Teaching Profession Opinion

Letter to a Ninth-Year Teacher

By Cristina Duncan Evans — August 20, 2014 3 min read
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Dear Ninth-Year Teacher:

In the last few weeks, you’ve probably seen more than a few letters to first year teachers, imparting wisdom, psyching them up, and getting them ready for what they’re about to face. It’s wonderful that we are welcoming our new colleagues into teaching with so many thoughtful words, but all that writing leaves me wondering, where’s the letter for me, a teacher about to enter her ninth year of teaching? Rather than wait for the Internet to provide it, I’m going to write the letter that I think I’d like to stumble across as a mid-career teacher.

First of all, congratulations. We’re part of an exclusive club. As many our colleagues have left the profession, we’ve stayed and made a career in the classroom. We’ve ignored the siren call of law school, medical school, and school administration, knowing that each year in the classroom can teach us more than a new venture can. We’ve gotten here by being flexible, resourceful, reflective, and passionate. We’re here because we know that the joy of witnessing a child actually learning something trumps pretty much everything else there is. Our work is tough, and our dedication should be recognized. But the fact that I have to write this letter should let us know that the validation we seek needs increasingly to come from ourselves, not from others. We need to be our own cheerleaders. The same holds true for our professional development, which often assumes teachers have little pedagogical skill. If we want to grow as teachers, increasingly, it’s up to us to form professional relationships that elevate our work. It’s up to us to now become the leaders of our profession, and to make these roles where they have yet to exist.

What should ninth year teachers think as we look out on the educational landscape in 2014? What are we to make of Common Core State Standards, changing teacher evaluations, and the multitude of shifts that characterize our school communities? Because of the unique time when our careers began, we’re a cohort with an interesting perspective on current trends in education. Just as children born after the dawn of the Internet are called “digital natives,” I would consider teachers who began teaching after No Child Left Behind to be “data natives.” Data and standardized testing have always been a big part of our teaching experience, and if you’re like me, you recognize that testing has some, if limited value. But as we have grown, you might have come to realize, as I have, that tests are only the most basic measures of student learning and teacher and school quality. We know that testing is neither a panacea, nor an absolute evil. I would urge all of us, as veteran teachers, to be voices of reason in an increasingly polarized climate. The years of experience we have give us credibility and important insight about what needs to happen in order for our schools to be the places we know they can be. We need to be advocates for data only as long as data makes our schools more human, not less.

Finally, we owe a debt of gratitude to the veteran teachers who helped us up. We also owe it to all the less experienced teachers we’ll meet to be their veteran mentors. As selfish as I am to write a letter that’s specifically for me and my demographic group of teachers, I know why there are so many letters to first-years out there. None of us would be here without an experienced teacher who helped us make it through the tough years. As we stop to take a moment to relish the extraordinary feat of making it to year nine (or ten! or eleven! or twenty-three!) we need to commit to making sure the new teacher next door makes it there too. This isn’t an easy time to begin teaching. Figuring out which competing demands were most important was one of the toughest challenges of my first year, and I can only imagine how hard that must be in an era of competing standards, incoherent evaluation, and intense pressure. As we look forward, we need to remember to pat ourselves on the back, and offer a hand to those around us.

Here’s to a great year!

Cristina, year 9

The opinions expressed in Connecting the Dots: Ideas and Practice in Teaching are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.