The joys and challenges of a 1st year teacher

As a first-year teacher, the most common piece of advice I’ve heard from veteran teachers has been, “This is going to be one of the most challenging years of your life.”

When I graduated from Iowa State this past May, I thought I was more than prepared for whatever challenges teaching would bring. Flash forward to August. I’m on my own in front of a room of 30 teenagers, wondering what in the world I’ve gotten myself into.

In some ways, the first year of teaching is one of the hardest years of your life. Not only are you navigating a new building and a new curriculum, you are now responsible for the well being of over one hundred people. On top of all that, adjusting to a teacher’s schedule is physically demanding. Even after two months, I still frequently say to my husband, “I’m so tired. When did we get so old?”

He always laughs and says, “When we became teachers!”

While getting used to a new environment and new students are challenges for any new teacher, there are also so many wonderful and exciting things that you learn in that first year. In the two months that I’ve been at Marshalltown High School, I have learned to roll with the punches and to be flexible when things are not going the way I’d initially planned.

I’ve learned to take joy in small victories like watching a shy student begin to open up to their classmates, seeing the kid who’s convinced he’s stupid beginning to realize how intelligent he really is, or hearing a group of 10th graders break out in giggles while watching a Pixar short. In these first two months, my personal teaching mantra has become “You get what you give.” Above all else, I’ve learned that if you give students love and respect, you will get the same from them in return.

Before I started teaching I didn’t think that it was possible that I could love 137 people at one time. But I have learned that it would be almost impossible not to love my students. They are such incredible, hilarious, and special human beings. And I’ve learned that teaching them to love learning makes every long day, every night of grading, and every moment of the “most challenging year of my life” more worth it than I could’ve ever imagined.


Emily Hackbarth is an English and language arts teacher at Marshalltown High School.