10 Universal Teacher-Truths You Discover Your Very First Year

Olu Eletu
Olu Eletu

1. You will never have it together. Ever.

Even if you plan every single class period down to five minute intervals with transitions and alternate activities and pre-picked partner groups, there will always be something that throws off your plans—an assembly, a fire drill, an absence, a kid that chucks his pencil across the room and hits another kid in the forehead—from a minor shift to full-blown catastrophe, it’s inevitable. And it’s okay. Teaching is planning, planning, planning, then handling what the day throws at you, whatever that may be. (Literally or metaphorically.)

2. You will learn more from your students than they learn from you.

At least it will feel that way, especially when you’re standing in front of a room of blank, blinking faces. Your students will teach you what works, how they learn, what sparks their minds, what challenges them, and how to deal with their angsty selves. And they (of course) will learn so much from you, too. But you won’t see this until after, when they return to your classroom months, years later and they bring you to tears with their heartfelt thank yous and stories of success.

3. You are not weak just because you ask for help.

When a kid is smarting off and causing chaos, when there’s a full-on fist fight in the hallway, or when you’re just in over your head, you have to ask for help. And accept the fact that you can’t fix everything. You are not a lesser person or an inadequate teacher because you reach to others for help. In fact, you are smart because you know how to push yourself and when to let go of what you simply cannot control.

4. Blunt, honest truths are not so bad.

(Once you get over the initial shock.) But kids are honest…to the point of being completely rude. Sometimes it’s intentional, and sometimes they don’t even realize that asking you why the heck you’re wearing a grandma cardigan is kind of insulting. Regardless, they teach you to not take life so seriously and appreciate the honesty that humans, for whatever reason, lose with age. (And your kids will give you legit wardrobe advice on what’s trendy and what’s not, which isn’t the worst thing.)

5. Crying is a part of the process.

And not always sad tears, but happy tears. Like the time that troublemaker boy found you after class and gave you a genuine apology for acting like a butt during third period, and then proceeded to tell you how great you are at your job and how much he values you in his life. Or the girl who poured her heart out to you via journal assignment, telling you about her abusive father and how you are one of the only people who believes in her. Yeah, you’ll cry. A lot.

6. You can never have too many pencils, staplers, reminder notes, or tissues.

Because your kids will steal all your writing utensils, hardly ever staple their papers before class, and never write down the assignment when you tell them the first time. But they’ll trust you with the biggest and scariest decisions and moments in their lives, which is incredible. (So PSA: always have Kleenex on hand.)

7. You are never just a teacher.

You are also a parent, a confidant, a mentor, a helper, an advice-giver, and a friend. This relationship runs deeper than you could ever imagine.

8. You will be terrified.

Especially on the first day, when you’re trying to feel confident in your fancy teacher clothes, but have the biggest pit stains in the entire world and no idea how to pronounce half of the names on your attendance list. (Don’t worry, you aren’t the only one.)

9. You will be exhausted but never empty.

You will have long, sleepless nights stressing over your sophomore struggling with depression, or paralyzing fear that you haven’t fully covered a concept. You’ll stay up late creating rubrics and study guides. You’ll be awake in the wee hours grading papers and journals and essays and you’ll be completely overwhelmed by all that you still want to teach these kids. But you’ll also be amazed by what they know. And even though you’ll collapse into your bed and fall asleep within seconds, even though you’ll wake up with giant bags under your eyes and need a triple shot of expresso, you’ll never be empty. You’ll wake up somehow renewed, somehow ready to begin another exhausting, draining, but fulfilling day.

10. You will want to give up. More than once.

Teaching isn’t how they depict it in the movies: a nicely-dressed human with a small classroom full of bright, hand-raising, smiling pupils. You don’t just jump into it and completely love it. Like anything, there are bad days. Days when your lessons completely flop, when the kids bomb their quizzes, when no one reads the assigned pages and you simply cannot have a discussion. You will want to say forget it. You will probably say forget it with other teacher friends over drinks or during your prep period. You will most definitely cry. (Again). But you will get up every morning to the sound of that alarm and do it all over because you love it, and you are a teacher. And that’s what teachers do. TC mark

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