Diary of a First-Year Teacher: The First Month

A 22-year-old educator in rural Mississippi takes us inside the wild world of teaching in this new weekly column.
Sep 11, 2012

Each week, an anonymous teacher will share her confessions, musings, struggles, and successes during the first year of her teaching career in rural Mississippi.

One month ago, a new chapter of my life began with a 5 a.m. alarm after a restless and anxious night’s sleep. It was still dark out as I stapled together my last-minute papers and activities, packed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and paused for a first-day-of-school photo with my roommates. I hopped in my car and began my 20-minute commute through cotton and cornfields, just as the Mississippi sun rose over the horizon. This was my 18th first day of school, but my first as a teacher.

I never realized how nervous teachers are on the first day of school. But when you consider how high the stakes are, it’s pretty understandable why I was a nervous wreck in the weeks leading up to it.

First of all, teaching is public speaking for eight hours; a reality I had greatly underestimated. Secondly, you are responsible for a major part of these children’s development for nine whole months—a fact you encounter each time you interact with their parents. Finally, any teaching book will tell you that the first few weeks of school set the tone for the rest of the year, and are profoundly important. The one resounding message I heard throughout my training was, “Don’t mess those first few days up!”

More: Op-Ed: For First-Year Teachers, It’s Sink or Swim

Any teacher will tell you the first year was the hardest of his/her career. You have been trained for this job, yet the true training is in the experience, which you don't really acquire until you step foot inside your own classroom. In fact, I've heard the majority of how you learn to do your job occurs in that first year. First-year teachers are known to work 70-hour weeks, seeking to create the lesson plans and resources comparable to those of their veteran colleagues, who have had years to develop theirs. And thus far, my experience has been no different. From my 5 a.m. wake-up call, I am working on school until my head hits the pillow in the evening.

In addition to the nerves and challenges any first-year teacher faces, I am a Pacific Northwest transplant, teaching in rural Mississippi. I am currently adjusting to living in a part of the country profoundly different from where I grew up. I teach in a town of 1,200, which serves predominantly impoverished students. Ninety-eight percent of the students at my school are African American. As a white female, I am experiencing being in the minority for the first time in my life.

I grew up in a world where race never seemed to matter. I was taught at schools where, thanks to the Civil Rights movement, racial issues were relegated to history books. However, in rural Mississippi, racial issues are not a thing of the past. Racial diversity remains a social divider. For the first time in my life, it feels like race matters. I am perceived and treated differently in this new community because of the connotations of my skin color. I believe this is one of the most important and challenging aspects of my new career.

Without a doubt, this year will be a challenge. I'll be facing the mountain that is any first year of teaching, but also adjusting to a new culture and all the challenges that it can bring. As my school year unfolds, I will document my confessions and musings here, in my Diary of a First-Year Teacher.

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