Reflections on a Decade in 1st Grade

Tomorrow is going to be a weird day. And by ‘weird’, I mean I’m going to feel every emotion possible. I know I will laugh and pretty certain I will even cry. (Which rarely happens. I’m not much of a crier.) Tomorrow is my last day of my first decade as a first-grade teacher. Tomorrow is my last day as Miss Barbosa. Tomorrow is also the last day I will work for our beloved principal.

A few months ago, an uncertain college student asked me, “How do you know you want to be a teacher? Is it worth it?” In my reflection on the last decade, I’ll try to answer that question.

I knew teaching was the job for me only after I accepted my first job teaching an urban magnet school. I had never felt that much excitement- and fear- all in one major life event. For an entire school year, all I could do was eat, sleep, and breathe first grade. It was all I could talk about when I wasn’t in my classroom. At the end of that school year, I cried. Mainly, because I survived, but also, because at the ripe age of 22, I knew I was exactly where I belonged. I spent two years in that school, and my biggest regret is that I never took the time to slow down and just enjoy. I was too focused on deepening my practice and learning the craft of teaching content. (And trust me, I learned more in those two years than most educators do in their entire career) I was somewhat terrified of my principal, yet respect her so much as a leader and was always in awe of her strength, intelligence, and drive. On my first day, she walked me up and down the halls and asked, “Are you sure you want to teach here? This isn’t an easy place.” She was right. Those two years gave me some of the biggest challenges of my life.

My colleagues from my first school are some of the finest educators I’ve worked with. They taught me lessons I still carry with me to this day. I spent too much time worrying about problems I couldn’t solve and underestimated the power of a good laugh. It’s funny how professors in graduate school never told tell you that great teachers are the ones who marvel in the everyday moments. They don’t tell you how the best feeling in the world is when a child proclaims, “I love school!” It is also pretty surreal feeling when you witness a child reach a goal for the first time.

I came to my current school eight years ago. I felt so old at the time, but laugh at it now. I was only 25- still a baby! I went from one of the lowest-performing schools in the state to the highest. It was a complete shift. In both schools, I was surrounded by teachers who set the most incredible example for a new educator like myself. I learned that there is a common bond between educators- we’re in for the kids.

Over the last eight years, I’ve been blessed to work for a principal who has taught me to laugh. I laugh every single day. (And she’s retiring tomorrow, so I’m sure the entire staff will be ugly-crying bittersweet tears all day)

I still work my tail off to make sure we make adequate academic gains as a grade-level, but we are happy getting there. And sometimes there is a tough day. I have learned that in those tough days- or years- comes mountains of personal and professional growth. Each hard day has made me stronger as a teacher and a person, too.

Tomorrow marks the end of a decade as a first-grade teacher. A job that I can honestly say has given me every emotion in the books. I feel blessed that at only 22, I was able to find my true passion in life. And now, a decade later, it is still a job that challenges me each and every day. I still proudly wear the title, ‘teacher’ as a badge of the utmost honor.

My mom always told me that I would marry another teacher. I never believed her, but she has shown that she is always right. Tomorrow I walk into school to teach my last day as Miss Barbosa. (Cue all the tears right now.) When I turn off the lights tomorrow, I’ll take a quiet moment to reflect on one heck-of-a-decade. I’ll be back in August to the room I’ve called home for the past eight years. I’ll turn the lights on and hang a new sign on my door that reads, “Mrs. Young’s Class.” I don’t know what the next decade has in store for her, but I’m pretty sure it’ll be filled with a lot of laughter.

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