First Year Small Talk


“How’s your first year going?” a polite friend asks innocently as we stand in line for hot cider.

I hate this inevitable question; it’s loaded. And this is how everyone starts a conversation with me now. I can’t really blame them, though. It’s new.  It’s what I’ve been up to lately. Correction: it’s all I’ve been up to lately.  But, I don’t think they really care to hear the truth. They want me to say ‘well’. They want me to say it is hard, but the good times make it all worth it. They also want me to not go into extreme detail about all of my students and their individual successes. That would bore them.

I settle with what they wanted me to say in the first place–plus it’s easier this way:

“Good. You know, they said it would be hard, but I didn’t realize it would be this hard,” we share a giggle and look around at all the others in the crowded room.

I’ll spare you the gory details: working 12+ hour days, spending many nights restless, dedicating countless weekends to organizing the grade book, sending students out of my classroom for calling me and each other unacceptable names, never knowing what tomorrow brings, getting lost in student writing, constructing the ship as it sails, flopping lesson plans, differentiating differentiated lessons, changing things last minute, adapting to how the students are feeling that day, abiding by rules and regulations, receiving outrageous amounts of emails, sending just as many, accepting responsibilities up to my eyeballs, exhausting every amount of creativity in my body, and all the while smiling like I’m not going to implode.

“Well,” a pause (there’s always a pause), “once you get the first year under your belt, it’ll get so much easier!”

Let’s pretend like I haven’t heard that one before.

“I hope so!” We force a laugh, take a drink our cider, and search for new conversations.

Actually, I really don’t hope so.

I don’t hope it gets easier (albeit, I don’t want it to get harder, either).  While I wish to become a more efficient and effective teacher, there is plenty of room for me to improve my practice.  It may get “easier” for me to transition from activity to activity, to manage difficult students, to prepare ahead of time as opposed to my current night-before “organic” fashion, and to manage my time better as the years go on. Some of those things, hopefully, will become second nature to me. But, that doesn’t mean it will be perfect; I am always learning, always improving, always wanting more. From the way I see it, the best educators are the ones who are constantly updating their practice, consistently challenging themselves to work on their weaknesses, continuously encouraging the best from their students and colleagues, and regularly working their hardest day in and day out. All for the students they serve.

I want that; I want to be part of the elite.

It doesn’t matter if you are in year one or year thirty; teaching isn’t easy, and I don’t think it ever should be. It takes practice. There is no mastery. If it could be mastered, I would have never picked this career in the first place.

Another polite friend approaches, “Hey, you, how’s the first year going?”

“Good. They said it would be hard, but I didn’t realize it would be this hard,” we share a giggle.

Rachelle Lipp is a first-year teacher at Atlantic High School.  With as much as she is learning, “17th-Grader” seems like a more appropriate title.