February 21, 2020

By Teresa Lien 

Be proud that you are in a meaningful profession. But be prepared to fight every year—and every day—to keep your passion alive. Remember that the conditions of teaching matter, but your actions matter most.  -Chase Mielke

Chase Mielke’s “A Letter to New Teachers” was featured in the September 2019 edition of Education Leadership, in an issue focused on What New Teachers Need. As a “new,” retired teacher, I found Mr. Mielke’s letter to be powerful. Although his letter addresses teachers entering the field, his message impressed me as a teacher exiting the field. I picked up “A Letter to New Teachers” to read because I worked with new teachers for nearly two decades. I wondered what he could possibly write that hasn’t already been said. What I found is that his advice is not only clearly relevant for new teachers, but also for teachers all across the continuum of their career. During my 36 years as a teacher, I experienced everything Mr. Mielke describes, and I still do. For example, right now my “newsfeed [is] bristling with caustic stories about educator despair.” When I read these news stories or watch posted videos of teachers sharing their profound frustrations, I remember experiencing similar feelings and feel heartache for the teachers, which sometimes overcomes me. 

In the early 2000s, when I began working with new teachers, I made a decision to resist and confront complacency and acrimony in myself and others. I knew I would not serve new teachers well if I joined any campaign of fear or bitterness. I had enough years of experience to understand that many of the challenges in teaching are blips on the radar, and teaching is about the journey. Mr. Mielke is spot on when he writes, “We choose to spend our time talking about what’s going well and what growth we are seeing, no matter how meager. We rekindle the sense of moral purpose that led us into teaching. And we do this for good reason: Resilient individuals draw from positive emotions to overcome challenging experiences (Tugade & Fredrickson, 2004).”  

During this time of the school year, the struggle is real. “Tough teaching conditions affect us. But they don’t have to define us,” Mr. Mielke writes to new teachers. What virtues support our sense of purpose for serving students? How can they sustain or revitalize us during tough times? As Charlotte Danielson writes, “Accomplished teachers have a strong moral compass and are guided by the best interest of each student, even when this ethos involves challenging long-established school policies or procedures.” Genuinely reflecting on how we approach our work becomes more critical during times when doubt sets in. Anticipate this. Teaching is seasonal and February is a month when multiple factors can weigh heavily on us. Do as Mr. Mielke encourages and, “Own Your Present and Future…and adopt an internal locus of control.” He explains three mental shifts: autonomy, cognitive flexibility, and ownership, which take conscious effort and practice to engage in. When the stories on my newsfeed discourage me, I have to reframe my focus. I act on what I can control and respond with actionable strategies to advance solutions.  

We need to “Find a Positive Tribe,” as Mr. Mielke recommends. My experience has been that productive associations we curate for ourselves can come in a variety of forms, from colleagues to personalized professional learning. There are many things we can do to continuously “craft our calling.” We can seek to learn, even when gaining knowledge seems improbable, like reading “A Letter to New Teachers” years after being new to the profession. Any pursuit of positive action restores our energy and the discovery of doppelgängers who augment our passion for teaching. Mr. Mielke’s “A Letter to New Teachers” is thoughtful with wise advice for new teachers on “how to fight to keep your passion alive,” which can ring true for those entering or exiting the field. Chase Mielke, your recommendations are timeless.