you'll be proud to know. Good luck.

Don Doehla, MA, NBCT's picture
Don Doehla, MA, NBCT
Co-Director Berkeley WL Project at UC Berkeley Language Center
Facilitator

Dear Monsieur D,

I say Monsieur D because by the time you read this letter, you will have been in the classroom with teens for 30+ years, and you will be at the other end of your professional journey. Or perhaps not, depending on how long you intend to keep pressing forward! I am 23 years old now, so you will still be young enough to keep at it for a while if you are still committed to the vision I have starting to teach, a vision which was passed on to me by others.

As I think about this first day of school, I am reminded of the debt I owe to the teachers who have influenced me to undertake this profession. I am reminded of the countless hours of support I received from Linda and Steve, my history and science teachers, who lived 3 blocks away, and who offered me refuge numerous nights when staying at home was too much to take. I am thankful for all that Linda and Steve gave to me - the courage to be myself, to leave the mess behind, to strive for much better, and to pass it on to my own students one day.

I am indebted to my French teacher, Pierrette, who saw potential in me when I could not see beyond the moment. She challenged me to strive for academic excellence in all things, to focus on my education so I could move on in a better way. She supported me with more than just French. She helped me with all my courses. I guess I was one of her special projects. Her investment paid off in a big way when I was accepted to UC Berkeley. I had never even heard of Cal before Pierrette told me to aim high and apply to Cal. I so believed in what she taught me that I only applied to Cal. Looking back, I wonder what I would have done if I had not been accepted?

I am indebted to Francoise, my favorite professor at Cal, who demanded so much from me, but who in turn, gave me so much more! I remember purposefully taking every one of her courses because I knew I would learn so much from her.

And so I say thank you, Linda, Steve, Pierrette and Francoise, and others who also invested in me by teaching excellently. Your example has inspired me to come to this day.

Now, as I begin this journey, I wonder which students might become the special projects I am going to be privileged to support as I pass it on? Of course, I am committed to give to all my students everything they need and deserve. Each one is a special gift to the world, and I hope to be a positive influence in their lives. Even so, I know that there will be some who will need extra special support, even as I did. So I set my resolve to face the wind, and strive to accomplish great things, as best I can.

I hope that when you read this note 30+ years from now that you will see that, in fact, you have made a difference. I hope you will see that though it was hard growing up with alcoholic parents, what you experienced will be a source of understanding for students living with difficulties of their own. Everyone has something, and everyone deserves a chance to overcome.

It will not be easy, but it will be worth it. Someone will need you to shake their hand, give them a hug, tell them that there is a tomorrow, that things will get better with time and and hard work. So stay the course, remember the vision, and pass it on!

from your younger self, this first day of school, back in the day,

Maitre D
because I am not yet all I will be

Elaine Farrar's picture
Elaine Farrar
Technology Resource Teacher Loudoun County Public Schools

Dear Elaine,

You are standing on the threshold of your career. I know you are frightened and excited at the same time. I want to assure you that you are going to be a great teacher. You are going to do things that matter. Your students will come back and thank your for being a part of their lives. Not all of them, but some will go out of their way to let you know that you made a difference. You are going to experience many changes in education along the way. Things that exist by the time you are ready to retire aren't even a thought right now. You will adapt and change as needed because you want to, not because you have to.

Learn to love all of your students. Some will be easier to love than others. You must love them all. The students will know how you really feel about them. They have a sixth sense.

Make learning fun. Try new approaches. Be the first one to volunteer to try new initiatives. It will keep you excited about learning.

You will teach many different levels and subjects to keep from getting bored. It will work because when you retire from teaching you will have taught for over 34 years. How do I know this? I am you and I will retire in 33 more days in my 34th year of teaching. I am proud you chose such a wonderful path.

Alina Moran's picture
Alina Moran
Curriculum Design & Edufeedback Specialist

To the teacher within with much hope for wondrous outcomes,

Breathe deeply, exhale and welcome to the toughest adventure yet. In spite of your fears, this is where you should be, for everything in life happens for a reason... Over the years you will work with culturally rich and quite diverse student populations. Each student will touch your heart in ways you can't imagine. They will keep your brain fit with constant workouts. Trust me, you will never be bored. You will discover that in teaching you will learn infinitely from your students. Work-life as you know it will never be the same! The desire to inspire personal growth and promote hidden talents among your kids will have you hooked and looking forward to engaging them in the learning process every day... Even after twenty-five years.
Finding your niche will be an adventure of its own. Always be respectful, patient, perceptive and fair. Never forget that your students are unique and equipped with their personal mindsets and learning styles which might not be the least bit similar to yours. At first, it might a feel like a fearsome roller-coaster ride with tremendous ups, frightful downs and unimaginable vertical loops. Don't worry with time it all pans out quite well.
Model the values you expect from your students. Respect and love them... even those that are disrespectful and not too loving at first. They are the ones that need the most to know you care about them and their future. Tend to each child's specific needs. This can be overwhelming at times. If you need help don't be afraid to ask for it. Remember, meeting your students' needs so they may succeed is the priority. Master your subjects and share your passion of learning. Keep expectations high in the absence of frustrations.
Even when you think you might have not connected... you have. Students will always recall how effectively they learned, how much fun they had doing so, and most of all how deeply you cared and worked for them to become compassionate, proactive life-long learners.
Sincerely blessed to be an educator,
Alina Moran

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