Prior to becoming an educator I had somewhat of an idea of the things teachers endured from lesson planning to being a champion for all students. Being a teacher is far from easy and I learned that first-hand.
I am a proud Teach For America (TFA) San Antonio ’18 corps member and I made it through my first year in the classroom. This accomplishment is worthy of an award, for sure!
My intention for becoming an educator was rooted in me wanting to make an impact in the lives of students, and especially those who looked like and shared a similar socioeconomic background as me. Prior to stepping foot into a classroom of my own, my initial goal was to make an impact as an art teacher, but as I researched various ways of obtaining the teaching credentials I would need in order to teach in the state of Arkansas I came across Teach For America. I scoured the web—mainly YouTube—for reviews of people sharing their honest experiences. The results? The good, the bad, and the ugly. Ultimately, it was up to me to use discernment and I went where I was led. I knew within that I would make a difference and I chose to align with an organization that was actively doing the work of ensuring that every child has “”
I’ve narrowed down my first year in the classroom to six key takeaways:
Building authentic relationships with scholars was what kept me going throughout my first year in the classroom. The location in which I taught and the demographics played a big part in the relationships that I established. I taught on the Eastside of San Antonio, Texas in a majority Black and Latinx community. This was a direct representation of the scholars I taught. The authentic part of building relationships stemmed from my own transparency, honesty, and authenticity. I resonated with the scholars (and community) in various ways—my race, being a woman, being a millennial, sharing a similar socioeconomic status, having shared interests outside of education amongst other things. Many of the parents of Spanish-speaking scholars that I taught struggled to speak or fully understand English, which gave me the opportunity to communicate with them in their native tongue. The point is that I always showed up as myself and was open to various interactions with scholars and their families. Investing students in the content you’re teaching is one thing, but they should also have ample opportunities to get to know who you are.
Work-life balance was nonexistent for me as a first-year teacher. My days started as early as 7am and extended past the school day. I took schoolwork home, got lost in lesson planning, grading papers, preparing exemplars, reviewing data, and following up with parents. I didn’t make time for myself and I wasn’t aware of how lost in the sauce I was. Weekends were spent doing school-related things as well as fulfilling my obligations as a corps member on top of the requirements for my certification program.
Teaching became less enjoyable and more frustrating. Backing out wasn’t an option because I did not want to fail the scholars nor my commitment, but every minute of my day was draining. I didn’t begin to feel in control of my work and home life until the year was almost over. I had to force myself to make time for self-care, to advocate for myself, and to create a routine that worked for me. This included no work on Friday nights and Saturdays, snuggling with Cairo (my dog), tending to my platforms and creative endeavors, going out with friends, and attending concerts (solo). I completed as many teacher tasks during the school day that I could and dedicated a maximum of one hour to work-relating things once I was home. It took me setting boundaries to have peace of mind. I had to align myself with things that kept me grounded in order to feel connected to my purpose.
Being open to constructive criticism and on-the-spot feedback was vital for my growth in the classroom and personally. In order to be a better educator—or any role—one must know their strengths and areas for growth—Glows and Grows as we often referred to them in the Corps.
It’s also great to be able to apply feedback, communicate concerns, and be open to new ideas and methods of executing things. There’s always room for growth and learning! Remember, you don’t know everything, so be teachable and don’t take things personally.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help because as a first year teacher you won’t have all the answers and you will make mistakes. Failure will size you up, but seeking support will plant you right back on your feet. Don’t struggle in silence—vulnerability is okay.
Self-care doesn’t mean selfish, so silence those notifications, schedule that appointment, visit your family, out your phone on do not disturb, book a massage, hang with friends, meditate, draw a picture, try a new recipe, take your dog for a walk, watch a movie, say “no”, book a trip, attend a conference, schedule a photoshoot, leave your emails on unread, visit the gym, go see your favorite artist, catch up on sleep, whatever it is you deserve it!
This article has been updated and was originally published on August 27, 2019.