Secrets of the First Year of Teaching - National Council of Teachers of English
Back to Blog

Secrets of the First Year of Teaching

This is a guest blog written by Phoebe Dillard. 

Phoebe headshotWe’ve heard in songs, poems, and presidential speeches that teaching is one of the most honorable lines of work a human being can take up, but what we don’t hear about is the subtext of teaching, the work that doesn’t make it into the public eye. Lunch duty, bus duty, tardy sweeps, faculty meetings, professional development, extracurricular activities, sporting events, hospitality, beginning teacher programs, PTA, and so many other extra events we have to endure . . . and I do mean endure. So why do we do it? Because we’re affecting human beings. We are ideally helping young human beings set up a better future. Has a student made me cry? Yes. Do I leave my apartment every day feeling like I don’t want to go to work? Yes. I usually shout “FINE!” as I walk out my door. (I live in a single apartment so you can understand how slightly embarrassing and also psychotic this is.) Have I reached every student? No. But it is not the situation that defines us; it is what we do while we are in it.

I have both the benefits and drawbacks of being a young teacher. I can relate to the kids, but often they think they can cross a line and be my friend instead of my student. I know pop culture better than some older veteran teachers, but that reinforces my students’ idea that I’m one of them.

I never imagined this when I was getting my BFA in theatre education. Growing up with two teacher-parents, I have not been shielded as to how hurtful students can be, how strenuous the job can be, and sometimes how cliquey or biased a county can be. However, I still went into my first year of teaching knowing I was going to change kids’ lives. I did, but it certainly came at a cost.

Everyone’s first year of teaching is terrible; no matter how good the job is, how good the school is, how awesome the kids are, the first year sucks. You’re new to everything, including the school grounds  and school culture, and if you’re young, many teachers and administrators assume you’re not all that intelligent. So what got me through? Netflix and Chipotle, sure, but, seriously, looking at the bigger picture is what gets us all through whether we’re in our first year or our 36th. The bigger picture is that teaching is not about me, it’s about the students. I love my students; they just want to be heard. I am fortunate that my discipline (theatre) allows me to examine emotions on a daily basis and embed creative lessons into my daily schedule, but all students come to school wanting to feel safe, accepted, and listened to.

My students love me because I show them who I am and allow them to show me who they are.  I genuinely care about my students. I don’t have to put on an act to be a teacher; they hired me because of who I am not who I’m not. I have students of every race, religion, and sexual orientation under the sun in my classroom, and I love it. A diverse classroom makes for a stronger teacher.

The reality is teachers don’t get paid enough, have far too many duties, have too many students in a class, don’t have funding, and maybe don’t have air conditioned  classrooms—the list could go on and on. So what do we do? Sit and wallow? If that’s what you choose, you picked the wrong career. I stay in teaching because I care and I know I am making a difference. I stay because I love my children, my craft, and the two together.  It’s pretty magical.

Phoebe Dillard currently teaches and directs theatre at Enloe Magnet Arts High School in Raleigh, North Carolina. She is a second-year teacher who received her BFA in theatre education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 2014. Phoebe directs the fall play every year, coaches the improvisation team at Enloe, is the International Thespian Troupe director, cosponsors the drama club, and also coaches volleyball for Parks and Rec in North Raleigh.