A Letter to First Year Teachers

By Brianne Kashak, first grade teacher, Prince of Peace School

I am a first grade teacher at Prince of Peace School, a Seton Catholic School. This is my second year of teaching, so I am by no means an expert. What I do know, however, is what it’s like to be a brand new teacher. I know what it feels like to try to submit your edTPA while also browsing WECAN for hours on end. I know the stress of student teaching while simultaneously seeking out letters of recommendation and building a resume that will somehow represent you in a single page. I understand the countless hours you are spending at career fairs trying to find that right connection with someone, somewhere. Amidst all of this, there is also excitement. The moment when you feel like you have found a place that “gets” you, a place where you feel supported, encouraged and valued. I have found this within Seton Catholic Schools and I am writing this to share why. The “why” is the reason I am a returning to Seton Catholic Schools as a teacher.

Tough Times

Beginning teachers are facing tough times within the state of Wisconsin. The reality is, there is a major teacher shortage. I felt this throughout my job search. There is also a huge burnout rate in the teaching profession. Teachers are asked to do so much that goes beyond creating lesson plans and grading papers. We are at a time in our country where teachers and schools are called on to do more than educate our students. Students need food, shelter, a safe space, someone to talk to, and all of these must be met for learning to take place.

The “Why”

This leads me to ask, what is it that makes teachers stay? What do beginning teachers need to be successful?  I reflect on this now, in my second year of teaching, and want to share with you the four reasons I have chosen to stay at Prince of Peace School, a Seton Catholic School:

  1. The students. That’s the reason we are all here, right? We have a commitment to helping our students succeed. I come to school each morning and without fail, there is a student who is ready to put a smile on my face. Recently, I had a really bad cold and felt totally worn down. As my students were walking into the classroom, one of my students stopped and looked at me and said, “Are you ever going to get better?” I looked back at her and told her that it was just a cold. She reached into her pocket and pulled out two tacos wrapped up in aluminum foil. Thinking they were her breakfast, I asked her why she was handing them to me. She said, “I hope it makes you feel better!” Even though I don’t always associate tacos with a cold, it was the gesture that meant so much to me. This is why I am here.
  2. The community. One of the mistakes I made throughout my first year of teaching was failing to reach out when I felt lost. There were so many times when I was unsure about something, wasn’t sure how to manage my time properly, and was just stuck. I remember last year not knowing that our copier could staple papers together! I was spending all of this extra time printing things out and then stapling them myself, until one day, my first grade teaching partner walked in and asked why I was spending time stapling papers. I looked at her confused and asked her how else I was supposed to do it. She walked me over to the copier and showed me the staple button, and that one small button not only saved me a ton of time, it also showed me the power of asking for help. I am fortunate enough to be in a school where I know I could reach out to any member of our staff and would be met with reassurance and guidance. This is why I am here.
  3. Faith. To get through my first year of teaching, it took a lot of personal reflection on who I am as a person and the goals I set for myself. There were times I needed Jesus to get through each day. Being at a faith-based school helped me stay centered and at peace. Beyond sharing my faith with my students, I felt a strong desire to look at my own faith and reassess my values. This was necessary so that I could be transparent with my students and those in my community. I joined a group within my school called Tablesetters, dedicated to sharing the Catholic Social Teachings. We meet with students once a month to discuss how we connect faith and our school community. This gave me a sense of purpose for faith-based schools that I had not recognized as someone who grew up in a public school setting. We created a meaningful impact in our community and not only did I feel it, but the students felt it. This is why I am here.
  4. Seton Catholic Schools. One of the things that completely saved me my first year of teaching was the professional development opportunity at Seton Catholic Schools. Every month, we had a meeting for new teaches only. This changed my entire first year of teaching. I was meeting other first year teachers of various ages, backgrounds and experiences. We all came together, shared a meal, and discussed what was really happening in our classrooms and schools. The development session on classroom management techniques transformed my classroom. It was like they knew exactly what we would be struggling with each month and created resources for us. I also met some great friends throughout this process. There is nothing like meeting other first year teachers that you can share experiences with. Teaching cannot be an isolated experience, that is when we will fail. This is the beauty of Seton Catholic Schools. There is no isolation. We are a network of 12 schools and growing. There is always someone to connect with. This is why I am here.

Thank You!

To wrap up, I want to share a quote with you: “If it does not challenge you, it does not change you.” Teaching is a challenging profession. It is going to challenge you and stretch you and sometimes make you uncomfortable, but it will change you. You can do this. You are appreciated. Thank you to all teachers for everything that you do.