Diary of a First-Year Teacher: Finally, I’m Out of Survival Mode

A beginning teacher reflects on how far she and her students have come during their first semester.

A few weeks away has helped this first-year teacher reflect on her experience thus far. (Photo: bobbieo)

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.


At home during the holiday break, I was asked about my experiences in Mississippi.

With a full semester under my belt, I found myself authentically telling my friends and family that although it's challenging, I'm having a wonderful time. I told them that I feel like I'm making an impact.

When you are in the midst of an experience, it's hard to notice your progress. And because things have gotten better so gradually, I have to say that I almost missed it.

More: Diary of a First-Year Teacher: Tears, Tantrums, and a Little Improvisation

I'm realizing that progress is a slow and steady process for me and my students.

I started the year with my head spinning like a top. My goal was to complete x, y, and z for my principal, and I could hardly think about the larger scale goals for my students. However, with time, and without my fully noticing, I transitioned from trying to keep my head above water to actually gaining some distance.

Finally, with the break before semester two, I can see that in the final weeks my students and I went from seeking achievement to achieving. Their scores show they're learning and they've grown dramatically—progress one does not always see and cannot stop to celebrate in the midst of a turbulent swim.

My swimming metaphor, somewhat optimistic for a region stark of pristine waters, is not my own. It is inspired by a lovely quote from Tyler Knott Gregson which hangs over my desk:

“Promise me you will not spend so much time treading water and trying to keep your head about the waves that you forget, truly forget, how much you have always loved to swim.”

It's scary to transition from survival mode to actually making progress. It requires self-assurance and faith in those you are leading. What I've realized over the past few months is that so much is at stake for my kids. I couldn't let my own fear of failure limit how good of a teacher I could be for my students.

After my first semester, I'm proud to say that not only are my students and I swimming and making progress, but we are also loving each moment that we are in the water. Days are still long and the stresses are still imminent, yet I have found the joy of the swim.

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