An Open Letter to Teachers at the End of Their First Year as Such

Dear Esteemed Teacher,

First off let's go ahead and just acknowledge the obvious and still often understated; we did it! 

I'm writing this letter, primarily, to those of you who, like me, have just completed their first year under the banner "teacher". I imagine that you, also like me, have a whole host of emotions and thoughts swirling around your minds surrounding this accomplishment. 

Maybe you had an amazing year. Maybe you feel like after surviving this year, you can do anything! Perhaps you feel like yours was a class of future presidents, in large part thanks to your brilliance as a teacher and your ability to transform young minds. It's possible that you've already been invited to speak at the next TED summit on education or to go before Congress in order to share with them the Answer to the Question that has become public education in the United States that you single-handedly discovered over the last nine months. Or maybe, like me, on the last day of school,  you slumped into your chair, laid your head on your desk, and after that final bell, just wept. 

Because perhaps you got to the end of that last day and thought, "you know maybe this isn't for me after all". Or perhaps the thought was "they didn't cover that in school". Or maybe, though you're not second guessing your call to the field, or your preparation for entry into it, you question whether you will ever truly be able to make a difference and wonder if anything you do, in light of the greater picture, will ever matter. 

I hope that at the very least, no matter what your experience was this year, that you are filled with a deep and abiding sense of gratitude because when I say we did it, I'm talking "the royal we" did it. Because God knows we didn't do it alone. 

I've had a million cheerleaders along the way. None of whom I could have made it without. It takes a village so before anything else, I'd like to express some gratitude to the members of mine.

To my Mom; thank you for being my first teacher and my life-long teacher. To my colleagues; thank you for the inspiration, the encouragement, the support, the laughs, the tears, and the constant reminder that it will be okay and it will get done, whether it gets done or not. To the people who "brought snacks because they knew I'd be hungry and couldn't stand to see me that way" in meetings, thank you. To the yous, whomever and however-many you are, who brought coffee, kleenex, Diet Coke, classroom supplies, bandaids, burritos, and baked-goods; thank you. To Ms. Bonnie Baker, my high school English teacher and all-around inspiration; thank you for challenging me to find and offer my Emerson gift. I'm so glad it has evolved beyond singing Dashboard Confessional covers with my then crush. 

And to my students…thank you, though thank you will never be enough. Thank you for the tantrums, tears, and trials. Thank you for the laughter and the love. Thank you for the ways you made me hit the wall, drove me up the wall, and on occasion threw things against the wall. Somehow by the end of each day you consistently broke-in to my heart and helped remind me that you each are exactly who and how you are meant to be and I simply have the task and privilege of walking with you as you journey into the realization and actualization of that little person. So with that, thank you for allowing me to witness the remarkable walls you hurdled, bounded, and broke down.  

So I guess the question, then, is what's next?

Well I'd like to make a few suggestions and offer a few reminders:

If you are someone who is, after their first year of teaching, wondering if it is actually for you…I'm going to be honest… it probably isn't. But! If you have come to the end of this year through hardship and heartbreak, over administrative woes and the extraordinary trials and obstacles that your students face, and can still say and more importantly believe, I must teach, then teach you must. Your success as a teacher will never be measured by test scores or reading levels. Rather, it will be measured in belly laughs and wide-eyed wonder. If you, in the midst of great teaching trials and tribulations, feel even the slightest lifting of your spirit by even one student understanding or experiencing something for the first time, teaching absolutely is for you and I'd suggest you give it some more time before deciding otherwise.

I'd also like to suggest the flu shot.

Additionally: Location. Location. Location. I attribute much of my success this year, and by that I mean surviving, to the proximity of my school to the local watering hole, and by that I, of course, mean local craft beer tap room.  Which just so happened to be across the street. Am I suggesting that an endless flow of beer contributed to my professional development? No. (Please keep reading, Mom.) What I am saying, however, is that misery loves company. And what I mean by that, is there is something to be said for, at the end of the day, walking away from the absurdity, and crying until you can laugh, and then laughing until you cry with your colleagues until you have somehow found the will, strength, and desire, to return and do it all again the next day. So my suggestion, then, is spend time with your colleagues outside of school. Learn about them. Find out what makes them tick. Discover what it is they care about. Uncover why it is that they must teach.

I'd also like to remind you that teaching is a practice. Like lawyers practice law and doctors, medicine; we as teachers must be practitioners of education. May we hold tight to those methods that are effective and move us and our students into our respective futures. And may we hold loosely those ideas that are yet to be refined, lest we, with white knuckles, cling to our methodologies over the hopes and dreams of the students with whom we’ve been entrusted. If something doesn't work, trying something new! Don't be afraid to fail. If you don't on a somewhat regular basis have a lesson asbolutely flop, you're doing something wrong. 

Another reminder: casual Friday. It only works if everybody participates, people. Don't be that person who shows up on the fifth-day wearing a skirt or a button-down or god-forbid close-toed shoes. I'm not just talking about casual Friday. I'm mostly talking about spirit Friday, and by that I really just mean be someone whose enthusiasm for learning and life is contagious. If it requires wacky-hair day then so be it. 

As to whether or not you felt prepared, I'd like to make this suggestion: take most everything you learned while in school in pursuit of your teaching credential with a grain of salt. Or better yet throw it over your shoulder with some salt for luck, because sometimes a little bit of luck is going to be your only shot. Know that the most important lessons to be learned about teaching come not from the classroom, but rather come at recess when you discover that one of your students hasn't had snack or a lunch in a week. You might be, methodologically speaking, the best teacher in the entire world, but your students won't learn a damn thing if their stomachs are growling. And the intuition to consider that cannot be found in a text book, rather it can only be discovered by the opening, and unfortunately oftentimes, breaking of your heart. 

Perhaps most importantly: remember to give thanks. Practice gratitude. To do this you must view life and all that comes with it as a gift. You have to see that seemingly devilish student with a penchant for evil as a present gift-wrapped in a bow. The staff meetings that somehow always fall on the days when you'd literally rather be on fire are like birthday cake! The parent conferences and emails…those are the cherries on top! At least that's how you need to try and see it. Because in all things there is something to be thankful for, and by finding and giving thanks in and for all things, the opportunity to teach becomes the gift itself. 

Lastly, please know that you absolutely can and will make a difference and what you do most certainly matters. If not teaching, then doing whatever else you might pursue. The question, though, is what kind of difference will you make. It is my firm belief that in teaching a child, and more importantly in teaching a child to learn for themselves, you are shaping the future; watering the seeds of hope, and hopefully change, that will grow into a future that is bright, shining with the light of justice, equality, and love. 


Carissa Lemos
Special Day Class Teacher

1 comment:

Cassie Gant said...

I love this. Your perspective on those kids proves you're doing a great job! I'd be beyond thrilled and thankful to have any of my future kiddos in your class. Keep it up!