Going Pro: Notes for New Teachers

You don’t need a calendar to know that school is in full swing—footballs are flying and Mother Nature is spinning her color wheel. As a new teacher, you’ve met your classes, memorized the cafeteria menus, and sent three of your little darlings to the office. Maybe it’s a good time to stop, take a breath, and reflect on the long, drawn-out process of becoming a professional educator. As you know, a professional is simply one who gets paid for his or her services (regardless of the amount). Just recently, many of you got the very first monthly confirmation that you are now a “pro.” Unfortunately, those of you who actually cashed the check have now lost your amateur status. Not to worry, there are older pros among you who in fact know what all those deductions mean, and could possibly even help you with the excess “confirmation” at the end of the month. But most of you reading this still have your amateur status and are playing for the love of the game—kind of. You are still developing your moves, and of course you have a trick play or two that you know will work, if only you could call the shots. So for you un-paid amateurs, let me remind you of what your compensation package will not tell you. As a “pro,” you will get:

Pooped. I worked my way through college on a highway construction crew, but I have never been as exhausted as during my first two years of teaching. It takes an enormous amount of energy to do the mental gymnastics required in the classroom. Simultaneously, you could be answering a child’s question on the Krebs Cycle, wondering why the rough-looking kid in the back of the room is tearing up, and trying to come up with a creative way to group your class for reading. That, my friends, is mentally draining, and will put you in the recliner after school. I have one old-fashioned word of advice for you first-year teachers—NAP!

Rejuvenated. About the time you’re thinking you’ve made a bad career move, that the Acme Truck Driving School sounds pretty good, something happens. Quietly, and sometimes with shocking simplicity, you can be reminded of why you work so hard. For those of us in the teaching game, it could be as simple as a smile from the hard-nosed kid on the back row, or a grinning child in a Wal-Mart checkout line proudly introducing you to his mama. Those days are special. Celebrate them!

Overwhelmed. If you are preparing to make this a profession, plan to be overwhelmed on a regular basis. Every day, you will work with one of the most impressive things in the universe, the human brain. Unfortunately, some of the more skeptical pros in this business never see past the messy carrying case for this remarkable organ. Those professionals paying attention will be regularly overwhelmed with the ability of students, the serendipity of kindness, and the graciousness of ordinary human beings. The notion that we get to work every day with the most highly prized possession of our society—its children—is the most overwhelming idea I know.

In closing, let me thank each of you—the old pros, the rookies, and the amateurs—for loving this game. I know it’s tough, and you get really ragged out. But don’t quit. For those of you who are just too tired, let me remind you of some words in red in an old book I have. The gentle shepherd said, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Peace and Joy,
Gary L. Riggins