This post is part of a new series on the blog called #FYTP or more specifically, #FirstYearTeacherProblems. I’ll be recounting various elements of my first year of teaching in hopes that someone out there finds them entertaining or relatable.
My alarm goes off at 5:55 and I blink my way out of a stress dream where I’m an hour late to school and I can’t find my shoes. Cold water jolts me awake because waiting for the faucet to run hot takes too long. Brush my teeth, twist up my hair, and put on makeup to match an outfit stolen from my grandmother’s closet. Thank goodness she has style. Heels hurt, but at least this way I’m taller than most of my students.
Breakfast is a strategic choice, wavering between what I want to eat and what will actually keep me full for a few hours. There’s coffee, lots of coffee, unless I’m starting to feel a tickle in my throat which means I’ll placebo my way to health through a cup of matcha. That’s how that works, right?
Out the door by seven, forgetting one of my water bottles and my laptop. I stumble up the steps, back inside, as the car warms up. School is only five minutes away which means I can spare the trip, but it also means that I’m two minutes later than usual and have to park a street over. I shouldn’t have worn heels.
Good morning to the secretaries. Good morning to the language teachers down the hall. Stick my head in and give Allie a wave. She’s always in before me. Then it’s putting away my things, pulling up my email, turning on a string of Christmas lights and adjusting the thermostat. Too hot, too cold, just right.
I try to set up the work for the day, but my laptop freezes, so I improvise and start on organizing lab materials. Can’t forget to water my plants. Fifteen minutes later my computer has rebooted and Spotify is playing classical music from the speakers of my projector. The kids think my taste in music sucks and they will express that without hesitation when they enter the room at 8:00.
Standing in the hallway, it’s like facing the running of the bulls. ‘Good mornings’ are met with grunts, squawks, and the occasional smile. A student stops to tell me about something that happened on the bus. A student stops to tell me about something that happened in their dream. I remind myself it is too early to just nod and say ‘uh-huh’ and offer a genuine laugh instead. I tell the students who were absent that I missed them and I mean it. I’m not sure they realize it, but I think they need to hear it.
Homeroom means sit down, quiet down, stop screaming during the pledge, stop sticking your finger in your classmates ear. I forget to take attendance. The students remind me that they have band and orchestra and that they need to go to the library to return a book. Suddenly there are seven out of seventeen students in the room and I realize I’ve let five of them go to the bathroom. Oops.
We circle up and share our highs and lows. I realize it’s my turn and I haven’t thought of what I am going to say. Highs are easy, lows are hard, and I am lucky. I play CNN10 and we talk about the government. Teachers have to be impartial, down the middle. I want my students to be educated. I let my students be opinionated. I am Switzerland. For the rest of first period, I read aloud. Two students listen and the rest make paper boats.
The clock marks the time when we switch periods except mine is two minutes slow. I get my homeroom out the door, turning around to usher in a new class. I forgot to put the slide up with their directions. The board doesn’t say “carefully and quietly take your seat” so they fly into the room like banshees. Two students need the bathroom while three need water. One has forgotten all his things in his locker and one needs work from when she was absent. Two follow instructions perfectly and even begin helping others. They deserve bear hugs. Finally, the students settle, and ask me what we’re doing today in three different ways before I can even get a word out. They love labs and can’t wait to experiment. They want to blow things up. Can we make slime?
Three periods pass and I’ve had four phone calls. The office asks if a student is absent from a class that’s not in front of me. The office asks if I can tell a student in my homeroom that her sister went home sick and she shouldn’t wait for her after school. I don’t have time to write myself a note, which means I forget by the time I see her next and I have to convince myself that I’m not a terrible teacher. The kids complain about my taste in music as they work.
We wait five minutes in the hallway because the cafeteria is late letting out. The students show off the latest Fortnite dances they’ve mastered. I wonder how standing against a wall can be so difficult. Once they’re gone, it’s a mad dash to the bathroom, the microwave, and a seat in the copy room/teacher’s room/storage room where the teachers gather and laugh and come up with ways to get through to that one student we’re all really worried about. Lunch lasts for fifteen blissful minutes.
Depending on the day, there’s recess, advisory, power hour, tiered support, IEP meetings, common planning, and more. The day speeds by and even though we’re five months into school I still can’t get the schedule right. At the end of sixth period, my homeroom comes back in. I sign planners, insist that they put up their chairs (which they don’t) and herd a group of ten year olds into a line. I’m out of breath after walking them up two flights of stairs to the library and in need of a long nap.
The classroom is a disaster, but I have last period planning which is a godsend. I pick a dozen pencils up off the floor. Tomorrow, thirteen students will ask for pencils before 10 am. Turning to my inbox, I answer six emails and share a handful of documents. I write up reports and check grades. I’m avoiding the copier because we have a quota that I’m terrified to reach. The kids hate me for it- writing in their science notebooks ‘hurts their hands.’ I want to tell them that their handwriting hurts my eyes.
The teachers in my cluster pop in and out. We laugh and shake our heads and fight back yelling out of frustration because we’ve just learned that one of our students should have been receiving special education services and one of our students should have been receiving ELL services. We joke about how we want to take all our students home and keep them safe, except it isn’t a joke.
The halls flood as the bell rings. I stand and watch little feet skip by. Two students stop and smile as they say “Goodbye Ms. Wirth, see you tomorrow.” I walk back into the room and straighten the students’ notebooks. I think about the ones who really got what I was trying to teach. I think about the ones who helped their classmates when they were lost. I think about the ones who said “science is cool,” or “I’ve got this.” I remember it’s my job to assure them that they can do anything and that nothing is out of reach.
As I pack up my bag, I think about the student who came to school wearing the same sweatshirt as yesterday. I think about the student who wrote me a note saying they were sorry they seemed tired- they didn’t get a chance to go to the cafeteria for breakfast because they were late to school. I think about the students who still speak only Spanish in my room and recite the translation for “How are you?” and “I’m glad you’re here” in my head a couple of times.
All the teachers leave at different times. We say “see you tomorrow,” as we head out the doors. I go over the day in my head half a dozen times before I get home. Then, I sit and I think about it some more. If there’s anyone around, I talk about it. My grading sits in stacks as I take a few hours for myself. It’s a school night, so whatever gets done, gets done. I walk my dog. I see my friends. They’re teacher’s too and they’re here when I need support. We exchange war stories.
I get ready for bed, laying out my clothes for the next day. Then I remember that I need to get a federal form from two students and that field trip documentation is due in a week. There are sirens in the distance and I think about my students who live a neighborhood down, a mile down, and all the way across on the other side of town.
My students claim that they wouldn’t come to school if they didn’t have to, but I don’t believe that’s true. I go to sleep knowing that I’ll wakeup in the morning and do the same things I do everyday. I’ll be there when they walk in the door, because when it comes down to it, your most important job as a teacher, is simply to be there.