A 2021 Pep Talk and Some Slightly Embarrassing Pictures from My First Year Teaching

This phrase takes me back to my first year as a teacher. 

Look! It’s me as a baby teacher! My first day of school, first year!

I shared my first year with a badass teacher support group. We were all new teachers–hired the same year, or recently enough to still be baby teachers. That first year felt like College+. We ran to each other’s classrooms between periods, often to help monitor kids or complain about our last period or laugh at something silly that happened. We went out to happy hours as soon as we got our paychecks. We ate lunch in one classroom, arranging the desks into a circle and sitting down to talk about our love lives or the latest viral video (Ready for a flashback? Our favorites included Rebecca Black’s Friday, Lonely Island’s Jack Sparrow song, and Gangnam Style). 

That year was tough, too. We started bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, with the idea that we would change lives through literature, educate the youth so that there would be a future free of grammatical errors, be Robin Williams-esque teachers in our own way! I think we started the year out with the motto, “This is going to be the best year ever!”

And then. 

The curveballs of teaching happened. 

Paperwork. Schedule changes. Rosters with more children than there were desks in our rooms. More schedule changes, more paperwork, parent phone calls. Standardized testing–that was the first year of the STAAR test, by the way. Mean kids. Depressed kids. Kids you wish you could get to know more, but there were 34 other kids in the room, so you couldn’t. Kids who had too much going on in their personal lives to care about whatever happened in your classroom for 50 minutes. Kids who were trying, and you were trying, but those 180 days were just not enough to fix everything. 

Uncertainty. Frustration. Powerlessness. Sound familiar?

“This is going to be the best year ever” didn’t seem an appropriate motto anymore. So we changed it. We changed our motto every grading period, actually. It’s been so long that I can’t remember all of them, but each one was a new theme, a pivot, a revision to help us cope with each of the new trials of the year. One of them, about halfway through the year, was “Take back the power” hahaha (Experienced teachers and parents who suddenly had to homeschool this year, you know what I’m talking about) 

The motto I do remember, though, is the one we ended with. As disillusioned and exhausted as we were by the time May came around, we still had one little, tiny ray of hope:

“Next year will be better.” 

Even though I felt that maybe I couldn’t make it as a teacher in the long run, I thought… surely, with one year of experience under my belt, I can make it through next year. At least everything won’t be new next year. At least I (sort of) know what was coming.  

And you know what? 

We were right. 

Year 2 still wasn’t great, but it was better. We could expect some of those punches. We could anticipate, dodge, and punch back. 

My last meal with the team before I moved to Dallas!

“Next year will be better” has carried me through nearly 10 years of teaching, and has helped me thrive and embrace every part of my profession. This motto pops back into my head every time I finish a unit, a project, and a school year. No matter how much I plan something, things won’t end up perfectly. But I’ll reflect. I’ll take notes. I’ll adapt. Next time, it will be better.

So, this long, sentimental ramble is to say: yeah, 2021 is still going to have some of the same suckiness as 2020. After all, we are still in a pandemic (contrary to Texan belief). And even with a vaccine out, it’s going to be a while until we all have it and can go out without a mask again. But y’all. We’ve done almost a year of this. We’re not pandemic newbies anymore. We got ~*experience*~, bitches. And that goes a long way. (Even if it is that teeny level of experience that a second-year teacher has.)

I am worn out. I am exhausted. And as dangerous as hope can be, I’m going to hold onto this little bit. Wishing everyone a safe and happy New Year!

I guess it’s only right to finish this post with a picture of me starting my first day of teaching for YEAR 1O!

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