Dear First Year Teacher: A love letter from the Puget Sound Writing Project, 2015
Note: I asked the participants of the PSWP (Puget Sound Writing Project) to provide a letter to a new teacher – well, we teachers are busy folks. I know there’s one I can’t find in my e-mails, and others are well, teaching. I’ll nudge again, and see what happens. Here are two for the time being.
An autumn morning in Seattle, Washington at the University of Washington with the Puget Sound Writing Project — discussing my love and passion for blogging, its benefits to self and soul, and how to use the Internet for good, and not evil, I asked my colleagues to write a love letter to a new teacher. I will post these as they come in.
My love letter is simple: remember, always, this child in front of you is someone’s baby. This child was created and is here, now. Their creation and their story is their own, and singular. No matter what you judge, or runs counter to your beliefs, this is someone’s baby. And they trust you to hold that sacred, even if they seem incapable of the same.
Dear First Year Teacher,
By now you have found that working at Woodward requires an amazing amount of attention, an ability to juggle 17 balls at once, and a talent for keeping in mind each student’s needs and interests. As an old crone who has watch you as a child grow into a colleague, I would like to pass on a bit of wisdom for this first year, and beyond. That is, “You do not have to be good.” This is the first line of Mary Oliver’s poem, Wild Geese, which has become wildly over-used of late, so I will address only the two most useful lines for me. The whole poem is included at the end.
“You do not have to be good…” I found this particular line supremely comforting during these last 14 years of teaching because it allows that, while none of us – student, teacher, or parent – are perfect and will, in fact, make many mistakes in our roles, we are still trying to do our best. It is okay to make mistakes, to try new and innovative paths (even if they are dead ends), to say NO to ways of teaching if they don’t fit who you are. In your first year, you do not have to be “the best” teacher. You only have to strive to be a very good first year teacher. Do you see how that opens you up to so many possibilities? Have compassion with yourself, as you would to any of your students who are practicing Algebra for the first time.
Oliver goes onto say, “…You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves…” In the past few years, this line has supported me in recommitting myself to the reasons I went into teaching in the first place. Take a little time right now to write down WHY you have chosen to teach, and what you love about the profession. Write down what you hope to learn and accomplish through teaching; then post this writing somewhere you can revisit it from time to time, or set it up on your calendar so that it appears monthly as a meting you have. In other words, keep an eye on what you know feeds you. If your purpose changes, go back and take the time to edit it. There is no right or wrong answer here, as long as it is your own.
Teachers are notorious worriers, particularly about being exposed as frauds. This is because there is always more to learn, always answers we do not know. Perhaps this has not been your experience as you are so soon out of training and education yourself. Still, in the longest days if correcting a zillion papers, and then staying up later yet to plan the next day’s lessons, remember Oliver’s last lines: “like the wild geese over and I’ve announcing your place in the family if things.” You belong here, dear teacher, stick with it, hang on tightly to your self, your soul.
“We are like lutes
once held by God.
Being away from his