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The Boat. Or what it feels like to be a first year teacher. *

February 3, 2011

*for me.


So there is this big sea.  And it is all full of math (and other) teachers.  And they are all in their ships.  And their ships are super super cool, like with fancy masts and steering devices and sails and the what not. And they are sailing along building new and fancy things for their ships.  Once and while they have an issue but you know they have all this stuff to fix their issues.  So yea, the crow’s nest is tipping but it’s cool cause they have just the right tool for that. And they have holes sometimes but they have patches to fix their holes.


And then there’s me.  And I am swimming.  I have one maybe two pieces of wood that I am attempting to nail together while swimming. Which is tough let me tell you.  I have all the tools to make a boat but I have to carry them while swimming and hold my wood together and hammer the nail.


And while I am doing all this the teachers in the other boats (and anyone else who thinks/ heard/ knows anything about boatbuilding) are all throwing plans at me. How to build rotating crow’s nests, tye dyed sails and self steering ships and telling me how important all these things are.


And I am treading water, trying to hold on to all of my tools and hammer my wood together and sometimes I just want to yell,




*but there is a yet 
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19 Comments leave one →
  1. February 3, 2011 5:52 pm

    Your post reminded me of the most awful professional development we had to do. We were asked to close our eyes, and imagine we were on a plane. We were flying high. But, WAIT, oh no! The plane hadn’t been built yet, and we needed to build the plane while we were flying on the plane. (Yes, you may say, that doesn’t make ANY sense. Welcome to my world.) And then we were asked what we needed to build on the plane we were flying on that didn’t exist because it hadn’t been built.

    But enough of reminiscing about terrible PD.

    I totally get where you’re coming from. The first time you teach a class (first year teachers all are teaching new classes!, but this is true of ANYONE teaching a class for the first time), you’re treading water. You don’t have a boat. You’re working on building the core set of materials. It’s usually boring. Innovation isn’t something you can even be dreaming about. You’re dreaming about making sure you have the next day’s lesson set, which means writing something really straightforward. Something that gets straight to the point.

    TRUST ME – WE ALL DO IT. It’s all we can do. Tread water. THAT’S OKAY.

    “And while I am doing all this the teachers in the other boats (and anyone else who thinks/ heard/ knows anything about boatbuilding) are all throwing plans at me. How to build rotating crow’s nests, tye dyed sails and self steering ships and telling me how important all these things are.”

    Blarf. Ignore them. Stick with the basics. My sister (also a teacher) told me in my first year: “Try to do one innovative/non-boring thing a week… heck, once a month.” She was telling me to BE REALISTIC, SAM.

    The rest comes, but only once you have all the base materials set. Your general lesson plans, your worksheets, your assessments, your understanding of what the kids tend to know and don’t know, the places where kids tend to mess up, etc. You can’t have or know any of that now.

    So stay afloat, be realistic, and don’t grab any of the fancy unwieldy things people are throwing at you. Make small, attainable, goals. And be proud of yourself for the awesome things you ARE doing.


  2. bcherrman permalink
    February 3, 2011 6:00 pm

    I’m a first-year middle school math teacher in Michigan and I feel exactly the same way! Funny thing is, I’m also a swim coach, so this analogy is all the more pertinent to me! But, like you said, the important part is that there certainly is a “yet.” Keep fighting!

    • February 3, 2011 6:45 pm

      Do you get snow days? I know this is totally off topic but i am currently in serious need of a snow. may have to leave CA.

      Anyway, good luck in your boat building. I’ll wave from here once I get a minute.

      • bcherrman permalink
        February 4, 2011 2:59 am

        We DO get snowdays! Had one Wednesday, in fact. They seem to pop up at the just the right time usually…

  3. February 3, 2011 6:38 pm

    I’m a 5th year teacher and I don’t know if you think I’m in a boat or not, but it’s kind of more of a raft with a picture of a yacht on it.

  4. February 3, 2011 7:14 pm

    You might be better off without a boat. Teachers get attached to boats – even when the boats are no longer needed. Then you are stuck carrying a boat around on land.

    Instead, get comfortable in the water and go with the flow.

    Sorry to mix metaphors, but I believe teachers are better off planning to be nomads (swimmers) than homesteaders (boat builders).


  5. February 3, 2011 9:11 pm

    When you’re swimming along in a sea of large ships, it’s hard not to look up and wonder. Did you notice that you’re also in a sea of swimmers, and your boat is coming together quite nicely. :)

  6. chris permalink
    February 3, 2011 9:32 pm

    It’s good that you know how to swim!!!

  7. Elizabeth Statmore permalink
    February 4, 2011 2:21 pm

    As Dory says (and sings) over and over again in that cinematic classic Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming…”

  8. February 5, 2011 6:13 pm

    Amen to that! I totally hear you! I think my problem is not so much that other teachers are throwing plans at me, but that I keep collecting boat plans as I find them (just floating out there, y’know), and juggling them as well as all the tools and everything while swimming can be tricky too. Like, I should just build my raft and worry about making it all fancy ‘n stuff later, but I don’t want a raft, I want a fancy cruise ship…

  9. February 6, 2011 8:27 am

    I actually had so much to say about this that I just gave up and wrote this instead: (I am not very good with keeping my words to a minimum.)

    Good luck!! You sound like you’re doing SO much better than I was during my first year. I wasn’t really swimming. I got swallowed by huge waves, caught in currents, got bitten by a shark, and then was just bopping along on the surface barely breathing. But, it does get better…

  10. February 15, 2011 8:08 pm

    Oh. My. God. That’s the best description of my last 12 months I’ve ever read. I’m printing it out to post in my office. I love my job, don’t get me wrong: your post isn’t saving me from hating my job. It’s saving me from thinking I’m nuts :)

    • February 15, 2011 8:12 pm

      Ah, so glad you’re there with me. And that maybe the best compliment ever.

  11. March 5, 2011 12:05 pm

    Wow – thanks for a great piece! I’ll have a smile on my face next time I find myself treading water in the ocean surrounded by flotsam and debris that was the most recent rowboat I tried to construct :-) Fortunately most of the time the only real loss is self-dignity – the students can be surprisingly resilient and tolerant – and there’s lots of wood around to try making another boat next lesson.

  12. Emily permalink
    October 27, 2013 1:17 am

    Very well said! –> From a second year teacher


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