Confessions of a Fourth Year Teacher

I'm two weeks into the fourth year of my teaching career. And I'll be honest: it's both the easiest and the hardest year yet.

Things are dialed in. I have lesson plans many days in advance. I know my curriculum, and I've read the novels that I teach many times. In fact, for the first time, I actually have whole unit plans. I know my unit goals, I know the individual lessons, and I know the assignments I'll grade.

By this time, I also know (and love) my students. I loop with my kids for three years, and I'm therefore very familiar with my seventh and eighth graders. I've even spent a lot of time with my sixth graders as I occasionally team-taught writing with their fifth grade teacher. And I love my kids. They're why I do what I do. They make me smile. They inspire me. They make me think. I love watching them think and create and collaborate.

But two weeks in, and it's already very hard. It's hard to stay excited about the content since I've taught it so many years before. It's difficult to feel needed when my students have learned to work together to discover knowledge. It's hard to know that I'm no longer necessary for students to learn. They can teach one another and challenge one another in ways far more authentic than the ways I can teach them. Each time I find myself subdued about the content that day, I watch their eyes glaze over, also choosing not to care.

It's a hard balance: I want to try new things, but I also know that continually changing all of my lesson plans will quickly lead to burn-out and won't always be productive for the students. And I know that a lot of my lesson plans are good, great even, and that they teach my students what they need to know. Alumni continually return and tell me how prepared they are for their high school English classes, and I take pride in that. I want to continue in that legacy. Yet I crave the continual challenge and new opportunities to learn. I want to try new things and see how students make my wild ideas a success. But I also want to have a life, and I'm not exactly sure how to balance that with being an "all-star" teacher.

And so, on one hand, I can see how the fourth year is the sweet spot when it comes to knowing what you do, but on the other hand, I'm not exactly sure how to keep it fresh and exciting every day. How do you balance the desire to learn and create new things with the need to have a healthy work-life balance? How much do you vary from year to year? How do you find purpose when you're students are solving most of the problems themselves? Are these thoughts characteristic of a fourth year teacher, or am I just being irrational? These are the questions that are flowing through my head on a daily basis. However, I don't really expect to find the answers. So while I wait, I'll be here loving kids and standing in awe of what they can do.