Diary of a Wimpy Teacher

I’m curious to know how many people have a diary.

It doesn’t have to be a physical one, with fluffy pink edging and “MADDIE’S JOURNAL” written across in giant, sparkly letters (though, if there are any Maddie’s who have that, props to you).  But for example, my journal consists of a bunch of random Word documents all titled different variations of “My Life is in Shambles Part ___”.  I have friends who journal their thoughts right in the middle of their school notes, people who jot them on their phone, people who have a discreet notebook you wouldn’t *think* is a diary but it totally is (I’m on to you.  You can’t hide forever).

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Regardless, I think everyone should have a diary.

Some way to vent about feelings, process through events, record what was going on in your day so in the future, you can go back and say, “Oh yeah!  I remember when this happened.  It was really hard but I made it through.”  The best journals (in my humble opinion) are the ones where you write stream of conscious–true, pure honesty as to what’s going on in your head.  Journaling is key to getting everything somewhat out in the open, somewhere besides inside your noggin, so you don’t go completely insane.

And as a future educator, I’d like to propose that everyone who is planning on being a teacher should keep a first year diary.


I recently read a journal article entitled, “Creating Professional Identity: Dilemmas and Metaphors of a First-Year Chemistry Teacher” by Mark Volkmann and Maria Anderson.  These authors basically did the thing all of us diary-keepers dread–they analyzed a first year teacher’s diary.  Why, you may ask?  Because they’re scientists.  And scientists analyze everything–trees, molecules, behavior, and apparently, diaries.

But in this case, I was actually pretty grateful for these wacko scientists who exposed “Maria”, the first year teacher with a whole bunch o’ problems.  The study broke it down into three major dilemmas Maria faced, and three solutions for those dilemmas.  As someone who’s getting ready to go into the classroom, this was incredibly relatable, and I’m hoping you’ll agree.  But for those of you who don’t want to read the whole thing, here’s a breakdown of what it was all about:

Dilemma #1: Student Face/Adult Face

  • Maria faced the problem all of us students are eventually going to–the transition from student to teacher.  Internally, she still felt like a student, but externally everyone saw her as a teacher.  She struggled to dress the part and act the part, because she felt like she was faking the whole thing, constantly stuck between two identities and not knowing where her place was. #Adulting was not her thing.
  • Resolution: Being a Role Model.  Maria found that the thing that helped most in establishing herself as an adult was seeing herself as a role model for the students.  Having students look up to her and want to talk with her or ask for help made her realize that she was having an impact.  The power of this feeling of purpose was enough to resolve the internal battle Maria was struggling with.

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Dilemma #2: Caring Face/Tough Face

  • All of the older teachers advised Maria to “start tough, get nicer”.  But Maria felt that wasn’t necessary–she was so desperate to be liked by her students that she wanted to show them right off the bat how caring she was.  This caused problems as the year went on, because she was constantly balancing being a teacher everyone liked and being a teacher everyone respected.
  • Resolution: Balancing Caring and Control.  Maria finally admitted that the advice from older teachers was right–she should have started out tough to gain student respect, and gotten nicer as the year went on.  In the end, Maria hadn’t really come to a solid resolution on this one like she had for the first dilemma, showing that classroom management is a struggle that goes beyond the first year.

Dilemma #3: Chemistry is Easy Face/Chemistry is Difficult Face

  • Maria went into education because she loved teaching.  Unfortunately, though she chose chemistry (long story short, she was on track for a pre-med chemistry degree and then last minute decided to switch), she did not love the subject.  And as a first year teacher, this posed a significant struggle, because she lacked confidence in the area she was teaching.  She continuously tried to impose this image of “I’m definitely a chemistry expert and I definitely know what I’m doing”, even though she felt like this was absolutely not true.
  • Resolution: Re-Evaluating the Fantasy Image of Teaching.  The reality is, your first year of teaching is not this “fantasy” you expect it to be.  Sure, Maria wanted to teach chemistry like it had never been taught before, replace the bad experience she had in high school with a new one for her students.  But unfortunately, she just didn’t know the content enough to effectively teach her students *everything*–and no one does.  Maria needed to embrace where she was at, and accept that teaching is not a fantasy.  We are going to make mistakes, fall short, and journey along with our students.  We’re learning as much as they are.

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Overall, the theme of Maria’s diary seemed to be an internal struggle between being a professional and being herself–the carefree, likable student she had always been.  Developing a professional identity in the first year of teaching is a concern many future teachers have, myself included.  And the reality is, our professional identity is made up of every aspect of teaching–what we know about teaching, what we know about the subject, and what we know about interacting and caring for students.

So what I’ve learned?  First year teaching is rough, and it’s supposed to be.  Keep a diary so you don’t go insane, and embrace the mess–ups and downs.

Volkmann, M., Anderson, M. (1997).  Creating Professional Identity: Dilemmas and Metaphors of a First-Year Chemistry Teacher.  Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Purdue University.  Published in the Science Education Journal.

About Naomi Patten 13 Articles
Future Science Educator Miami University Class of 2019 Follow me on Twitter @MsPattenScience


  1. Naomi,

    I thought it was really cool how you talked a lot about the dualities we have to deal with as teachers. Where do you draw the line between being a friend and being a professional? Where do you draw the line between being fair and being weak? These are issues that I’ve thought about at pretty great length, but I think your suggested solutions are excellent. You have to lead by example and have high expectations, but also be a human who understand the tribulations of other humans. I think striking this balance is really important. Great work this week!


  2. Naomi-
    This article really addresses struggles I think all future teachers worry about. I know personally I worry about having a balance between being nice and bring “tough.” Experience is key here. We can prepare as best as we can, but it’s going to take practice.
    Good article choice! I’d like to read it myself.

    • Meghan–

      Experience is key! This is why I love Miami’s Teacher Ed program, since we start off with experience right from our freshman year!

  3. Naomi,
    I really loved the article you chose to write about! I think it is a great idea to keep a journal of what your struggles were so that you can go back and correct them for the next year. I think this is going to be extremely helpful for all of us since we will be student teaching next year and then out ~in the real world~ soon after.
    Do you think keeping a journal could be something beneficial for students as well?

    • Shay,

      I think journal keeping is something everyone should do. Teachers, students, idk if dogs could keep journals THEY SHOULD. Journaling is the best way to get thoughts and feelings on paper, and it benefits everyone! Even if you never reveal your journal to everyone, it’s still a great way to process thoughts throughout times of change.

  4. Naomi, keeping a diary, journal, or just simply writing down your thoughts regularly can be a very rewarding experience. When we write things down we are engaging with those thoughts again and in a new way, in order to make connections in our minds to those experiences. Through this process of thinking and writing ideas down we can become introspective, and try and evaluate what we are writing down and what the implications of those words are. This is something that I imagine would be very helpful to a first year teacher, especially if the teacher is struggling in facet of their classroom.

    • Tom,

      I agree! Anytime I’m struggling through any change, I find journaling to be a great way to process. I also love looking back on old journals to see my progress, and I think it would be really cool as an educator to look back on my first year journal and see how far I’ve come!

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