When I walked out of my classroom for the last time, my thoughts were so muddled and messy that if someone had asked me what I wish I had known as a first-year teacher that I knew on that day, I wouldn’t have been able to answer the question. I wouldn’t have been able to say that I had advice for a new teacher that was relevant or specific. I wouldn’t have been able to share any sage wisdom because my heart was shattered as my classroom door was closing behind me, and as I was turning off my lights for the final time as the person whose name was on the plate outside that classroom door. There was such finality and such pain in that act that if I had needed to answer questions about what I learned in 15 years and 15 days of teaching that I could share with new teachers—the exact job I was leaving the classroom to go do—I wouldn’t have been able to do it.
Six weeks of distance has given me some perspective on my pain, though. Six weeks has allowed me to process and compartmentalize my feelings, and to really dive into why I made the moves that I made. I left the classroom because it was time. I left the classroom so I could share what I wish I had known. Had I stayed, I would never have had the opportunity to take a step back, to process what I learned, to filter out what was most important, and to share it with each of you. I am a lucky teacher to still be a teacher, just with a different audience. I am now teaching some pretty amazing students: I am teaching other teachers. And I get to share with each of you the things that I wish “they” (who even are they?) had told me when I was a young teacher all those years ago—years which, by the way, flew by.
What I Didn’t Realize
The first thing I wish someone had warned me about was how uncertain I would be. I didn’t realize that I would leave teacher school feeling so unprepared to be the ”adult” in charge of my classroom. I didn’t realize I would feel this way. I also didn’t understand that I would feel both uncertain in front of my classes and absolutely sure that I needed to prove to my colleagues how certain I was—this created such a push–pull within myself that the internal conflict was strong for a pretty long time. I struggled to create relationships with other teachers that were meaningful, to manage my classroom, to stay ahead of my students in planning, to manage my time, to set healthy boundaries. I struggled with all those things. I struggled to get enough sleep, to eat food that didn’t come from a drive-through window because I was working so many hours that it was just easier and less exhausting than cooking. I struggled to turn off my brain long enough to sleep. I struggled to prioritize any form of self-care—16 years ago this wasn’t really a term we used, but it also wasn’t something I made time for. I felt like a fraud. All the time.
I felt like a fraud for 3 years. Maybe four. I wish someone would have told me it would last for so long. I wish someone would have said, “Hey, sometimes in life you just have to fake it ‘til you make it.” And I wish someone had reassured me that learning right along with my students was part of the process, and that it was all OK. I wish someone would have reminded me that every teacher on the planet feels like a fraud for a couple years right out of college.
Growing Up Again
I wish someone had told me that I was going to grow up in a classroom—again. I had grown up in one since kindergarten, but what I didn’t know is that it was happening all over again. My students and I—we were growing up together. We were going in and out of the phases of life together. I wish someone would have told me that was going to happen. I wish someone had told me that while I was teaching them how to be adults, I was also going to learn to be one right alongside them.
It’s Going to Be So Hard
I wish someone would have told me that teaching was going to be so very hard. I wish someone would have sat me down and said, “They try in school to express to you just how hard it will be, but they don’t even scratch the surface or remotely do justice to the difficulties you’re going to experience.” I wish someone had been really honest with me about that.
I wouldn’t have quit.
Because on the other side of the "it’s really stinking hard" coin is the side of the coin where I wish someone had told me that it was going to be the most beautiful love story I was ever going to write, outside of being a mom and a wife. And I’m not sure that too many people get to say that about their “jobs.” You see, teaching was never a “job” for me. I never went to “work.” I went to school.
When I walked out of my classroom for the last time 6 weeks ago, I walked out of school for the last time. I walked away from the place that has molded and shaped literally every facet of who I have become as a human being for the last 33 years. I have been going to some type of school since I was 5 years old. And now I go to work. And while I am still a teacher—and while I will always be a teacher—I wish someone would have expressed to me the magnitude of what I became in a school, what I built in a school, and what I was leaving behind in a school.
You see—there’s no replacement for the place that forms you, while you are helping to form someone else. There is no replacement for a place that feels so much like home that you can barely stand to walk out the doors. There is no replacement for relationships that are so significant that the thought of them leaves a lump in your throat—there’s one in mine now as I type this. The privilege we have as teachers is what I wish they would have told me about. The growth that I experienced right along with my students is what I wish they would have told me about. And the love I took with me when I walked out of school for the last time—and that you will take with you for the remainder of your days—that, my friend, is what I wish they would have told me about when I started.
By Lindsey Acton, KDP Director of New Teacher Member Experience