“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” —Aristotle
On my first official day as a Duval County Public School employee (aka when I got my new email address), I wrote this quote in my signature. Email signatures are kind of my guilty pleasure (who doesn’t love a good email signature??), but it also served as a small reminder to myself. First, to remain humble because I studied philosophy in college and became a teacher by choice, which means that I have so much to learn. Second, to remember that philosophy is and always will be a big part of my life. Third, and most importantly, that in this work, there are simply things that I do not know how to do—no matter how many Professional Development sessions I attend, how many veteran teachers I talk to, how many books I read—until I do it myself.
When I came back for my second year, I felt more at ease. And it wasn’t the kind of ease that came with preparation, considering I was in Indonesia for most of the summer and did zero school work for the entirety of my summer break. It was the kind of ease that came with familiarity. Seeing familiar faces—colleagues that I hadn’t seen all summer, a close friend whom I did everything with and who went through the same things as me last year, having the same people on my team. Coming back to my old classroom and discovering all the supplies that my Past Self had left behind for my Future Self to find. Knowing exactly who to talk to when I need help, rather than seeking out help whenever it finds me in trouble or feeling overwhelmed. Listening to admin and finding myself understanding more than half of what they’re saying—words like “differentiation,” “structured movement,” “IEP,” or “data-driven rotations” are no longer foreign to me.
I never thought that the girl who showed up to the first day of school last year flustered, having only half an hour before first period starts because she lived on the other side of town and severely underestimated traffic, is the same girl who became the lead science teacher this year. When I have conversations with new teachers (especially new Teach for America Corps Members), I look back on my first year and could pinpoint exactly when I felt the same way they did. Not much was different: I had schedule changes and difficulty with the curriculum; in fact, I felt that I didn’t have a good grasp of it until the third quarter. I felt insurmountable pressure teaching a tested subject that makes up a part of the school grade. I was depressed, I had terrible anxiety, I had to have my mother visit me for a couple of months until things started looking up. I cried on the dirty floor. I got a desk thrown at me. I was powered by denial and rationalized everything with, “It’s fine. It’s all gonna be fine.”
I always looked up to the second-years at my school, who all looked like they’re blissfully thriving. I remember spending so much time working—it seemed like all I ever did or thought about was work—yet every time I get to school, it felt like I had gotten nothing done. How do they do it? I thought.
My friend and partner teacher last year, who was a second-year teacher, would tell me often, “I wish that you could have seen me during my first year.” At the time, those words didn’t offer me much solace because I was far too overwhelmed to find comfort. But recently, my Assistant Principal reminded me of my former partner teacher’s words. After visiting my classroom in the second week of school, she told me, “I wish that I could have a time machine. I’d record you now and go back in time to show you, at this time last year, that you will be this teacher in a year.”
And I realized then the truth of Aristotle’s words, the virtue of the phrase that we hear so often: that it’s all “part of the process.” If I hadn’t gone through the lows, I wouldn’t have had the highs that I did at the end of last year and the highs that I do now. I wouldn’t have received an email from a former student inviting me to his home football game if he and I hadn’t butted heads for a whole semester. I wouldn’t have received texts from former students if I hadn’t had some difficult conversations with them or kicked them out of my classroom a few times. Save for the details and idiosyncrasies of different contexts, personalities, and life experiences, overall, what I went through in my first year wasn’t entirely unique to me, the same way that the experiences of the current first-year teachers aren’t unique to only them. It’s all about trusting that process of growth.
Learning never stops and I continue to learn from the compassionate people in my school community, the resourceful and empathetic staff members at Teach for America, but especially my students. While I enjoyed great successes in my first year of teaching, like contributing to an improved school grade, I’m excited to become a leader in my school community and within Teach for America. I now teach high school Physical Science Honors in addition to standard and advanced sections of eighth-grade science. I’m a sponsor for my school’s chapter of National Junior Honor Society. I’m also starting the year as a facilitator for a Professional Development session in Teach for America.
I’m excited for this school year and the endless opportunities to continue making a difference. Here’s to another year of growing and learning by doing.