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 worse, there is no good way to “out” yourself as a struggling first-year teacher.
To be a new teacher is to receive constant reminders that you’re doing the most important job in the world. Occasionally, someone will acknowledge that the profession “has a steep learning curve,” or use some other benign phrase that, while true, does not begin to capture what it feels like to believe 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 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 that were “really just learning experiences.” 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.
It was this stretch of my own career—and the shame and secrecy that surrounded it—that eventually inspired me to write the series of emails I’d send back in time to first-year-teacher me. They include records of my absolute worst days on the job, including pictures of journal pages I wrote at the time and the stories behind the stories I’ve since shared in speeches and articles.
This series was featured in an NPR piece, tellingly entitled “Hey, New Teacher, it’s okay to Cry in your Car. The emails have now helped tens of thousands of new teachers through one of the most difficult stretches of their careers. Every year, a new wave of educators signs up for the emails.
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.