This piece was written in response to ”Dear teachers: As a future educator, I have one request,” published recently in Chalkbeat.
Dear Future Educator,
Just like you, I have been following the stream of articles and social media posts where teachers are talking about their struggles. I can even relate to many of those struggles, such as unrealistic expectations, challenging classroom behaviors, and mental health struggles. Despite all that we’re up against, I can say with complete confidence that I love being a teacher and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
To be honest, listening to other teachers often makes me feel a bit guilty about how much I still enjoy teaching after more than 10 years as an early childhood educator in Chicago.
When I’m in a group of educators who are complaining, I often just sit back and listen. But after reading your letter, I no longer want to stay silent. I think it’s important for you to know that there will be challenges. Now I see that it’s just as important for you to hear the good stuff, too.
When I first started teaching in 2010, I was, like you, full of hope and possibilities. I would wake up a bit nervous, yes, but also excited and overflowing with ideas. However, I was the only new hire at my school that year, and I had a hard time finding another teacher to bounce ideas off and plan with.
Just like today, most teachers were overworked and underpaid. They were jaded — and with good reason. I entered the teaching force after my district had implemented a seven-year pay freeze. Most days the teacher’s lounge was filled with negativity and complaints about things like students who just won’t listen or how they had to learn yet another new curriculum. I felt just like you’re feeling. I wondered: Did anyone have anything good left to say about teaching?
I questioned my career choice and wondered if I was naive in thinking I could make a difference. One day, I clearly remember a veteran teacher looking at me and saying, “Don’t worry, soon enough you’ll be complaining every day just like the rest of us.” I was really disheartened by his comment, so I vowed to never become like that. And I haven’t.
How have I stayed in this career without becoming jaded? It’s just like you mentioned. It’s the relationships and the true moments of happiness I’ve experienced with students, families, and colleagues. I work hard daily to find joy in the smiles, the “aha” moments, and the hugs. Here are just a few recent experiences that keep alive my love of teaching.
This year, I was able to take some parental time off for the adoption of my daughter. We combined this time with winter break to visit our extended family in India, so it had been a month since I’d seen my students. The day I returned, I went outside to pick up my class in the morning. A 3-year-old student I’ll call Brianne, saw me from across the courtyard, started running full speed towards me while yelling “Ms. Margi!” and almost knocked me down with her hug. She was so excited to see me after such a long time. Those hugs keep my love of teaching alive. (All student names have been changed to protect their privacy.)
Peter and his mom had quite a journey getting here. They escaped their home country, only to have to relocate to a different country again before making it to the U.S. and settling in Chicago, all without the mother’s husband. Peter came to my class so excited to play and make new friends, but he needed a lot of social-emotional support. The first day of school was filled with screaming, crying, and hitting. I worked hard over the school year to develop a relationship with him so that he feels safe at school. Now, he often brings me notes and drawings that say, “I love you teacher.” His mom also sends me notes saying things like, “Thank you for your kindness and hard work. Thank you very much for the hard work you are doing for Peter to learn.” These notes keep my love of teaching alive.
One of my favorite units to teach is the one on insects. My students become little entomologists as we learn about insect characteristics, how they change, and the ways they help the earth. This unit is filled with vocabulary, questioning, and learning how to be patient. I bring caterpillars into the classroom, and we observe them as they grow, build their chrysalis, and transform into butterflies.
When those butterflies first emerge, my students are amazed. Even though “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle taught them that caterpillars turn into butterflies, watching it happen right in front of their eyes fills them with wonder. Darell said to me with eyes wide, “I can’t believe that actually happens! WOW!” Those moments of wonder keep my love of teaching alive.
And now I’ve found my teacher squad. My friends and I are a group of early childhood educators from across the city, and we all believe in the impact we can have in our students’ lives. When things get tough, and they will, we have each other. We brainstorm solutions to issues we face in our classrooms, such as how to have a tough conversation with a parent, how to advocate for our students, and how to build a relationship with that particularly hard-to-reach student. We go out for meals, take vacations together, and have an ongoing text conversation. We laugh, we cry, and we support each other.
We share our frustrations, but also share those little moments of success and joy that only another teacher would relate to. We send texts like, “Today Micheal read his first reader independently!” or “Sophia went to the calm corner instead of throwing her shoes this afternoon.” My teacher squad helps keep my love of teaching alive.
I hope these stories inspire you as you prepare to enter the classroom.
A veteran teacher
Margi Bhansali is a nationally board-certified pre-kindergarten teacher at Chicago Public Schools. She is a part of Teach Plus’ inaugural Senior Writing Fellowship and has served on the Teach Plus Illinois Early Childhood Policy Fellowship. She is a mother of three and believes that play is the work of children.