I am standing at the top of a mountain. The mountain was formed through a really complex scientific process that involves IEP meetings, anxiety, and stress sweat. That anxiety and stress sweat started forming in August, when I began my first year as a special education teacher. Now, it’s all coming to a close (13 more days), and I decided that I should start a blog, because I wanted to be positive that I will have a heart attack in the next 13 days. Did I already mention that I have 13 days left?
At this point in the year, I am bouncing around the school either giggling or hiding my mascara-streaked face. I have been reaching out for resources, asking colleagues and other first-year teachers for some comfort and discussion. And truly, this blog is a welcomed and calming outlet for this former professional writer.
During one of this week’s “sessions”, as I call them (when I lock myself in my office to cry/read blogs/listen to Simon & Garfunkel), I was directed to Edutopia by one of the best bloggers/humans out there (Love, Teach is the bee’s knees). She suggested I check out a post asking teachers to write letters to their first-day-of-teaching selves.
I decided to write myself a letter (which became so emotional for me that I ended up in a totally different kind of session that ended in me eating a whole bag of gummy bears). I sat back in my office chair, stared at the ceiling, and tried to think about the first time I stepped into my classroom with an official key in hand. About how much has changed, how many things were different than I expected, how many things were even better than I planned.
-I’ve gotten through some really intense parent meetings without more than a quick cry in the bathroom stall (and just a little bit of barfing).
-Even though I always request that students throw in a “Miss” when they address me, they always end up calling me by my first name, and I actually love it.
-All of my students know that my favorite office supply is an eraser because, as I say to them, mistakes are supposed to happen. That is my rule for them but I have been terrible at remembering the same for myself.
There might be two of you reading this, and that’s just fine, but I want to be sure that I never forget this moment. This time of the year. This time of my first year. This documentation of all the stuff I’ve lived through so far. I hope this blog finds a few people who want to hang out and see how this plays out.
Dear August Miss,
You’re standing in your classroom, staring at the mess left behind, thrilled and ready to throw up. You’re not sure you will ever be able to dig through all of the paperwork, outdated materials, and general oddities in the way. You won’t right away, but it will come in time. You’re going to set up your classroom with your parents and your partner. It will not mean a whole lot once the kids show up, but you will feel good.
You will wonder what your staff is like, since everyone in the building has “opinions” about them. But don’t judge too quickly. They will drive you insane, sometimes be petty and cranky, but those nine people will help you through a very hard year and become your friends.
The general ed teachers won’t be as welcoming as you hoped, but that one down the hall, M, will be unbelievably kind to you and when the two of you go through similar personal struggles later this year, she will comfort you. The other SpEd teachers will be there for you with fierce love and will surprise you with their belief in you and your passion.
You will be scared of parents. Of their needs, their demands, their anger. You’ve heard horror stories, right? Those weren’t your parents. You will find that when you are honest and funny and … well … just yourself, even the parents that people told you to be scared of will respect you and treat you with kindness. You might actually like them!
Unfortunately, one Wednesday afternoon in January will not be like the others. It will be painful, and change you forever. You worry it will keep you from teaching. People thought you wouldn’t come back. You hate the way it makes you fear your students. It makes you feel like a failure. But you will make it through every day with love. One day at a time.
In fact, as you type this letter, you just got off the phone with a parent who stormed out of a meeting crying. He feels inadequate. He feels that he and his student were lost in the system. He is scared. You will call him when he gets home, apologize for all the times you let procedure get in the way of his desire as a parent to simply communicate with his son. The two of you will cry on the phone together. And after the real heartbreak and misery of the last month, and the constant fear that you can’t make it another day (let alone year), you will write this letter to yourself, knowing that you can, because you just remembered why you love this so much.
This will be, undoubtedly, the most painful year of your life. You will question everything and, at times, you will hate yourself for making this choice in career. The time between spring break and Memorial Day will be awful. You will fear work. You will cry to and from your front door. Please don’t. You will dread Sunday evenings and you will consider leaving everything behind. Please don’t. You will look for jobs at Starbucks and think of being a lifetime doctoral student. Please don’t.
You will be okay, because those kids need you. You will be proud. And when your senior boys do something stupid with only 13 days left, you will just start to cry because you know how much you will miss them.
You’re okay, kid. Just don’t fight the current.