Musings from a First Year Teacher by Alex Schaivone

Alex SchaivoneAs the 2016-17 school year is coming to a close, a first year teacher – Alex Schaivone – shares her insightful blog – Musings from a First Year Teacher – about her experiences as a beginning teacher. Mrs. Schaivone teaches English in the Lyceum Academy at New Hanover High School.

Her blog may also be found on

During my internship, I was blessed with a wonderful partnership teacher who taught me more about teaching than I could possibly learn in any education class. In that year, I learned how to teach my content, but I also learned much more. In the first few months of my internship, my partnership teacher passed along a wonderful essay from the blog Cult of Pedagogy, “Find Your Marigold: The One Essential Rule for New Teachers.” This essay centers around the need for new teachers to find their marigolds, or those teachers who are “encouraging, supporting and nurturing growing teachers on their way to maturity.” It warns of walnut trees, those who may have become bitter or hardened over the course of their careers, and instead encourages young teachers to seek out those who provide support and positivity. The ideas presented in this essay have stayed with me through this year and have proven to be both true and incredibly valuable.

This year, I have encountered both marigolds and walnut trees. I have learned a great deal about teaching, and almost as much about simply being a good person. In fact, some of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned weren’t related to teaching English at all but somehow made me a better English teacher. Here are a few pieces of knowledge that I’ve gained this year that will endure far beyond the last day of school.

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

This may seem quite apropos as an English teacher, but it resonates with me far beyond the literal idea of books and their respective covers. Coming into the school where I completed my internship, I had formulated quite a few preconceived notions about the students, other teachers, and the school community based on the opinions of others. Despite this, I tried my best to approach this year with an open mind and was pleased to find out that most of these notions were actually huge misconceptions. In fact, many of those “bratty students” have turned out to be some of the most wonderful people in the world and have impacted my life tremendously.

It’s okay to be human.

I learned very quickly that you will become emotionally invested in your students. Laugh with them, maybe even cry with them, and always celebrate their successes. Embrace the highs and the lows equally.

Never underestimate the power of a compliment.

One of my favorite moments from this year came in a phone call with a parent. While discussing her student, the mother let me know that every time I compliment her daughter in some way– maybe it’s about her cute shoes that day or perhaps it is an “I’m so proud of you!” after a presentation- she comes home excited and eager to tell her. It was in that moment that I realized the power of something so small.

You can’t pour from an empty cup.

I will be the first to admit that I once was a self-care skeptic. I rolled my eyes through the required self-care class I took in graduate school, thinking I had much more important things (like lesson planning and grading) to do than take time for myself. I didn’t think that those things could wait, but this year has taught me otherwise. My “me time” has become just as important to me as my work because, at the end of the day, you really can’t pour from an empty cup. I hit a point this year where I realized that if I am drained- physically, mentally, or emotionally- I am no good to my students. You have to fill your own cup first.

Find your tribe.

I have often heard other teachers talking about “finding their tribe,” but I never truly understood how important this is. I couldn’t have survived this year without having a tribe of my own. Surround yourself with colleagues who care about you and support you. Find people who laugh with you on good days and make you laugh on bad days.

Looking back on this first year, I would certainly be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to say thank you– thank you to the mentors, the friends, and the colleagues, the ones who answered countless questions (some of which probably were quite silly looking back), the ones who were there to talk (and vent) after a long day in the classroom or a lesson that didn’t quite go as planned, and the ones who have reminded me day in and day out that yes, being a teacher is hard, but worth it.

To the veteran teachers who have taken newbies like myself under your wings, continue to seek out opportunities to help nurture and guide those who are just beginning. Continue to be patient, open, and honest with us. And most importantly, continue to be the teachers, mentors, and friends that you once needed as a first-year teacher. Even when it’s easy to become a walnut tree, continue to be the marigold.

To the brand new teachers, those who have just turned those tassels and are ready to embark on your next great adventure, embrace your first year of teaching with open arms. You will feel overwhelmed at times, but you, too, will survive. You will learn to love and laugh more than you thought possible. You will bend until you feel like breaking, but your own resiliency will amaze you. And when all else fails, have confidence in knowing that even on your worst days, you are still important, valuable, and perhaps even some child’s best hope. As you enter your building for the first time (and continue to walk through those doors for the next 184 days), seek out those marigolds. Let them instill in you love, passion, and a zest for teaching. Those marigolds will get you through the next year when every textbook fails.

“And when all else fails, have confidence in knowing that even on your worst days, you are still important, valuable, and perhaps even some child’s best hope. “

And lastly, to my fellow first-year teachers almost second-year teachers, we survived! Whether it was a good year or a bad year, your first year has almost come to a close. It’s time to relinquish that “first-year teacher” title and pass it on to someone new. It’s now your turn to be someone else’s marigold. Continue to carry with you the lessons you have learned over the course of this year and never stop finding new reasons to love your craft and your students. -Alex Schaivone, NHHS

Also, if you’d like to read the article mentioned by Alex, check it out here:

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