The ups and downs of first-year teaching

Hannah Olsen

“I have to pull up my big girl panties and say I got this,” said longtime elementary school teacher Sammie Guzman at the What I Wish I Knew My First Year of Teaching panel on Oct. 9. Guzman discussed the trials and rewards of being an educator, and in her moments of distress, this is her go-to motto.

The panel, open to the public but primarily aimed at future educators, took questions on everything and anything audience members wanted to know. Topics included broader ideas, like motivation and classroom management strategies as well as narrower ones, such as how to manage spending one’s own money on school supplies.

Kate Leodardi, a biology teacher at Syracuse High School, explained how she got into teaching in the first place. She took biology twice in her own high school career, first with a teacher she loathed which, in turn, made her loathe the very idea of teaching and biology itself. She decided to give it another shot and took AP Biology, this time with a different instructor.

“Obviously, it changed my life,” she said.

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Panel members giving advice to the ins and outs of teaching. (Bella Torres / The Signpost)

She fell in love with biology and decided there would be no other path in life for her but to share her love of biology with others. She said this drove her to become a high school biology teacher.

Guzman recommended new educators keep a journal their first year of teaching. She said she did it her first year and still looks back through it often to laugh at her own unease and discomfort.

“There were days that sucked,” Guzman said.

However, she reassured the audience of soon-to-be-teachers they would have no idea what they were doing their first year, but that was normal.

“That is okay, accept it,” she said.

Guzman also shared the reason she decides to return to teaching every year.

“If I am having a bad day, they can reset that,” Guzman said, “Also, what other job is absolutely different every single day? Every year it is a new puzzle.”

Lizette Mikesell, a math teacher at Ben Lomond High School, explained how she ended up in her current position, in response to a question from the audience.

Mikesell said that she could slowly see herself dying in the field of civil engineering. She had come to the point in her career — with one bachelor’s and two master’s degrees — where she had invested a solid chunk of time and yet could not advance further unless she got her PhD. That wasn’t something she wanted to do.

She decided to pursue teaching. She loves her subject, and her school, though she noted it’s not always perfect.

“It’s a hard school to teach at. There are some hard kids,” she said, adding no matter where you go, there are more and less difficult students.

However, Angela Stewart, a science teacher, said no matter what, teaching has super high entertainment value. She had some specific advice for first-year teachers.

“Steal everything,” Stewart said, referring to lesson plans, curriculum, procedures and everything else. This way, new teachers have much less to manage and are often less overwhelmed.

The panel agreed that the first year of teaching was, without a doubt, difficult. However, they wanted to assure the audience and all future educators that it’s still worth it.