A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Voices from Classroom: Unforgettable year for new teacher, hoping for long non-pandemic career

By Kyle Fitzgerald
Dayton High School

The challenges that first-year teachers face are many. Grading papers, contacting parents, managing classrooms, and checking emails are enough to make any newbie’s head spin. With a pandemic that has lasted three quarters of a calendar year and a general, harrowing uncertainty about the near future of in-person instruction, however, these feelings of anxiety and distress present themselves as conquerable, yet formidable foes.

For the past eight months, I’ve had the same things said to me, over and over again:

“What a first year this is, huh?”

“It’s your first-year teaching? In a pandemic? With eighth graders? I couldn’t do it.”

“I bet you’ll remember your first year after all this is said and done!”

Kyle Fitzgerald

If I had a dollar for every time I heard a variation of one of these phrases, I could retire now, honestly. I get these types of questions so much, sometimes I feel like I can finish their sentences before the final words come out of their mouths. But, although it gets repetitive sometimes, these questions are important ones that people want an answer to, so I always try my best to give a good answer to each one.

Unfortunately, however, most of the time I just give a response in the form of small talk in passing. I want to change that.

Today, I’m answering these questions as openly and honestly as I can. I rarely make time to fully express my thoughts and feelings about my answers to these questions, so here goes!

“What a first year this is, huh?”

I mainly get this question (often asked rhetorically, I’ll admit) from other teachers, administrators, and those who have worked in schools before, and my answer is yes, what a first year it is. But that’s just it, just my first year. I have no other frame of reference for what this should look like, so for now, half-days, small classes, non-traditional instruction and an over-abundance of hand sanitizer and dry hands are what working in a school looks like to me.

Sure, I was a high school and a middle school student once, but I can’t recall what I ate for breakfast, much less what I thought about in-class instruction as a 13-year-old. And sure, I student taught at Simon Kenton last semester, but after the first two full months of school, we were sent online. So, this uncertain, imperfect, hybrid model of school is what I know. So, yeah – what a first year!

“It’s your first-year teaching? In a pandemic? With eighth graders? I couldn’t do it.”

To put it bluntly, pandemic is not the scariest word(s) in the statement above. Believe me, when I first received the job offer at Dayton and heard the words “eighth-graders,” I thought I couldn’t do it either. Luckily, I was wrong.

I graduated in May of 2020 from Northern Kentucky University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Secondary Education and English. I went the college to teach high school and landed a job as an 8th-grade teacher. For whatever reason, it took me four years to realize that my certification actually covered 8-12, not 9-12! Who would have thought? Obviously not me.
I’ve always gone into new phases in my life with a positive attitude, however, so that’s what I did – and it worked for the better. To my surprise, I’ve come to really enjoy the age group and the school culture.

My students are a strange mix of a little too childish and a little too grown-up, and make fart jokes one moment and speak in a formal and respectful way about sensitive and serious topics the next. The dynamic of my classes always makes for a new and exciting, unpredictable day, and I owe it to the kids.

“I bet you’ll remember your first year after all this is said and done!”

The truth is, I will remember my first year very specifically when this is all said and done, and that’s a positive and negative thing to admit.

When looking back on my first year, I’m sure many positive things will pop into my mind. Meeting new friends among my colleagues, working under my first practicum teacher’s administration, developing rapport and relationships with my kids and becoming enriched in the Dayton culture are all things I’ll think of.

I’ll think of those who have gone out of their way to make sure I have everything I’ll need in order to feel successful in the school. I’ll think of Hank, the custodian who bought me a Baby Yoda poster after only having had one conversation about Star Wars. I’ll think of a many great things when reminiscing on the year of 2020.

But, with the positive comes the negative. Some things are sad. Some things are different, and everybody sees it. I didn’t get a college graduation; that’s not a terribly huge deal, and I try not to complain about it because others had it much worse. I student taught seniors while at SK and didn’t get to see them walk, or go to prom, or say goodbye to their friends and other teachers. I’ll remember these feelings and these moments. I’ll remember what it’s like to recognize a new face by solely their eyes and the bridge of their nose, and what color mask they usually wear. I’ll remember it all.

The biggest challenge

Truthfully, this year has been the biggest challenge of my life, just as it has been for many others. At the same time, however, it’s somehow been the most rewarding one. My first-year teaching amidst a pandemic is unprecedented, but I don’t feel discouraged. I feel empowered; I feel backed by an amazing support system at Dayton. I feel ready for the future.

Perhaps the pandemic was a good starting point for my (hopefully) long-lasting teaching career. At the end of the day, it can only go up from here, right?

Kyle Fitzgerald is in his first year of teaching at Dayton High School where he teaches 8th grade English. He graduated in May from Northern Kentucky University with a bachelors’ is Secondary Education and English.

Voices from the Classroom is an occasional feature at the NKyTribune, sharing the perspectives of classroom teachers. It is organized by Amanda Klare, a teacher at Beechwood High School. Reach her at amanda.klare@beechwood.kyschools.us.

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