I wrote the following letter today to the person I was five years ago. I know it’s a little odd, but here it goes:
This is a note to you in your first year of teaching. On some level, you’re counting down the days. You’re second-guessing what you’re doing, because so much of it seems to be failing. It’s true that there are a few things you suck at. Don’t get down by the fact that you can’t do paperwork. Do you really want to be an expert in that field anyway?
Don’t get too bummed about managing a classroom either. You’ll never be a manager, but you’ll grow into leadership. Eventually, you’ll be less of a hardass and you’ll lead out of who you are rather than what you think people expect out of you. You’re already lightening up and using humor. I know, I know, it feels like you’re cheating by joking around and getting to know the trouble-makers and talking things through instead of writing referals. Next year, if you think through a few procedures ahead of time, be authentic, attempt to stay calm and avoid punishments and rewards, you’ll find that the management takes care of itself. It’s like driving a car. You’re over-adjusting right now, but eventually it will be so normal you won’t even think about it.
I know you want to make a difference, but some kids will hate your class. They’ll hate being challenged or more likely they’ll hate the subject. They may end up liking you as a person, but there are certain people who would much rather sit in a desk and quietly solve equations than analyze how globalization is changing human interaction. Do your best not to hold their apathy against them. It’s not that they don’t care, but that they don’t understand the beauty and the excitement and the mystery of history. The cool thing is that you can bring them into service projects or art or simply allow the classroom to be a haven. You’ll get to know their stories and you’ll tell them yours.
People say that you should ask a ton of questions to veteran teachers. I’m going to tell you something different. Talk, listen, create a dialog, but you can go your own way. Otherwise, the landslide will bring you down. You’ll have so much advice that you’ll lose your core convictions. You’ll never be the business executive or the drill sergeant or the “hang in there” kitty poster style teacher. Teaching is your identity. Your gift is in how transparent you are with students. Continue to be creative, authentic and willing to change.
Right now your biggest fear is being found out. You feel like somewhat of a fraud. You worry about whether people will think you are capable. Then you feel crushed when your students create articles for an online social studies magazine and no one on staff seems to care. Embrace the solitude, as painful as that might be. Be a covert sage working silently against the system of standardization. Don’t worry so much about the invisible “them.” In the end, you will have to be accountable to your students alone.
So, go get a cup of coffee. Set down the papers. Give your wife a kiss and remember that, though you teach out of your life, teaching is not your life. Though you teach out of who you are, your career doesn’t define you. You can’t teach holistically if you aren’t living holisitcally yourself. Go rent a movie, cuddle up to Christy on the couch and eat some God forsaken microwave popcorn and spice it up with some lime and Tapatio sauce.
You’re doing okay, man. You’re going to make it over the long haul. Just don’t miss the process in your obsession with the outcome.