Note to Self

by Mary Anne Duggan

If I were to write a letter to myself as a beginning teacher some 36 years ago, what would I say? How could I light a path forward for the old me? How could I keep the letter from being 50-plus pages long? I have a lot of questions about this week’s Write 6X6 prompt. But one thing I have learned over the years is to just jump in – knowing all the answers is not required (and most often not even possible!)

Dear Mary Anne,
     I see you over there. You are at a high school football game in September where you are watching your new fiancé’s brother play football. But you’re not watching the game; you’re grading a stack of papers. On a Friday night. And, oh yeah, you teach fourth grade
. . .

Flash forward to you leaving your classroom at the end of another long day in January, towing a luggage cart carrying five or six textbooks and a blank lesson plan for Wednesday. It’s Tuesday. A veteran teacher passes by and quips, “Ah, working more and enjoying it less, right?”

Now it’s the last day of the school year in May, and you are furiously assembling books the students created to take home for the summer. You’re using the new-fangled book binding machine the school just purchased. It’s your lunch hour, and you are sweating like a — well — a teacher who waited until the last minute to provide a special experience for her students in a room with a swamp cooler.

Dear, dear Mary Anne, the school year is not a nine-month slog with respite only allowed in June. You can’t hurl yourself against the wall year after year trying to attain teaching perfection. No such thing exists, and your health will suffer in the process.

You have ambitious plans for providing a wonderful school experience for your students. You have all these grand ideas of what makes a “good” teacher. But a “good enough” teacher who lives a healthy and balanced life will surely be enough by anyone else’s standards. Let go, at least a bit, and you’ll see that the world keeps spinning and your students keep on learning. And you will have many years in this profession you love.

The older me,
Mary Anne

As I look back on this letter, I am left with further questions: Would I have listened to this advice way back when? Is it desirable to have all pitfalls flagged ahead of time? Or are some missteps just part of the process of growth as a teacher and, perhaps more importantly, as a person?


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