Last May, I stepped into a Special Education classroom as a first year teacher. As an undergraduate, I’d had very successful placements and worked part-time as a substitute teacher starting my junior year of college. However, after a rather traumatic student teaching experience, I decided that a general classroom wasn’t for me.
Then, I started subbing in a Special Education classroom the year after I graduated college. I was in that awkward post college transition year and being in that classroom was one of the best things that could’ve happened to me. Flash forward 3 years and I became a Special Education Teacher.
The opportunity presented itself and I rose against self doubt which had been placed in me during student teaching and subbing. My first year hasn’t been easy, but its been a transformational year and one that has brought me opportunities to change lives. To me, that makes all the hard days worth it.
As I reflect on my first year (as summer moves along towards an upcoming year), 5 big lessons come to mind.
Lesson #1: Your life is more important than a job. It will not always be there nor give you a hug when you need it.
Often I was told, after deciding to become a teacher, it would be a lot of work. I was used to working, but I also knew the importance of a healthy life/work balance. Student Teaching had stripped my life away and I vowed to never do it again. Granted, some of the last year has been crazy and required weekends, but if I have to choose a day with family or finishing a lesson plan, the lesson plan can wait (isn’t that what sub plans are for??)
Lesson #2: Haters gonna hate
Most people can think of someone at work who seems to thrive on negativity or belittling other people. I’m sorry to say, my school has more than a few individuals like that. Truthfully, you have to look at the people doing it as people and remember it’s a reflection of them, not you. As terrible as it seemed at the time, they really toughened me up and helped me to stand up for myself a little more. So thanks haters for making me a better person!
Lesson #3: Stepping outside your comfort zone
I talk to my students parents on a daily to weekly basis. When I first had to start, it was hard partly because I’m introverted and suck at phone calls. The other part, it was new and I wanted to do my best (hello anxiety). Now, I can call a parent without feeling anxious, conduct big scale meetings and my articulation (which is quite good) has gotten even better.
This is just one example. There are many ways you step outside of your comfort zone and grow as a teacher. Regardless of whether you have a good or bad experience as a teacher, you will walk away a better person.
Lesson #4: You will dramatically change someones life for the better
This year I had a student who we’ll call Axel. I work in a private school that is an alternative/private school. He was ready to go back, but some people fought me on it. I didn’t back down and said he was ready. Guess what, I was right! He’s grown so much more than I could do given my resources and I often think of him. I’m glad I became a teacher if only to see him succeed and go further than what others thought he could. Of course, the same could be said for many of my students. I love them all.
I could add hundreds of lessons I’ve learned as a teacher, but those four stand out because they’re the lessons I didn’t expect to learn. While I don’t plan on being a teacher long-term, the experiences I’ve had and students I’ve had will last me a lifetime. Good or bad, I don’t regret a second of it.