Some thoughts on back to school

The other day, one of my colleagues brought in the “New Teachers” flyer from 2001, which listed—with photographs—every new teacher to our school district that year.

In 2001, I was 25 years old, single, and starting my first teaching job. Because my maiden name started with a B, I was also on the front page of the flyer, second photograph from the left.  As I looked at my picture, I was most struck by how young I was back then, and not just in terms of age, but in terms of experience. I was one of those new teachers, bright-eyed and eager, ready to jump right in.

My first few years of teaching were a whirlwind. When I look back, I think about how much I didn’t know back then. Part of me wants to locate every student I taught during those years and apologize for not knowing what I was doing (I exaggerate, of course. . . . sorta). They say that your first students always have a special place in your teaching heart. I still remember many of those students, and every so often, I will hear through the grapevine how they are doing. Some are doctors. Others, researchers. Some others, businessmen. Several, world travelers. And yes, even a handful of teachers.

For some time, I felt like a “new” teacher, even when I had already been in the classroom for five or six years. A knot in my chest would form every Sunday afternoon as I worried about my lesson plans for the upcoming week. I prepared lessons down to the minute, unsure of what I would do if I suddenly had to improvise in front of a room of teenagers.

Over time, I learned to trust my instincts a little bit better. With more years and experience, I had a better and bigger toolbox of strategies that I could call up at a moment’s notice. Sunday afternoons were no longer filled stress-filled, and there have been a number of days when improvisation was at the center of a lesson.

So in some ways, teaching became easier. But in other ways, teaching is harder.