Unsolicited Advice to Our 2022 Corps
August 31, 2022
Dear Indianapolis 2022 Corps,
You have a few weeks under your belt! I imagine every alum of this organization has vivid memories from their first weeks as an educator. I recall looking out my apartment window the day before students started school and finding my little Honda Fit smashed. I dedicated most of Sunday to managing an insurance claim and locating a rental car in a small town.
This meant I woke up at 2AM on Monday to lesson plan. Then I drove across town to Walmart to find materials for said lesson plans at 5AM. From here I found out that the activity I designed to take one hour with my students with Autism, lasted for fifteen seconds. I went through most of my 2AM lesson plans for the whole day before lunch.
Over the course of that first week, I went from physically tired to crying (blubbering really) to my department chair and assistant principal because I felt more like a babysitter than the educator I had envisioned in my head.
This happened eight years ago, but it still feels so fresh in my mind. I can still access those feelings of doubt and inadequacy. That nascent belief rising within me that the system must be rigged because how in the world could I—a guy who went to seminary to be a pastor—be responsible for the education of students in a self-contained high school classroom? I even felt lied to and betrayed by Teach For America because my students needed so much more than I could offer.
I do not have the heroic CM story; I feel more like an anti-hero when I look back. It was hard. I made it. I worked hard. I saw meaningful outcomes for my students. But in the moment, the arc of my story wasn’t very gracious, joyful, or courageous—just day by day, moment by moment, making a choice to be an educator.
You have heard a lot of advice over the past few months. Let me offer you all some unsolicited advice that I think will help you in the weeks ahead:
- Take a breath and see yourself from another’s point of view. There are times in our lives when we are standing so close to the art that is our life, that we cannot make sense of the masterpiece in progress. Your class, your weird sense of humor, and your uncontrived energy is already the favorite part of a student’s day. Your authentic and supportive communication is already a bright spot in a family’s engagement in their child’s education. You are already a valued member of your school community. Your coach has already seen evidence of your growth toward becoming an emerging effective educator.
- Ask all the questions you have. New and naive are superpowers. You don’t have to pretend like you’ve been here before. I used to tell myself that I was practicing “radical ignorance” because I felt (and now know) that the fewer assumptions I make about my work increases the likelihood of me serving students well.
- Realize that the path forward is often through a conversation. Did someone offend you? Does someone make you anxious? Do you seem obnoxious or nauseating to a coworker? Find an appropriate time and just talk about it with them directly when you are willing to share your values and empathically listen. You’ll be glad you did.
- Befriend custodians! The head custodian at my school was a wise older man. He was the first (and maybe the only one) to ask about my self-care routine as a new teacher in those first weeks. He also taught me that wine pairs well with most evenings.
- And finally, please don’t short-circuit (through anesthetizing behaviors or through quitting) the development and life change that only comes through perseverance. My corps experience was objectively not awesome. And yet, I have witnessed moments where I consciously draw from that formative season in my life.
That’s all I got for now. Know that:
You are loved.
You are valued.
You are wanted.
Thank you for choosing to be an educator today.