Can you be good your first year teaching?

Photo by John Westrock on Unsplash

This is something I always believed, whether I realized it or not. Good teachers were good immediately, that first year. Superstars. They were naturals, they were talented, they got it.

If you weren’t a superstar, you were a mess. I’m not sure what happened if you didn’t do great immediately, but you probably quit.

I’m in my third year teaching, I’m not where I want to be, and I beat myself up all the time because of it. I feel like a failure every day that things don’t go how I imagine.

Ironically, this is the complete opposite of my foundational belief as a teacher

My foundational belief about learning is this:

The only way to get good at anything is through practice.

No one is born a genius, and there’s no such thing as natural talent. People who are better than you have tried (and failed) more times than you have. All skills are learned.

And did you realize teaching is a skill? In fact, teaching is a skill made up of many other skills. It’s possible to refine some of these before stepping into a classroom, such as by working with children at a summer camp, managing people, or performing on stage. It’s unlikely, however, to be good at all of the skills without any practice.

So where could my beliefs about being a ~Superstar~ have come from?

Well, the world of education glorifies being good your first year. We tell stories canonizing good first year teachers, and books are written about how anyone can be a superstar if they merely follow these 36 chapters worth of advice.

I believed all of this.

Here’s what I’ve learned, and what I’m trying to accept

If you step back and think about it…how can someone implement 36 chapters worth of advice successfully in less than 1 year? That’s a lot of information to learn, and a lot of practices to put in place….It seems reasonable that it might take 3, 4, 5 years to do…But nah, it says right here that this woman did it her first year. It’s totally possible, and likely for me too!

No. It is unlikely you’ll be good your first year, especially if you work with students who aren’t coming to school ready and eager to learn exactly how you teach.

There is a lot to learn, and that means there are a lot of mistakes to make.

Do you berate your struggling students who are trying their best when they don’t “get it” fast enough? No, of course not. So be as kind to yourself as you are to them, because you’re just learning too. If it takes 5 years, it takes 5 years. If it takes more, it takes more. All that matters is you keep trying.