By Steven Dunmire
What have I learned in the past year and a half of teaching?
Being a “new teacher” was an identity I anticipated holding for many years. The plan began forming at 14, when I realized how much I loved working as a teaching assistant for a youth theatre program. It solidified in college, when teaching middle school students for the Breakthrough Collaborative program cemented and confirmed every desire I had to enter the education field. It sustained me through graduate school and a yearlong teaching placement, finally coming to fruition in September of 2015. A little over a year ago now, I joined the ranks of Boston Public Schools as a sixth grade teacher.
Spending so many years in anticipation of being a new teacher gave me plenty of time to think about what the job might actually be like. I spent years of my free time in college trying to understand what it meant to prepare for the teaching profession. Much of what I read and heard was alarming: stressful first years, teacher burnout, and high numbers of new teachers leaving the field before achieving their full potential as master educators. With that information under consideration, I entered the profession with the question of how to survive and succeed constantly on my mind.
Now several months into my second year of teaching, I am proud of the work I have done and the progress I have made as an educator. I have also learned the importance of having community in order to sustain yourself as a new teacher. I’m incredibly thankful for the teachers, school leaders, coaches, and friends who supported me during year one. Thanks to the Early Career Teacher Network (a community of alumni and teacher educators within the Boston Teacher Residency program), I have been fortunate to experience professional development, coaching, and other learning opportunities specifically geared to support new teachers. Among many other things, participating in the Network has taught me how inspiring it can be to be guided toward new and innovative teaching practices and how empowering it feels to do so in a group of peers at the same level of development as me. I am also thankful to my school. As one of the only new teachers last year at the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School, I was motivated everyday by the professional knowledge and compassion for students shown by the adults around me. I am grateful for our school leaders, who are balancing pushing our practice in bold new directions with responding to the needs of teachers and students on the ground.
These colleagues, mentors, and personal experiences are helping me shape my core beliefs about what it means to be a teacher. More than anything, I am learning to think about my long-term goals. Remembering that becoming the best teacher I can be will be a journey of years helps me let go of short-term anxieties and daily ups and downs. By remaining steadfast in my pursuit of improvement and holding tightly to my conviction to stay in teaching, I have faith that I can reach this goal.
And with the community around me, I know the day will come sooner rather than later.
Steven Dunmire teaches sixth grade ELA and Humanities at the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School in Boston.