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A Teacher’s First Year: The Good, The Bad and the Beautiful

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Black students Black teachers Boston Boston Prep Charter Schools English-Language Learners First year teaching immigrant students Massachusetts Meghann Estrada relationships School Culture Students of Color Teacher Voice Teachers of Color

A Teacher’s First Year: The Good, The Bad and the Beautiful

A Teacher’s First Year: The Good, The Bad and the Beautiful

Joining a new school community comes with a unique set of challenges. In addition to the difficulties inherent in any new school year, new teachers must also learn and navigate new systems, develop relationships with colleagues, students and families, and learn new curricula. It is no small task.

I know these challenges intimately. While last school year was my second year leading a classroom, it was my first year teaching at Boston Prep Charter Public School. As the year came to a close, I was exhausted. But that exhaustion was accompanied by so much more—pride, joy and hope for the future, both my future as a teacher and our community’s collective future with these tremendous young people leading us.

Looking back on the year—the ups and downs, moments of despair and moments of delight—I see “the good, the bad and the beautiful of year one.” All of these moments have shaped me as I continue on my journey as an educator.

The Good 

Our school is a robust community—faculty, students and families work together as one team in pursuit of a shared mission. It is the strong relationships I formed within this unique community that stand out at the forefront of my mind. In the face of challenge, the people who surrounded me consistently brought me joy and strength. 

As a new staff member, I was immediately welcomed into a supportive community of colleagues. Despite our busy schedules, we remained a powerful support system for one another throughout the year. And it was always refreshing to check in with my new staff cohort. Most importantly, though, getting to know and develop genuine relationships with my students was the driving force that brought me to this work each day.

My students are more than just my students. As a resident of Dorchester, a neighborhood within the city of Boston, many of my students are my neighbors. Every day, I witnessed their compassion, resilience, determination and immense potential—both at school and in our broader community, and I was reminded that my students, like all students, deserve the best. 

As a Black woman, I know how valuable it is for my students to see teachers and school leaders who look like them. And I know they need someone to challenge them with love to exceed their potential. I aimed to do just that—whether inside the classroom, as we dissected a dense passage of literature, or outside the classroom, as I cheered them on at their sporting events or during our eighth grade retreat.

Eighth grade Pinnacle retreat.

The deep relationships forged with my students fueled me. When I think of “the good,” much of it is tied to how my students inspired me. They moved me to choose strength and excellence when I could have chosen to lie down in the face of tremendous challenges. 

The Bad

I wouldn’t be honest if I only shared “the good.” The truth is teaching is hard, especially when it is your first year in a new setting. There were moments when I doubted myself. There were moments when I felt overwhelmed. There were moments when the challenges appeared more significant than the joys. There were countless moments when I found myself in the depths of struggle. But every day, I returned, persevered and our community lifted me back up. The good moments reminded me about why I dedicate myself to this work—and for that reason, while I acknowledge “the bad,” I choose not to dwell on it.

The Beautiful

Instead of “the ugly,” as one might expect, I’m choosing “the beautiful” because so much of educating young people is beautiful. In my first year at Boston Prep, among the good and the bad, the beautiful moments were infinite. 

At the beginning of the year, I taught my students about a South African philosophy called “Ubuntu.” Ubuntu means “I am because we are.” This philosophy reinforces one of our school’s core virtues—compassion, with the notion that our humanity is connected. In my classroom, I emphasized this philosophy throughout the year. While we would all be pushed to step outside of our comfort zones, and we might make mistakes, we would remain a safe, supportive, encouraging community. 

Some of the most beautiful moments of the school year were those in which I witnessed Ubuntu coming to life in my classroom. Like me, one of my students, Eimy, was new to Boston Prep. Having immigrated recently to the United States, Eimy started this school year with very little English fluency. As a result, she was very hesitant to present to the class, read aloud or even ask questions. But each time she demonstrated the courage to speak, her classmates would encourage her, enthusiastically snapping—our school’s traditional sign of encouragement.

For our final unit of the year, we read “Othello,” acting out much of the play in class. When asking for volunteers to take on the part of Othello, to my surprise, Eimy raised her hand. After she courageously persevered through twenty lines of Shakespearean monologue, the entire class broke into uproarious snapping and clapping, and Eimy smiled triumphantly from ear to ear. That moment—her perseverance and growth, the compassionate and safe community my students and I had together created—is, in my opinion, the true definition of beauty.

Boston Prep students during the rose ceremony.

At the end of the year at Boston Prep, we celebrate our eighth grade students’ transition from middle school to high school, via a rose ceremony. Students identify their proudest moment in middle school (represented by the bloom), their most challenging moment of middle school (represented by the thorns) and their hope for high school (represented by the bud).

As I sat in the front row of my first rose ceremony, I found myself beaming with joy, watching my students accept their roses and certificates. I, too, felt that while my first year at this new school had a few thorns, the lessons I learned allowed me to cherish the beauty of the entire rose with undying hope for what this next year will bring.

Photo courtesy of the author.

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