My Most Humiliating Teacher Story

Each Tuesday over on Instagram I have been sharing tips and wisdom for new teachers. This time of year really resonates with me when I think of new teachers because October is usually when the honeymoon is over and it starts to get real. So this week for #newteachertiptuesday I was reflecting on some pretty embarrassing things I did early on- you know, like raising my hand at a faculty meeting when the principal asks if anyone has any more questions...etc.

One story that came to mind is one that I am NOT proud of. Once you read it, you will understand why. But by sharing this story, I am encouraging new teachers to ask for help and veteran teachers to be more aware of the new teachers who may be drowning next door to you right now.

Here it is...

In my first year as a special education teacher, I was teaching 5th grade as a long term substitute for a maternity leave. I had been a kindergarten teacher for 2 years before so I didn't really feel like a "new" teacher anymore and I certainly didn't want to be treated as such. Determined to prove that I was already self-sufficient and knew it all on my own, I didn’t ask a lot of questions of my teammates. I wanted to prove that I was worthy of being hired and was a skilled special education teacher. I was in a consultant teacher role on my team, which in New York State is a form of push in and pull out service for students in a general education setting. The first or second week of October, we had Open House/Meet the Teacher Night. I sent a note home to all of the parents of students who I had for pull out reading services. I invited them to attend my Open House reading presentation. At the end of the presentation, a mother and father approached me and apologized for being in the wrong room during my presentation. I was confused and caught off guard. I even went as far as to tell them how much I enjoyed their son and how much I was looking forward to working with him and how impressed I already was with his skills. I assured them that if they got my note, then he was in my reading class because I sent it to all of the students on my team with an IEP. They assured me that he hadn’t received reading services in 5 years and the only reason he had an IEP now....was for speech. O. M. G.

I was mortified and embarrassed. I wanted to curl up right there and cry, quit, run away. How could I be so negligent? How did I not know that I was supposed to review every line of the IEP? I had been removing him from his regular classroom setting for 5 WEEKS without his parents knowledge and not honoring his right to be in the least restrictive environment (special education teachers reading this are horrified right now!) Since it was a new school year, they assumed I was the reading teacher on the team. It wasn’t until my Open House presentation discussing the benefits of research-based reading interventions, that they realized they were in the wrong room....and so was he. Not only was I embarrassed to admit this to myself and his parents, I also had to admit it to my new teammates at the end of the night. I was certain that they would write me off as a clueless young teacher and question the judgment of the principal for hiring me in the first place.

But they didn’t. They rallied around me. They felt that they had let ME down by not offering to help me more often. They said they assumed if I didn’t ask, I didn’t need help. Most of all, they felt a tremendous amount of guilt for not knowing this child was in the wrong classroom because the IEP is not exclusively the job of the special education teacher and they should have known it too.

This humiliating story was the foundation of a year of growth, learning and humility for me as a young teacher. It taught me to slow down and worry about what matters. I was too concerned with what people would think of me (and whether my Sharpies were organized by color), that I failed to honor the important responsibilities of my job.

To all the new teachers out there— be patient with yourself. You don’t have to have it all together this year. Or next year. Or ten years from now. It is OKAY to ask for help and admit that you don’t know everything. Nobody does and nobody ever will.

To all the teachers out there with a new neighbor, new teammate or a new teacher in their building: make an effort to support her. Ask her what she needs, ask her how she’s doing, stop in her classroom and ask her what she’s struggling with. Remember that "new" doesn't mean fresh out of college. "New" might mean a new grade level, new building, or returning back to work after 6 years home with her kids and every. single. standard. changed.

To all the administrators out there with a "new" teacher in your school- check in on her, ask her what she is struggling with, give her a buddy or a mentor.

New teachers: what are you struggling with? How can we help?
Veteran teachers: what advice do you have for new teachers?

We rise by lifting others.

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