By Jessica Salfia
It’s August which means across America teachers and school employees everywhere are preparing their classrooms, writing lesson plans, attending professional developments and county in-services, and laminating…well, everything. I recently saw on teacher twitter someone call August the “Sunday of Summer.” And this is true. I spend most Sundays during the school year preparing for the week, feeling some strange mix of anticipation, dread, hope, and fear—my stomach a constant flutter of anxious butterflies.
This is what a lot of teachers start to feel in those first weeks of August. There is expectation and excitement for our new students, new classes, and a fresh start, but I would be lying if there isn’t also a bit of angst. We know our days of drinking coffee while it’s still hot, using the restroom on demand, being able to stay ahead of our laundry, and reading books for fun are numbered. I have written about this feeling before. You can read that post here. And don’t get me wrong, I LOVE teaching, especially the first weeks of school. All that hope and promise. It’s one of my favorite times of the whole year.
But I also know what’s coming. The sleepless nights, the hours of grading, the tough kids, the good kids, the struggle, the joy. If you’re having trouble imaging what a year of teaching is like, then I would like to direct you to the following clip from BBC Earth.
Folks, meet the barnacle goose chick.
(If you didn’t watch the video, there are spoilers below.)
The first time I watched this clip, I (like I’m sure many of you) thought that chick was a goner. It was incredible, awe-inspiring, and then so very stressful.
I got so mad at myself about a minute in for still watching. “Why am I still watching this baby bird’s body tumble down this cliff?” I thought to myself.
But then, as the chick’s limp body rolled to a stop. The goose parent’s head whips around to look in the camera with surprise…
…do I dare hope?
When that bird popped up, shook his tail feathers, and the narrator said the words “the resilience of the barnacle goose chick is extraordinary,” I laughed out loud. The pure exhilaration of the whole experience–the joy, the hope, the crushing obstacles, the success at the end. I can only hope to be like a barnacle goose chick this year. (Also, can someone put that on a t-shirt for me? Thanks.)
We all spend August and the first weeks of school preparing for “the perfect launch.” And for a few weeks or months we are sailing though the year, our wings and feet outstretched in complete control–joyful and brave.
But as some point we may hit a rock. Or a hill. And trust me, I’ve done my fair share of rolling head over feet down rocky slopes.
But after 15 years of teaching, I can attest that for the most part, I emerge at the end of the year “a little dazed perhaps, but all in one piece.”
There will be struggles, yes. And if you are a first-year teacher (or any year-experienced teacher), you should read this poem by Ashley Wilkins who is entering her second year of teaching. This poem appeared in the Anthology of Appalachian Writers, vol. X.
No One Told Me
By: Ashley Wilkins, Petersburg High School ELA 8
No one told me that grading papers takes over your life in three days flat.
No one told me that coffee and concealer are necessities.
No one told me that I’d lose sleep over kids that aren’t mine.
And no one told me that you need to work at least forty-five minutes from where you live so you have time to ugly cry and recover before you get home.
No one told me I’d have to call out children for drug use – and hope it wasn’t too late.
No one told me that eighth grade is even harder when you’re the teacher.
No one told me that parents are children and children are parents, that meth is made as commonplace as cake, and that Appalachia is falling into ruins before our eyes.
That all most want is someone to care, and that I’m the only responsible adult they know.
That my age would make me the target for more information than I ever thought I’d hear, and that my closet would become a locker for a broken hearted thirteen-year-old.
Or that I’d get to be the person I needed when I was that age.
No one told me that I would fall in love with one hundred and ten sets of eyes.
No one told me that it would be the hardest, craziest, most beautiful thing I could ever have chosen to do.
No one told me that one ah-ha moment would wipe away all the frustration.
Or that getting a single kid to write one paper would be the most rewarding accomplishment I’ve ever achieved.
No one told me this would be my chance to save these mountains.
No one told me being an English teacher would have very little to do with English, that I’d be a mother, a sister, a counselor, a nurse, a lunch lady, a chaperone, a janitor.
No one told me, because no words can do justice this difficult, crazy, beautiful, hot mess of a life.
I recently heard Ashley read this poem and asked her if we could publish it on our blog. What I love about it is that Ashley has managed to identify many of the paradoxes that not just first year teachers, but all teachers confront. But even in her first year, Ashley saw that the joy significantly outweighs the struggle. Every teacher knows how “one ah-ha moment would wipe out all the frustration.”
So as you prepare to “launch” into a new school year like a brave barnacle goose chick, remember: this job is sometimes a scary job, but it is the most important job in the world. You will have to leap into it with the faith and conviction that you’ll make it safely to the bottom. And never forget, a kid somewhere is waiting to see YOU on the first day of school. This is our chance to save these mountains. Getting a student to write a single paper may be your greatest accomplishment this year. Your job will be all encompassing but filled with SO MUCH JOY.
And no matter how many “rocks” you hit…
the resilience of the teacher is extraordinary.
Have a great year!
Look for a post coming soon about what’s in store for WVCTE this year. We have some EXCITING news!
And we would love to hear how you are preparing for the upcoming year! Share with us your best first day of school strategies, self-care tips, and tools for tackling a new year. You can send us an email or message us on Twitter or Facebook.