Ten Blog Posts to Start the School Year: How I Became a Veteran Teacher

Yesterday, as I was wrapping up the day, putting some finishing touches on my room, a friend stopped by. We hugged, and she asked how the first day went. She admired my classroom and said, “You’ve been working on this a while.”

I told her, well, no. I just came in for a couple hours the previous week, but the more honest answer was yes. I have been working on this for twenty years. It has happened. I have become a veteran teacher. I have become one of those educators I looked at in awe when I first started this gig.
And just like that, I'm a veteran teacher. 
Maybe that is why answering the question about how I teach is a hard one. Teaching the way I do didn’t happen all at once and couldn’t have happened in my first years of teaching. It has happened after two long decades in the classroom.

When I first moved to LA and taught at an elementary school, I was too busy climbing the steep learning curve to teach the way I do now. It has taken me years to get comfortable knowing that I’m a good teacher, and that I can’t do everything or be everything. This is an impossible job. I can always do more, stay later, work harder. But I am not that teacher. I learned from veteran teachers that I had to set reasonable limits. I couldn’t put in those kinds of hours and still take care of myself.

I also let go of the idea that a perfect teacher exists. I can’t be THE TEACHER for every student. I will connect with some students and drive other students crazy, and that is ok.

And over the years, I’ve seen so many amazing teachers at all points in their careers. I know there isn’t one way to do this job and that gives me faith in our schools and in my practice. There are good teachers doing good work everywhere.

As I work toward the end of my career, I think about teachers who are also parents: who balance this demanding work with the demands of family. I think of those teachers when I’m tired and not sure I can keep doing this. And the thing that these teachers do, year after year, is they connect with their students. I have to connect with my students if I want to teach them anything. That connection is the risk that inspires my practice.

So, when I crack my heart open to my new students this year, as their opening letters bring me to tears, it is this connection that keeps me coming back. Before I know it, this year will be over. Before I know it, I'll be able to retire. I'm going to enjoy being a veteran teacher today. 

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