40 … What does it mean to me?

This week I turn 40. Forty. How is that even possible?! It doesn’t seem that old, and at the same time, it does. Recently, we received an email with a copy of the Board’s seniority list. This was a good reminder for me that on my 40th birthday, I will have been teaching 17 years with the Board. Where will my first group of students be now?

I still remember my first year of teaching. I was initially hired part-time (every afternoon) to teach Grade 1 math, science, social studies, art, music, and health. Then when schools re-organized at the end of September, I received another part-time job at a different school teaching Kindergarten. I spent my lunch hours driving from one school to the next one. I never felt as though I was organized. I had a really challenging morning and afternoon class, and the multiple teachers for the morning class, didn’t help.

That year, I seriously considered leaving teaching … and teaching was all I ever wanted to do. But I felt totally overwhelmed.

  • There was always paper everywhere! Maybe it was that year of teaching that caused me to fear paper. 🙂 I could never seem to get to the bottom of the piles. My desk — the first and only year that I had one — was always buried in worksheets. Maybe it’s images of that desk that make me despise worksheets now. 🙂
  • I was never well-planned. I tried to be … but I was planning for so much. Student needs at both schools exceeded the supports in place, and I didn’t know how to meet curriculum expectations and address individual needs. Could I modify expectations? How much without an IEP in place? I just wasn’t sure.
  • I rarely connected with staff. Since I spent most lunch hours in my car, and time before and after school in my classrooms, there was never really time to socialize with others. I taught at schools with other teachers in the same grade team, but I chose to be an island. Maybe I didn’t want to admit I needed help. Maybe I didn’t know how to ask for it. But I didn’t … and I know that my students would have benefitted more if I did.
  • I didn’t really get to know the kids. I knew their names. I knew the problems I was having with them. But I didn’t know THEM. Self-regulation wasn’t discussed at that time, and behaviour was just seen as misbehaviour. It was either their fault, or my fault, or a combination of both, but there was never a thought that there might be something else at play. I still remember many names from that first year, but I wish I remembered — AND KNEW — the children.

My Grade 1’s would be 23 this year. I started teaching at 23. One day, I could be on the same staff as one of them. My first Kindergarteners are very close to that. I wonder if I gave any of these kids what they needed to succeed. I apologize profusely if I didn’t, and wish I could go back and change things now. I learned a lot from that first year of teaching though.

  • I learned about the importance of organization.
  • I learned that paper isn’t the only way for children to show what they know.
  • I learned that love has to come first. Connect with the kids. Show them that you truly care about them … even on the hard days and even with the most challenging of kids.
  • I learned that we don’t need to work alone. It’s okay to ask for help, and when we work together, we end up learning a lot more from each other.
  • I learned that change is good. At times it can seem overwhelming, even when we’re the ones that make the decision to change. But in the end, I’ve learned something from each one of my changes, and every grade that I’ve taught. I don’t regret any of them.
  • And I learned about the importance of persevering. That first year was hard. I was ready to give up, but I didn’t … and I’m so glad about that! I couldn’t love teaching more than I do, and I’m happy to spend my 40th birthday in the classroom with a wonderful group of children and an amazing teaching partner (even if it is my no prep, duty day 🙂 ). So for my many students those 17 years ago, thank you for teaching me all that you did. I’m spending my 40th birthday thinking fondly about all of you, and wishing that I knew back then what I know now.

What do you wish you knew in your first year? How might it have changed things for you and your kids? The past may be out of our hands, but we can look forward with our new knowledge and a modified outlook. This is what I choose to think about as my 40th birthday quickly approaches.


8 thoughts on “40 … What does it mean to me?

  1. I wish I knew that many of the teachers who seemed to have it so together had started out just like me: overwhelmed and working hard but not working smart. They learned over time and I would too. I wish I knew that no one was judging me for my slip-ups, because they had already walked a mile in my Year 1 shoes 🙂

    • Love these points, Pat! Thanks for sharing. These are so true. Maybe if we all shared these first year experiences with first year teachers, they would know what we also figured out in time: so much does get better!


  2. What a great and honest reflection! I wish I had read that during my first year— and I related on so many levels. I am a decade older and have several former students as both fellow teachers and admin! My first students could be 38! I really agree with love your students and ask for help! I also might add, work life balance and having happiness be a personal pursuit! Happy birthday week! As I am on the other end- I feel you need to know that your 40’s are filled with amazing adventures! Enjoy!

    • Thanks Lorna! I think that I’ve achieved happiness (and yes, definitely made it a goal), but may still be working on that work/life balance. Maybe I’m stuck on making the scales equal. Two great additional things to think/learn about … thank you! Glad to hear good news about my 40’s. I’m ready now for this new adventure!


  3. Love this post Dunsiger. So pure and from the heart. I found so many similarities and too wish I could go back and change some of my old practices. Thank goodness though that we can be reflective leaders and try to improve on our instructional practices everyday, remembering that our students always come first.

    • Thanks Jo-Ann! I think that this continual reflection and improvement are so important. I may not be able to change what I did back then, but I can change (and continue to modify) what I do from now on.


  4. I am in my first few weeks of my first contract, and this March break I have been reflecting a lot on how far I have come in my nearly 10 years since teachers college, but how far I still feel I have to go. My contract just happens to be in the same school where I got my first LTO 7 years ago, so I have a daily reminder of just how much I have grown. Then I go on Twitter and see the work of teachers I admire and think about how much more I still need to learn. Everyone’s career is a journey and there is so much that we can learn from each other. Thank you for being part of my learning over the years! 🙂

    • Congratulations on your first contract, Melanie! I think that this reflection time is important for all of us. I know that your comments on my blog posts often have me reflecting more, and for that, I thank you!


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