Diary of a First-Year Teacher: Out of the Woods?

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

In her next installment of 'Diary of a First-Year Teacher,' our anonymous columnist shares the steps she is taking to get out of the woods. (Photo: Matt Henry Gunther)

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

I have heard it said that one day teaching will click; that you will be trekking along through the dark woods of chaos and confusion that is your first few weeks and suddenly out of nowhere, it makes a little more sense.

Now I’m hesitant to go as far as saying I’m out of the woods just yet, but I am starting to remember the passion I had back before the reality of the school year hit. I entered my classroom with an eloquent vision for my students, an idealist’s optimism, and despite ample warnings, an unrealistic expectation about how easy it would be to get to that vision. It was easy in those first few days to lose sight of that passion.

More: Diary of a First-Year Teacher: The First Month

The day-to-day events at school are not nearly as inspirational as I expected them to be. Between struggling to get my students invested in my vision and laboring to adequately teach them, I became downtrodden. Every night I was dreading the next day—school was not very much fun for me, and as a result it was not very much fun for my students.

I am starting to feel like myself in the classroom—rather than an actor playing the part of a teacher.

However, out of nowhere it seemed, this week my students and I had fun. We made puppets and played games and did all of the things that first graders are supposed to do. I yelled a lot less. In fact, I think they are starting to respond to my stern teacher voice, which is a huge relief because I hate yelling. I am a soft-spoken Northwesterner; yelling is not second nature to me. I can be stern, but as soon as my voice rises to a holler, I feel like a screeching banshee. And that certainly does not stabilize the already shaky confidence of a first-year teacher.

With the advent of having fun days at school, I am starting to feel like myself in the classroom—rather than an actor playing the part of a teacher.

As this week comes to a close, “Optimistic Voices” from the The Wizard of Oz is resonating in my ears—it’s the song where Dorothy, Toto, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion emerge safe and sound from the poppies. They have a new energy and confidence as they walk on towards the Emerald City.

The chorus in the background sings, “You’re out of the woods, you’re out of the dark, you’re out of the night. Step into the sun, step into the light.” I have a special place in my heart for The Wizard of Oz; it was one of my favorite stories growing up, and my first teaching experience was directing an elementary school version of the musical. So it is only fitting that I am thinking of its upbeat songs as teaching begins to click.

I swear, as I drove home Friday afternoon through the cotton fields, not too unlike the snow-covered poppy fields of the film, the chorus surrounded me. I may just be out of the woods.

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