I recently watched a video about teachers writing letters to themselves on their first day of teaching. I was so inspired that I asked our mentors to facilitate this for our district’s new teachers and to bring these to our back-to-school rally next year. Then I realized, I should write that letter, too. I should reflect and process what my 19 years in education have taught me. There are days I can be judgemental of myself and the actions I did my first-year teaching — lessons that were factually wrong, students I dismissed, and things I simply did not know. I must say, I had the most amazing undergraduate preparation for teaching at Grand Canyon University. My professors, all of them, especially Dr. Bethyl Pearson and Dr. Betz Frederick supported me in ways that impact me all of these years later. I am thankful for what I learned and the mistakes I made to help me grow along the way.
Here is my letter.
Dear Jaime – First Year Teacher,
Today you will begin the greatest journey of your life. Of anything you do, teaching will define you. It is the avenue that will allow you to impact the world and impact future generations for good. Teaching will allow you to be creative and thoughtful. You will learn so much about history, government, and economics and you will love it. Work hard at economics because it will challenge you. Take every opportunity for professional development to become a master of your content. Love what you teach because there is a generation of kids who will become lawyers, historians, and good citizens because they have seen you love history in a way that makes it connect with them. Don’t ever doubt your choice of career. You were made to teach.
Get to know kids, I mean, really get to know kids. As you get older, your greatest disappointment will be the kids you didn’t reach because you did not try to reach them. You defined them as lazy, uninterested, just failures. You allowed them to move to the back of the room and not distract everyone else. They are someone’s child. They will be voters, leaders, community members, and it is your job to reach them too. Invest the time in them. Seek the resources around you to help these kids learn and be successful. Do not give up on kids who from the outside may seem like they don’t care. You have no clue what happened at home, what they are going through, what they need. Ask them. Do not assume.
Do not ever tell a kid, “You don’t even know what stress is, just wait until you are an adult.” Maybe high school was not stressful for you, Jaime, or maybe you forgot. But you will see the impact of high school on your own children and understand how that stress and anxiety is real and this is a terrible thing to say.
Be nice to every staff member, even the ones that seem bossy and not for you. Your best friends will be fellow teachers from all over the district and school. You will become friends with staff who, frankly, you did not like in the beginning. Open your heart. You have something to learn from everyone. Find the people within your school who you don’t know and get to know them. Working in a school is hard and can sometimes affect you emotionally. You need a support group. Ignore people who say, “don’t eat in the teacher’s lounge.” Eat there, spend time there, laugh there, find your family there. If there is a negative person in the bunch, be the most positive person you can be and find out why.
Don’t stop learning. This is possibly the hardest thing you will need to learn, but the most important. Mom, wife, teacher: all the things take time and energy, but when you stop learning, you stop being able to educate others. Stagnation is the enemy of learning and growth. If you are not learning throughout your career, you are not serving your kids. Read. Read professional books about teaching, your subject, leadership, and learning. In the future, read about neuroscience and the effects of trauma. Have a professional learning community, stay connected (online – this will come in the future), find people outside of your school who you can talk about being a better educator with. Join a professional organization and be an active member. Become a National Board Certified Teacher.
Make time for your actual family and children. Jaime, you are really awful at this, like terrible. You will put other kids and school in front of your own family a lot. Your family understands. However, make sure you are there when your family needs you most. Carve time out that is sacred for them. Your children will have an awesome school experience because of what you know about school, but sometimes you just need to be Jaime, the mom.
Jaime, you are one of the lucky ones. You will never doubt your career. It is your passion, your fuel, your love. There will be days and even years you will be tired and may question what you are actually doing. But almost 20 years later, you will look back and be able to say, “I have the best job ever.” Not many people can do that. Be just a little kinder and more open, maybe add some more detail to your lesson plans, and soar.
Love, Future Jaime – Director of Personnel and Technology