Diary of a First-Year Teacher: I Refuse to Throw in the Towel

Although her first year was tough, this rookie teacher is determined to come back to teach in rural Mississippi.

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Although her first year was tough, this rookie teacher is ready to sign on to year two in rural Mississippi. (Photo: The Washington Post/Getty Images)

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


Last Friday I received my teaching contract for the 2013-2014 school year. I have enthusiastically committed to return to rural Mississippi to teach, even after what will most likely be the most challenging year in my professional career.

Although it's been really tough, I can't wait to take what I've learned and step back into the classroom a little taller this August.

Looking back on the past year, I remember how much I struggled—especially during the first few months. It was pretty common for me to feel totally incompetent.

I did not know what I was doing, yet a whole class was relying on me for their first-grade education. I went from feeling on top of the world while walking across the stage at my college graduation in April, to feeling as small as my first-graders struggling to read in a failing school.

I had heard that the first year of teaching was hard, and I knew that teaching underprivileged children would make the experience much more trying. However, I did not understand—and I don’t think most new teachers understand—what the struggle would be like.

It was often hard enough to get myself to work, let alone motivate myself to be the better teacher and person I'd been trained to be.

It’s not hard like the things I considered hard in college, such as finals week or writing term papers. It was hard because it pushed me. This year tried my patience and my sanity.

I swore I would never yell at my class, and on the first day, I was already yelling at my kids. I failed to put into practice most of the advice I had been given before the year started because I was in survival mode.

It was often hard enough to get myself to work, let alone motivate myself to be the better teacher and person I'd been trained to be. It shook my confidence in my abilities and my integrity. I questioned whether I could do it and whether my students would be better off without me.

There were many times when I thought about quitting. I thought about what else I could be doing with my life—and how nice it would be to be closer to family and friends.

Even into January, when most things in my classroom had drastically improved, I still wondered whether I would be able to come back for a second year.

Despite the temptation to throw in towel, I knew after all the mistakes I made this year, I was prepared to do the next year right.

Although fellow teachers and mentors had told me to do x, y, and z, I could not understand why I needed to do x, y, and z until I had lived the aftermath of not doing those things.

The advice a seasoned teacher has is based on their own failures in their early years. You have to earn your wisdom. And boy, I've earned some this year!

I know next year will not be a walk in the park, but I'm determined to make it a success.

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