As goes the cliché, my first year of teaching was rough. At the time, it was only my campus’ second year of being open, so there were a lot of processes that were not yet put into place. The district did not have an ESL curriculum, and I was (and still am) the only ESL teacher on campus. It was the school’s first year to have juniors, so we were starting from scratch teaching American literature. On top of all of that, I was adjusting to my first full-time job and the stress that it brings. At times, I didn’t feel like I had the energy to make it through the year. Nevertheless, I made it through, and I have completed two more since then. It was hard to imagine at the time, but things really do get easier. There are still so many challenges, but I now have resources and support to help me face them. Here is a reflection I wrote at the end of my first year about a few of the lessons I learned that extend far beyond just the classroom:
1. Smile. A lot.
As small and insignificant as it seems, I have become aware of the impact of smiling. Earlier in the year a student commented to me, “You always have a smile on your face every day. I like that.” Even one of my administrators thanked me for always smiling. Even though circumstances don’t always encourage or allow us to smile, I’ve realized that smiling is a physical way of showing people, whether students or colleagues, that you are happy to be at work and that you care about them. And that is a powerful thing.
2. Listen before you speak.
I’ve always loved to talk. When I was little, I would talk so much that my parents would have to interrupt me and ask me to give my brother a chance to talk. However, I’ve come to realize this year that listening oftentimes sends a much more powerful message than speaking does. Ever since I began student teaching, I got into the habit of always asking my students how their day was going before beginning class. I take just a minute or two to hear the ups and downs, and listen to what they have going on. Again, this seemingly simple act apparently impacted my kids more than I realized. One student once told me, “That’s why you’re my favorite teacher. You always ask us how we’re doing.” Taking time to listen to people not only communicates how much you care for them, but it also makes the times when you speak even more powerful.
3. Forgive quickly and move on.
Working with kids of any age is difficult, but each age group comes with its specific challenges. One of the challenges of working with teenagers is that their immaturity often results in hurting those around them. Many of my students have made comments that hurt my feelings or have treated me in ways that made me feel insignificant and incompetent. In any situation or relationship that involves offense, forgiveness can be difficult. However, teenagers can be even more challenging since many don’t take the time to consider how their actions affected others. If I were to have waited for an apology to forgive a student each time one hurt me, I would still hold many grudges. I quickly realized that in order to maintain a positive relationship with my students and to ultimately succeed at my job, I needed to forgive quickly and move on. Rather than treat offensive students or difficult classes based on how they treated me, I continuously made the decision to treat all classes and every student with respect, regardless of their disrespect towards me. In the end, I think the grace I showed them, even my imperfect grace, positively influenced not only our relationship, but their success in my class.
These three lessons are just a few of the many things that I learned throughout the year. I also learned the importance of balancing my work and my personal life, the power of God’s grace to use me even when I had a bad attitude, the impact of taking on extra responsibilities even when that meant more work, and the true joy that comes with fully investing yourself into the lives of students who come to trust you and care for you.
Whether you just completed your first year of teaching or are a veteran teacher, what are some of the lessons you learned this year?