First off, congratulations on getting hired to teach high school English at Fort Vancouver High School. You just finished up at Portland State last year and to land a full-time job immediately is impressive. You are joining a school with 1,600 students, most of whom come from poverty and are not white. This is not High School Musical, nor is it Glee. It's much better than that. These students are real people with legitimate dreams, problems, fears, and voices. They are the best people I know and your willingness to go the extra mile for them will help determine your success.
This is not an eight-hour a day job. You get to work at 7 o'clock. You go home between 4 and 5. As an English teacher, you read papers for an hour or two at night. On weekends, you plan. And in all your free time? You think about how better to reach your kids. Not your students... your kids. Because these kids spend more time with interacting with their teachers than their parents. They will come to you with their problems. With things they can't tell their parents. And you will listen, and help, and you'll talk to counselors about them, you'll talk to their parents about them. You will be their teacher, their advocate, their coach, the cheerleader, their support system, their friend, their mentor, and sometimes, you'll have to put on a parent hat too.
As for the day-to-day part of your job, I have some advice. First off, be yourself. Students can smell bullshit a mile away so don't bring any to the table. If you're a laid back person, be laid back and figure out how to make that work for you. If you're a Type A personality, don't pretend you aren't. There's that old maxim about "... never letting your students see you smile until after Christmas," which is garbage. Don't fake heavy-handedness. My kids see me smile from the first second they encounter me because I'm genuinely happy to see them. If you're worried about classroom management, put down the whip and chair of authoritarianism and just be real with the kids. 99% of them want their classrooms to be a happy, productive, safe place and the other 1%, once you identify them, can generally be reasoned with.
Secondly, you teach people and not English. Every high school teacher is in the people business. In English we are blessed to use literature and writing as a vehicle to enhance personal growth. If you are a poet, share your love of poetry and encourage your kids to love it as well. They'll grow as people by doing so.
Third, pick your battles. My father taught me that every adult only gets a handful of times to be mad so they better choose them wisely. If you're always scolding your kids, they'll tune you out. If you stay positive and then scold them infrequently, it will carry substantial weight. Three years ago, one of my classes had a two-day debate about whether anger is a real emotion or just a cover for something else. (I'm firmly in the camp of anger not being real.) These kids will be angry a lot but they're not really. They're hurt, or scared, or really sad. When they come with anger, respond with love.
Fourth, enjoy yourself. You are doing what you're supposed to do in life. You're going to make an impact on young people and the rewards are gigantic. There will be days when it's really hard but ultimately you are in charge of your mood and thoughts so if you find yourself in a dark cloud, change your own mind. Step back. You're fighting the good fight and there is nowhere else you'd rather be.
Fifth, ask for help. You have a lot of veteran teachers in your department who already like and respect you and we will not let you struggle. Use us.
Here is the arc of teaching by the way:
Year One - You don't know what you're doing but you survive because you're super excited!
Year Two - You're much more confident and better than last year.
Year Three - You start to think you have it all figured out.
Year Four - You're sure you have it all figured out.
Year Five - You realize that you don't know half as much as you thought you did and you become more honest with yourself.
Year Six - Now you're finally getting it. For real this time.
Year Seven and beyond - Always learning, always reflecting, always improving
Sunni, we've spent some time together and I know you'll be a wonderful teacher. I don't have all the answers and I don't even know all of the questions but I know we're in this thing together. Let's change some lives this year.