Making it through year one

Support important for early career educators

Dear New Teachers,

It is year six for me, and I thought at this point I would have it all figured out. Honestly, I’m happy to say that I’m not ready to quit teaching at the end of this school year, which means that I have once again beaten the national statistics about new teachers quitting in their first 5-7 years.

However, not being ready to quit doesn’t mean the journey has been smooth. If this year’s pandemic has proven anything, it is that the work teachers, administrators, support staff, and schools do is more important than anyone could have ever imagined.

Survey after survey, poll after poll, various entities have been scratching at the surface as to what we want and need as teachers. While this past year enlightened the world to the needs of not only the students but also our faculty and staff, many needs are still unaddressed regarding our early career educators. I know what I wanted in my first year and still want in my sixth year: validation for my triumphs and support for my struggles.

Validation is key to building the confidence of new educators. The first year is the year you learn what you’re really made of, and you’ll be tested emotionally, physically, and pedagogically. In that chaos, the glimmers of light come from the validation you receive. I have found that simple, genuine words and praises can make a difference in someone’s day, especially during these trying times with a pandemic and political upheaval.

New teachers, celebrate every success you have because you are doing something that matters and changes lives daily. Beat yourself up less and love yourself more because you matter, and yes, this job is hard because the outcome is beautiful.

Support is key to growing and staying within this profession. We went from having massive support in college during our classroom experiences to being dropped in a classroom on our own. A wealth of knowledge has landed into unknown territory, and it is frightening and exciting. However, new teachers are drowning all over. For some, their first year of teaching was virtual this past year, and many supportive and nuanced moments that happen within that first year were lost due to not being in the building with coworkers. Additionally, not every school district has the capability or the funding to have an effective mentor program. We in the education field need support across the board if we want to be successful.

New teachers, step out, ask questions, and make connections. Find your people and use them. This can be one of the hardest, most imperative things you’ll do in your career. We cannot survive and thrive alone. Those you seek will give you guidance, and you have much to offer them in return. You are not new and useless; you are new and useful. Give yourself a little credit.

Thanks to COVID-19, I’ve been put in a reflective state, and I realized something: a large chunk of my professional happiness comes from the relationships with my students. My relationships have kept me going in the good times and the bad times. I value my relationships with my students more than my content, and for an English teacher, that is truly saying something. My students mean more to me than I ever thought imaginable, and they know that I sincerely love them. They remind me every day why I am here. While I may fight against and address the issues in education, I look at my students and appreciate them for reminding me why I love my profession, and why I am fighting. Some days, my students are the ones who support and validate me the most.       

New teachers, this job becomes a career the moment you remember your “why.” Validate and support one another, and more importantly, validate and support yourself. You’re doing great. Keep going.

Rae Carlson

Rae Carlson teaches English at Niobrara Public Schools. She is a member of the Niobrara Education Association.