How I Survived My First Year Of Teaching

My fist year of teaching wasn’t easy.
And, while I am still very happy to be a teacher, I didn’t enjoy every moment of my first 188 days of school.
Reflecting on the year as a whole, I think I have done more than just survived.  Yes, I am exhausted.  Yes, there are at least a hundred things I would do differently.  But, on the whole, I am proud of my first year of teaching.

I didn’t think I would be.
During a  university panel discussion with a group of experienced teachers, they all said something along the lines of, “Don’t worry.  Everyone is a terrible teacher their first few years of teaching.”
These words haunted me.  I didn’t want to be a bad teacher two or three years, or even one year, for that matter.  Yes, I knew that I wouldn’t be the best teacher, but I didn’t want my first year of teaching to be some massive mess of pure error and regret.  (“Were you just saying that everyone will be bad their first year as an attempt to excuse yourself for your poor teaching?” I asked myself one night as I turned the words over again in my mind.)

I expressed this to Professor Vande Kopple, who disagreed.
“Do you think you will be a bad teacher?” he asked.  I remember lingering by the doorway of his office, turning over the question in my mind.
“Yes.  No.  I don’t know.”
And here the memory is a bit blurred, but I am quite confident he said, “I promise you will not be a bad teacher.”
Either way, he kept his promise.

So, here it is: “How I Survived My First Year Of Teaching.”

1. My Co-Workers
How could I have ever survived without my fantastic co-workers?  I don’t know if this is true for every international school, or if our school has the magic formula of small student body + new school + local language barrier, but I can’t imagine that my first year of teaching would have been even half as good without my co-workers.  Surprisingly, the support wasn’t through resources.  (Remember, “new school” was part of the formula.) And, while resources would have been nice, I think that the fact that I didn’t expect my co-workers to hand me anything meant that I got to experience my co-workers as partners in academic life, not a “resource.”  If it wasn’t for Joel getting me coffees, Marc giving me pep talks, Madi spending long hours next to my classroom in her own work-filled weekend, and the wisdom of Angela (in regards to both school and life), I don’t think I would have made it out in one piece. One time I laid on the floor of Dasom’s classroom because I didn’t know what to do with my students in Food Technology, a class she has mastered.  She happily gave me phenomenal advice, and that’s probably why I am still breathing right now. These are only a few of the people who have helped me live though all 188+ days of school.

Next academic year, my fantastic friend Janna will become my co-worker!

Next academic year, my fantastic friend Janna will become my co-worker!

2. Coffee
Starbucks, specifically.  Only ten steps away from the entrance of the school, mid-day coffee runs fueled way more afternoons than I should admit.  If this was a “how to spend all of your living stipend” post, Starbucks would also be top on the list.  Plus, the baristas know my name and sometimes leave me really nice messages!


3. “Work Hard”
Even though I sound like a workaholic when I say it, I think that spending eleven or twelve hours a day at school really made my first year go smoothly.  Yeah, some lessons still were a fizzle instead of a bang… but none of them really crashed and burned.  Yes, I was teased for spending too much time in my classroom.  Yes, I do occasionally loathe being in the same room for hours and hours a day.  But, when all is said and done, I have no regrets.  I know I invested my time and energy into this year, but that’s what it is: an investment.  Every piece of hard work now lays the foundation for the rest of my life as a teacher.

So many books, so little time.  A glimpse at my perpetually messy desk.

So many books, so little time. A glimpse at my perpetually messy desk.

4. “Play Hard”
I don’t know if I could have survived the intensity of my first year teaching without traveling.  When you teach and live in the same highrise, and that highrise is part of a mall, it’s hard to feel as if it is worth it to “get off the hill.”  (My friend Angela calls it a cruise ship, since everything you need is right there, and (I guess) it’s only slightly larger than an actual cruise ship.)  However, living the expat lifestyle means that not only are you able to travel, but it is expected. It’s kind of weird if you live in Indonesia as an expat and haven’t travelled outside of Jakarta.  So, after months of work, you suddenly have an excuse to leave it all behind, and not feel guilty about it at all.  Just this academic year,  I went to Bali, Borneo, Singapore, and Australia.

Prambanan Temple in 2013

A photo taken of me by my talented friend, Karissa. We were traveling on our first vacation to Jogjakarta. Specifically, I am in Candi Prambanan.

5.  Texts with my mother
My mom texts me when she wakes up, which coincides with my going to bed.  I am so thankful that I am able to “talk” with her, even when we are thousands of miles away.  How incredible is it that I am able to still learn from my mother’s wisdom and love, even though she is a continent away?  In seconds, a text sent.
It’s beautiful.  ❤



Today was my last day of school.
My first year of teaching is over.
I have learned so much about my students, my colleagues, and myself.
While tomorrow I will come to school and pack up my room to move to a different floor, today is a celebration: one year down and hopefully many more to come.
Happy Summer!



3 thoughts on “How I Survived My First Year Of Teaching

  1. Girl! Your writing is so good. Great blog post. I will admit, I was a bit surprised to see my face in this post. Thanks for being an amazing friend this year! I can’t believe in July we will be neighbors! Yay!

  2. Oh my.. I could see how the statement “Don’t worry, everyone is a terrible teacher their first few years” could haunt you. It makes you think ‘Jeeze… what are they going to throw at me’. I’m glad you got through it in one piece. Good luck!

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