LAUSD finally forecasts hiring more than 1,300 new teachers for next fall, in addition to having brought 700 on board for the 2013-14 school year. After years of budget cuts, shrinking enrollments, furloughs, and staff reductions, it’s a welcome change.
But a word to our new teachers — it ain’t easy. In fact, my memories of that first year offer a mix of joy and embarrassment remarkably similar to my memories of being a first-time parent.
What to Expect When You’re Expecting Students
Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing
Even if you read up on it, study it, imagine it, spend time around others who are experts, and get a degree, you still cannot have any idea how much pain, how much joy, or how much love is actually involved until you get there yourself. A shelf of books on the topic will not prepare or protect you. No one can warn you, but it doesn’t matter because you would never believe it anyway.
You may not have spit-up on your clothes, but new teachers usually look like hell. Short on time, short on sleep, and short on trips to the dry cleaner, you should wear stuff that hides stains and launders well.
Never, EVER pass up a chance to use a bathroom or wash your hands.
An Ounce of Experience is Worth a Pound of Theory
New teachers start out with dozens of theories, and no kids, then wind up with dozens of kids, and no theories. When a student is sobbing at her desk, having a tantrum, or throwing a chair across a room is no time to thumb through Vygotsky, Piaget, or the Common Core Curriculum. In the moment, just close the books, open your heart, and be human.
You’re Unique, Just Like Everyone Else
Of course you think your classes are unique and special, unlike any classes that have ever existed before, in the whole history of time — even though someone had exactly the same kids last year, and someone else may have exactly the same kids five or six other periods a day right now. You’ll gushingly regale friends and family with stories from your classroom the same way new parents marvel over the first smile or the first step.
Prepare to be humbled
No matter how competent you are, and no matter how much you love them and sacrifice for them, one day very soon your students will embarrass you. Just like a toddler shouting profanity in public, drawing glares and spite, your students will humiliate you, and in front of People Who Matter. But you’ll have to turn right around and love them anyway.
It’ll cost you (and a lot more than you thought)
The expense of caring for a little bundle of joy shocks even the most prepared parents, but just wait until you tally your own out-of-pocket expenditures for your classroom. Ninety-one percent of American school teachers spend $500-$1,000 per year of their own money providing both necessities and niceties for the students, from pencils and paper, to emergency snacks and supplies and cute little stamps and stickers. It’s not in your job description or your contract, but you’ll do it anyway. (Pro-tip: Mini-grants from Donorschoose.org can take the edge off.)
Not All That
At first, you will be awful, though with occasional bursts of brilliance. You’ll wonder how on earth the more experienced teachers (just like experienced parents) are managing it all so easily.
No Thanks, I’ve Got It
But you won’t admit your failings to those more experienced than you, lest you have to hear more of their well-meaning but unsolicited advice.
New Teachers Become Experienced Teachers
Over time, though, you too will become one of those experts whose class runs smoothly, whose students listen attentively, and who offers well-meaning and frequently-dismissed advice to new teachers.
It takes years. And the best teachers, like the best parents, get schooled by their students. Be kind to yourself, embrace the learning curve, and graciously accept help when it is offered.