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My First Year in the Classroom

Monique Rae Valerio is a 2015 Teach For America corps member who teaches third grade in Orlando, FL. In the following post she reflects on what it’s like to be a first-year teacher in a new TFA region.
Friday, December 18, 2015

“I don’t think it’s easy for anyone to pack up and move anywhere, away from the comfort of one’s routine.”

These past couple of months have been such a whirlwind—it took flying hundreds of miles back home to New Jersey to come to terms with how my life has changed since graduating from college this past May. As I sat at home during Thanksgiving break, I started thinking about it all.

I’ll be honest; it hasn’t been easy moving to a brand new TFA region, completely naïve to what it would be like teaching elementary school. I don’t think it’s easy for anyone to pack up and move anywhere, away from the comfort of one’s routine. The beauty of it, however, was that I wasn’t going to be alone—there were about 20 other new corps members joining me on this journey.

“How do you ask how to use the printer without sounding totally clueless?”

The first two months were tough. Actually, I believe “tough” would be an understatement. I had so much to learn. There was also the pressure of not wanting to appear completely helpless. How do you ask how to use the printer without sounding totally clueless?

Aside from adjusting to school culture, I had to learn how to teach. Thinking back on the first day of school, 10 minutes before I was supposed to open the door for my students, my heart was pounding in my ears.

“I can’t do this, they’ll smell my fear,” I remember thinking over and over again.

Those first five weeks of teaching consisted of workdays with not enough hours, and venting sessions of frustration with my two roommates, who are also first-year teachers. Even with the TFA alumni reassuring us that the work will get easier and more manageable, we had our doubts that we would all make it to Thanksgiving break.

“I have come to realize that all the stressful moments are because this job is something I care so much about.”

It’s now halfway through the second marking period, and I can honestly say that the doubts of a first-year teacher have recessed. It took me flying hundreds of miles home to realize how much I have to be thankful for this holiday season.

All those days I woke up before the sun rose, and all those evenings I came home well after the sun set, are proof of how dedicated I am to making this job something I can be proud of. It’s still not easy, and I don’t think it ever will be, or should be.

I have come to realize that all the stressful moments are because this job is something I care so much about. I want to be the best teacher for my students, and I want to guide them to be the best that they can be both in school and at home. Late nights preparing for the upcoming weeks’ lessons are worth it if my students are becoming more confident in themselves as scholars.

“In the grand scheme of things, nothing ever really goes as expected.”

Being so far away from my family and friends hasn’t been easy, but being in a group of amazing and supportive corps members has given me comfort. My regional staff has provided wonderful solace at my lowest times, and the amazing staff at my placement school has become my extended family. They are there for all of my questions, no matter how ridiculous I may think those questions are.

In the grand scheme of things, nothing ever really goes as expected. Having the people around me, all of us working toward the same goal, has formed a camaraderie that I will be forever thankful for. Without them, my doubts may have become realities. This holiday season I am thankful for all of the opportunities I have been given, all the struggles I have overcome, and the growth as a teacher that I know will come in time. 

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