Prior to becoming an educator, I had somewhat of an idea of the things teachers endure. Teaching isn’t easy by any means and I learned that first hand. I am a proud Teach For America (San Antonio ’18) corps member and I made it through my first year in the classroom. That’s worthy of an award, for sure.
My reasoning for becoming an educator may be different from others. I wanted to make an impact in the lives of students, especially those who look like me. I was initially interested in making change through art, but as I researched various ways of obtaining the credentials I’d need to teach in the state of Arkansas I came across Teach For America. I scoured the web (mainly YouTube) for reviews and honest experiences. The results? The good, the bad and the ugly. However, it was up to me to make the decision to apply. The vision of TFA stuck with me and I knew that I wanted to be a part of this change of ensuring that every child has “an equal opportunity to learn, grow, influence, and lead.” 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 of teaching. Location and demographics played a part in this. Being on the Eastside of San Antonio, Texas where the majority of the students are Black and Latino, my building of authentic relationships stemmed from my own transparency, honesty and authenticity. I resembled my students, related to them, and even connected through certain life experiences. Investing students in not only the content, but their teacher as well makes an impact, trust being a key component.
Work-Life Balance was nonexistent for me as a first year teacher. Each school is different! My days started as early as 7am and ended past the school day. I brought work home with me, lost myself in lesson plans, data and didn’t make time for myself. Weekends were spent doing school related things as well as obligations as a corps member and my certification program. Teaching became less enjoyable and more frustrating. 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 intentionally make time for me, advocate for myself and create a system that worked for me. This included no work on my Friday nights and Saturdays, snuggling with Cairo (my dog), tending to Black&Gifted, outings and attending music shows. I completed as many tasks during the school day that I could and dedicated a maximum of one hour to work on school at home. It took me setting boundaries to have peace of mind. I had to find things that kept me grounded in order to truly balance work and life.
Being open to constructive criticism and feedback is a must because growth is inevitable. In order to be a better educator one must know their strengths and areas of growth. It’s also great to be able to apply feedback, communicate concerns and be open to new ideas and methods. The great thing is, this applies to all professions. I believe that there’s always room for growth and learning.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help because as a first year teacher you won’t have all the answers. Failure will size you up, but seeking support will plant you right back on your feet. It’s never a great experience to struggle in silence and vulnerability is okay.
Self care doesn’t mean selfish, so silence those notifications, schedule that doctor’s appointment, visit your therapist, grab a drink, get a massage, hang with friends, meditate, draw a picture, try a new recipe, take your dog(s) on a walk, watch a movie, say “no”, book a flight, write that article, attend a conference, book a photoshoot, leave that email on unread, hit the gym, go see your favorite artist, catch up on sleep, whatever it is… YOU DESERVE IT!