I would never have written a blog post about my first year of teaching during my actual first year of teaching. That year was defined by a constant sense that I was the weakest link. I would never have had the courage to share my low points with the world. In fact, I didn’t even speak up in meetings with other new teachers. I was afraid they would offer gently phrased suggestions like, “Why don’t you try setting high expectations? Or creating a positive, data-driven, student-centered environment where all children can learn! That’s what I do, and all my students come to school excited to participate! Also, my students respect me. Maybe we should discuss why you are the type of person that children don’t respect.”
Not only was I afraid people would say these things—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.
To be a new teacher is to receive constant reminders that you’re doing the most important job in the world. Occasionally, someone will also acknowledge that the profession has a steep learning curve, a phrase that does not begin to capture what it feels like to think that you are failing at the most important job in the world.
That’s why I know—and can now admit—that if I were writing this my first year I’d probably focus on whatever resume-worthy accomplishments or success stories I could muster. Even if I shared a mistake or two, I’d take great pains to show that no children were actually harmed in the making of the story.
What I most needed during my first year was to hear from someone who would be straightforward 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-worthy accomplishments, or stories about minor mistakes in which no children were actually 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 their low points and eventually became a successful teacher.
In other words, I needed to hear from a future version of myself.
This was what eventually inspired me to create The Disillusionment Power Pack, a thirty-day series of emails meant to help new teachers through the dreaded “Disillusionment Phase” of the first year of teaching.
These emails are the notes I’d send back in time to first-year-teacher me. They include records of my absolute worst days as a new teacher, including pictures of actual journal pages I wrote at the time and the stories behind the stories I now tell in speeches and articles. (NPR covered the email series in a story written by a former teacher, tellingly entitled, Hey, New Teachers, It’s OK to Cry in Your Car.)
I don’t send these emails out to most of the people on my mailing list, nor are they part of the public material available on this website. They are only for teachers who are having really, really bad days right now.
If that’s you, you can use the form below to sign up for the Disillusionment Power Pack. (You can also find a sign-up form here if you run into any technical difficulties.) The emails are completely free and will come every few days to get you through one tough month of teaching.
And, as I’ll explain in the first few emails, one month might be all you really need.