My First Year

by Shelly Blake-Plock

I was the worst first year teacher of all time.

I was so bad, people had pity on me.

But in time, and with the guidance of a few key mentors, I got better. Never became a great teacher, but definitely got better. Learned how to let people learn. Learned how to connect folks who could learn from one another. Learned how to ask better questions. Learned how to learn from every answer.

Sue Costello was my first mentor. She saw me through that first year. She was a veteran teacher with a million tales of a million kids, some who lost their way and some for whom new paths were thrust upon them.

If I remember correctly, she came out of retirement to become chair of the English department at our high school. She could have taught any class she wanted. She made the decision to dedicate herself to the "tough" kids. The ones who could barely read. The ones no one else wanted.

In return for her work with them, and in return especially for her patience and her willingness not to judge them, those kids loved her.

And though we really only talked one-on-one a handful of times, I remember everything she ever said. She inspired me to figure out what I was good at and not simply aspire to someone else's idea of what made for a successful career.

It was a good first year.

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