Think you've had a tough introduction to your new teaching career? You're not the only one! Read some heartening tales of rocky first years on the job and learn from other teachers' hard-won wisdom.

My first year teaching was in San Francisco, where many of my students celebrated Chinese New Year. Traditionally, kids get small red envelopes with money enclosed from family members. I thought it would be fun to give my students envelopes as well. I didn't want to give them real cash, so I enclosed miniature $1,000 bills inside each envelope. After school I gave one of the envelopes to our custodian, who was also Chinese. When she opened it up, she was horrified. She informed me that at Chinese funerals, people burn fake money to symbolize prosperity in the afterlife for the deceased. By giving kids fake money, I was in a sense telling them "I hope you die." Sort of like buying someone a coffin for his birthday! From then on I learned to be clear about cultural norms before I made them my own.
Bill Singer, Sheppard Elementary School, Santa Rosa, CA

It is very important to take a deep breath before each day, and you cannot solve all the classroom problems in one day.
Shelly Green, Vancouver, BC

During my first year of teaching I shared an open-space type of classroom with another teacher, Linda. One day after lunch, Linda came over to my side of the room carrying a thermos. "Smell this thermos," she demanded. I turned and looked at her. I didn't know what was in the thermos, but my guess was that I didn't want to get my nose near it. Noticing my hesitation, Linda continued. "My allergies interfere with my sense of smell," she explained. "Does this smell like beer?" Sure enough, it did. One of her first graders and his older brother had made their own lunches that day. When they could find nothing in the refrigerator to drink, they divided a beer between them and brought it to school!
Charlotte Sassman, Alice Carlson Applied Learning Center, Fort Worth, TX

Never assume anything about students, parents, or other educators.
Lyn Fox, Upper Darby, PA

One of my worst moments during my first year of teaching was during a lab lesson. I had read about cabbage juice being an acid/base indicator and found a great experiment for my sixth graders to do. I was excited. The kids were excited. We all had our goggles and gloves on and were ready to go. My assistant principal even came by for an unexpected visit-an added bonus, I thought. Everything seemed to be set up perfectly, except there was one problem. It turns out that I had used the wrong type of cabbage. I used green when I should have used red. The experiment didn't work at all! Luckily, I managed to turn the period into a "why didn't this work" session and rescheduled the red cabbage juice experiment. Lesson learned — test your experiments before you do them with your students.
Amy M. Denty, Jesup Elementary / Odum Elementary, Jesup, GA

If you want to cover the textbook, sit on it!
Sally McGuire, Greensboro, AL

I was a first year teacher, fresh out of college, young enough to be most of my kids' sister, and was having several doubts of everything I did. Questions rang through my head daily like, "Will my students learn this?" "Will I teach this lesson correctly?" and "How do I really assess their learning?" At mid-year, I began to wonder if my students had really learned anything. I wondered if I had touched their lives in any way. One of my students who had been struggling in my class answered that question for me. Most of the difficulty she was having in class was due to her lack of confidence in her abilities, and early on I made it a goal to change that. Every day when I said it was Math time, her eyes would fill with tears as I explained an assignment all because she had it set in her mind that she couldn't do it. Every day I would sit with her and explain, "You can do it. You just have to believe in yourself." After months of telling my children that I am not an artist and can't draw well, I drew a picture on the board that they were impressed with. After class, that same little girl came up to me and said, "See Miss Long, you can draw, you just have to believe in yourself." My heart was touched to know I had reached one of my students. What a wonderful reminder of why I became a teacher.
Melissa Long, Rochester, NY

In my first year of teaching I received a lovely Valentine box of chocolates from a little girl in my first grade class. When I opened them all the chocolates were gone except the one in the center and it had a thumbprint in the middle of it. Below the chocolate was a note that said, "I love you." This was a very special gift.
Betty Klein, Ft. Sill, OK

Enjoy the journey and not worry so much about the end result of each day, each grading period, or each year. Teach the best you can and love each child the best you can.
Ann Eisenstein, Columbia, SC