Diary of a First-Year Teacher: We’ve Come a Long Way

A 22-year-old educator in rural Mississippi reflects upon her successes, failures, and the challenges she faced during her first semester.

Seeing her students achieve success has been a rewarding and life-changing experience for this first-year teacher. (Photo: Brand New Images)

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


For a first-year teacher who's teaching by the seat of her pants in a challenging region, something happened last week that I don't take lightly.

In the midst of reviewing for our semester exams, rehearsing for the Christmas program, and discussing with my students why the Grinch stole Christmas, I realized that my classroom could have been the same as any classroom in America. With one week left this semester, I'm reflective of how far my students have come and how far I've come as their teacher.

My students are making visible strides. They came back from Thanksgiving break, noticeably taller and more mature. They can rattle off the grammar rules we learned with their eyes closed. They are reading signs and instructions on their own. I hear them using class niceties like “pardon me” and “May I…” without reminders. In addition, their scores are leveling out at 85 percent in each subject, 5 percent above the school-wide goal. My lowest-performing students are up to grade level, and their attitudes towards school have gone from discouraged to inspired. I'm proud of how far they've come, and what this means for our next semester.

More: Diary of a First-Year Teacher: An Experiment in Teaching Compassion

The greatest relief in regards to my student’s progress is that the above list of accomplishments is exactly what they deserve. It’s the standard for most first graders. However, for poor children in the Delta, it’s not always expected and not always demanded. As I struggled through my first few months, this reality weighed over my head. I knew what my students deserved and I knew what they were up against. I entered the year ready to fight for them. However, on day one, I encountered how incredibly hard that was going to be. I was ill-equipped to serve these children, and most of the time I did not know what I was doing.

I look forward to the rest of the year with optimism, knowing now just how far you can come in one semester.

Slowly I figured things out. I wish I could say that this is because I'm an exceptionally talented person. Unfortunately, after having experienced the amount of failures that I have in the last four months, I know that is not the cause.

Instead, I think I've made it to this point through being honest with myself about my strengths and shortcomings. I learned to harness what I'm good at and seek support in the areas I fall short. In addition, I mirror this in how I approach my student’s growth. I celebrate their successes and strengths and use that as a springboard to overcome what challenges them.

In these final days leading up to the holiday break, I'm excited to see my students' semester exam scores, ready to cheer them on in their Christmas play, and hope to foster more riveting Dr. Seuss-based discussions. I look forward to the rest of the year with optimism, knowing now just how far you can come in one semester.

These are solely the author's opinions and do not represent those of TakePart, LLC or its affiliates.

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