Dear New Christian School Teacher,
Whether this is your first year teaching in a Christian school or your first year teaching anywhere, you are a novice. By definition, a novice is a beginner, a rookie, or even a greenhorn. Do any of those terms fit for you? A novice is one who experiences something new and is in the initial stage of learning the knowledge and skills that will certainly develop and be enhanced. Sometimes this is a lonely place to be, especially if all the others around you are skillful and experienced. But remember, all of us were once novices. Every teacher has a “first year.” Even if your first year looks radically different from other first years, thanks to the disruption of COVID-19. In fact, even the most experienced teachers may feel like novices again, with all the changes in education last year and this year due to the pandemic.
The purpose of this post is to offer you some encouragement. Research has documented the pattern found in the life of a first-year teacher. Ellen Moir of the New Teacher Center, in material posted at the New Teacher Center, illustrates the first year this way:
Notice the months of November, December and January are when you might be at your lowest. Moir offers descriptions of these stages in the document. Take a peek at these and see if you and your colleagues would agree. In my years of interacting with first- and second-year teachers, I would have to agree with her. Recently a second-year teacher commented to me, “I am crying less this year!” So how can you thrive rather than only survive that first year, especially in a first year that is like no other? Here is a list of reminders from 1 Thessalonians that might help.
You have been called.
Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:24 (NIV), “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” Rehearse in your mind the ways God led you to this school, this classroom, this community. When the circumstances become overwhelming, it is best to take an hour or two to purely sit and remind yourself of God’s hand on your life, your days, your experiences. He has you in His hand! Can you recall those conversations, interviews, and events that led you to this point? When you do, rest in this promise that when He calls, He equips.
You are not alone.
Your fellow teachers have all had a first year, some more recently than others. Ask for help—it is not a sign of weakness, but humility. Whining does not help, but seeking a friend does. Part of your induction plan likely assigned a mentor teacher. Start there, but if this doesn’t click, seek another or a coach who can be your second set of eyes and ears. It is helpful to have someone else to bring a perspective to your situation. Notice the words of 1 Thessalonians 5:11: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.”
You are the teacher.
Your training and preparation have brought you to this point. In the first chapter, verses 6 and 7, Paul asserts that you had been an imitator, and now you are a model. That is exactly what the process is for becoming a teacher. We begin by imitating those who were our favorite teachers or professors, following their example. But now, you have your classroom, your students, and you are the model before them. Be confident in your knowledge and skills. Your students want to learn and want to watch you, even when it feels otherwise. Prepare your lessons, but pace yourself. Every lesson does not need to be spectacular.
You have emotional resilience.
When you are feeling defeated, identify who is speaking, whose voice you hear. Again, the words in 1 Thessalonians can offer a reminder. In chapter 3 verses 1 through 5, Paul describes what you might be feeling: persecuted, unsettled, tempted, and tested. He even says, “You know quite well you were destined for them.” Ouch! If indeed you were destined, it is because the Lord has included these times in His plan for you. Resilience is not “bouncing back” but rather “bouncing forward.” Give yourself the time and space to rest, recover, and reflect on God’s grace, and resist the enemy. Back in the first chapter, Paul describes the everyday efforts of a teacher, “your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Your emotional resilience will come with faith, hope, and love. Your work, your labor, and your endurance need all three.
You are in a community.
The community of faculty and administration are just like yourself, sinners saved by grace. There is no Christian school without sinners—people who fail, falter, and even fall. When this happens, it is grace that forgives and forgets the offenses. Be careful about expecting perfection from your coworkers. Extend grace to them as it has been extended to you. This admonition comes in chapter 4 verses 9 and 10: “You have been taught by God to love each other … we urge you to do so more and more.” Yes, at times it is difficult, but a community requires us to remember that those around us may hurt or be hurt. Reach out and extend to them your forgiveness and love, and it will return.
You must feed your soul.
As you feed knowledge and wisdom to your students five days a week, you cannot do that from an empty soul. You need to be fed from the Bread of Life; it is of vital importance, far more important than grading papers, creating fantastic instructional design, or even sleep. Your entire being needs to be fed regularly; it is important to nourish your being. Don’t rely on spiritual caffeine, i.e., the extra shot at faculty devotions or the memory verse with your students. Feed yourself faithfully and carefully. Intentionally provide yourself with a nutritional diet to keep your soul well. Start with a complete read-through of 1 Thessalonians. It is a letter written for teachers. It contains prayers such as “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other” (3:12) and “May he strengthen your heart so that you will be blameless and holy” (3:13).
Your first year is the initial chapter of what can be a fruitful lifetime of ministry. I remember certain moments and events from my first year as a teacher of a fourth- and fifth-grade combination classroom in a Christian school, and then 15 years later, my first year as a professor at a Bible college preparing teachers for this same journey. I can recall the struggles and loneliness, as well as the successes and blessings. Although my first year in any classroom was more than 50 years ago, that first group of students was special. And, thanks to the social media of today, I actually have contact with a few of them! They too remember how we learned together.
With more than 30 years of preparing teachers, I conclude with more from 1 Thessalonians. I often have shared these words with novice teachers as they are among Paul’s parting words: “And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone…Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances” (5:14-18). How appropriate for the novice teacher and the veteran teacher. This is the way you will do more than survive, but rather thrive!
In the Service of the King,
E. Penny Clawson, EdD
[Editor’s Note: For some encouragement, please pass this letter along to any new teachers you know!]
About the Author
Penny Clawson grew up in New York City, attended Philadelphia College of Bible (now Cairn University), and then taught in York, Pennsylvania, at the Christian School of York for 15 years before coming to Lancaster Bible College as a professor in 1983. Penny’s graduate degrees are from Millersville University and Nova Southeastern University. She served as the chair of the Education Department from 1985 to 2012, and as the program director of the graduate program for the Consulting Resource Teacher from 2003 to 2015. From 2012 to 2015, Penny served as the faculty coach in the Office of Teaching Effectiveness, providing professional development for faculty in all the college’s locations and schools. Most recently she has been involved with the Doctor of Ministry students as a reader and professor. When Penny retired from full-time teaching, she began to offer services as an educational consultant to Christian schools and Bible colleges, allowing her to serve in a wider geographical area. Penny’s love for the Lord, His Word, children’s books, and others is evident in any venue. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.