To the first-time teacher

September 09, 1994|By Diane Jacobs

DEAR FIRST-time teacher:

A wonderful reality is starting to set in. After all of the theory, all of the textbooks, all of the "what ifs" and "how I mights", your students have entered the classroom and focused their minds upon you. Finally, what you know is blending with who you are to create the teacher.

This is a moment of intense pride and brave imaginings.

What are your tasks, your roles, your aims? What do you do now that you are here, and your university training is in the shrinking distance?

Now is the time to remember what brought you here. Now is the time to think of what your students need. Now is the time to use every bit of energy and creativity and determination and spirit that you have ever used in any single day of your life, and use it all in only one minute. Then somehow re-charge yourself for the next minute, and the next minute and the one after that.

Eventually, the re-charging will come naturally; and you will stop wondering where veteran teachers get their energy.

For now, prepare to be tired, weary, overworked -- these words just don't measure up to the total numbing fatigue that you will feel.

In addition to fatigue, you may have aches and pains. If your feet hurt, get some sensible shoes. Is your voice fading in and out like a dying microphone? Group work and an occasional instructional video will help rest your vocal cords.

Do your thighs feel like you have run a marathon? Everyone knows that school corridors are composed of some kind of smooth, pebbly, concrete surface that's not conducive to runs in the direction of crowded student bathrooms that smell of cigarettes.

Digestive problems? Is it the school food or is it that you're forced to eat in 20 minutes . . . or is it both?

It doesn't matter. Your feet, your throat, your legs and your digestive system will adjust. You're here to teach. When the teaching works, you will be exhilarated.

How do you tell that it's working? Look at your students faces. Believe me, those satisfied looks will lure you into more and better lessons, more and later late-nights, more and greater methods and ideas and goals.

Is this folly? Everywhere -- on television and radio talk shows, in the newspapers and on the streets -- people talk about the decline of education.

Despite this, we teachers must carry on. We present what we know, limited as we are. We present how we know, debatable as it is. We invent an environment for the mind, so that, in comfort and in candor, our students can relish the expressions that are their birthrights.

And there are days when we are sad in a profound and poignant way that, I believe, is unknown to the stockbroker who misreads the market or the salesperson who misses the sale. When we lose, we lose a person, usually a person we could never have saved. But the pain is no less for our helplessness.

We stomp around the book room, angry because the 16-year-old for whom we had so much hope has just dropped out of school. We carry the image of him, walking away from the building forever; and we wonder: "What could I have done differently? We worry, through the day and through the night, about the abused child who cried all day in class. The abuse has been reported, and the proper authorities are in control; but we can't get the image of the swollen face out of our minds.

Who are we . . . we purveyors of information -- math, science, language, social studies, music, reading, physical education, art, mechanics and more? Who are we? We who teach them, guide them, lead them, discipline them, listen to them -- and love them, in our teacher way -- and let them go?

I suppose that we are probably just the ones who decided that being a part of students' lives makes us whole.

Let me be among the first to welcome you. And let me say that there is no greater honor for me than to be allowed to pass on to you the career that I love, the career that has brought me many of the most exquisitely unforgettable moments of my entire life.

Diane Jacobs trains student teachers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Continuing Studies and teaches English at Villa Julie College.

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