I’ve hit that teaching milestone; the one that makes or breaks a teacher. I’ll be honest; it came very close to breaking me.
My first year was a blur. Not only was I learning a whole new profession, I was also dealing with the declining health and eventual death of my father to colon cancer. That’s one hell of a break-in to public education. I was buried beneath an avalanche of acronyms and I had no idea what they stood for. I had three class preps with no curriculum and I’d never written a lesson plan. I thought that all the kids would just LOVE me, and I was crushed if a single one didn’t. I was sure that I could save them all… I was going to make a difference.
If you’re a year one teacher, I’m not going to bother to tell you it’s impossible. You won’t listen anyway, because I didn’t either. You’ll look at me with all the hope and naivite that I had in Year One, and tell me, “No! You’re wrong!! You CAN save them all!”
It’s okay. You’ll grow out of that.
Things I took away from Year One:
- I’m a complete sucker for a kid’s sob story
- Never, NEVER leave your cell phone unlocked and sitting on your desk unless you want your students to know everything about you.
- All that paperwork is SO IMPORTANT
- My opinion MATTERS
Let’s just skip past Year Two and dive into Year Three, because that’s when you finally start to feel like you know where you are. I saw opportunities everywhere I looked; I had so many ideas! Why can’t we just do this? Why don’t we try that? Seasoned veteran teachers looked at me with disdain. I must have been crazy; I was sponsoring three after-school clubs, looking for every way possible to help kids who needed more. I was still scared of Test Week; my certification was on the line! (Um…why do we do it four times a year??) But the cracks were starting to show: I can save MOST of them, just not that ONE because I’m pretty sure he’s a sociopath and he’s going to need professional help. Maybe if I write the curriculum for all of my classes, I can make a bigger difference. And while I’m at it, I’ll write the curriculum for the classes that mine feed into, so I can make sure my students have the solid foundation they need to move on.
Things I took away from Year Three:
- The system isn’t as perfect as I thought it was, but we can work through it
- If you speak the truth at an ARD, they won’t ask you to be part of one any more
- Only SOME of that paperwork is really important
- Never leave money in a drawer that’s unlocked
- Even tough kids are pretty gullible
- Hoarding is not a bad thing
- Field trips aren’t as much fun when you’re a teacher
- Teaching professional development to teachers is just as bad as teaching the kids
Skip ahead to Year Five, and now I understand why so many teachers are leaving the profession in alarming numbers. I picked up an additional class prep, bringing the total to four. I had to write the curriculum for the fourth one as well. I took on an extra club, because the kids begged me to and no one else would sponsor it. Being the technologically-savvy one on campus, my room became tech-support, even when I was trying to teach a lesson. Our campus switched learning models three times in a single year, making lesson planning a complete nightmare. I sponsored the Yearbook, a martial arts club, and an anime club. My class sizes maxed out, and my tech was no longer at a 1:1 ratio.
Things I’m taking away in Year Five
- It’s not what you know, but who you know on the Board
- Never keep a bottle of Torani syrup in your desk drawer, because the kids think it’s liquor
- When taking students to a comic convention, make sure you specify NO SPANDEX
- I’m going to need a bigger storage closet for all the stuff I keep hoarding
- High heels might make you look skinnier, but a standard pair of black Sketchers will save you from back surgery
- When sponsoring any club that involves contact sports, be prepared to get hit. Period.
You’d think, with everything I have going on, that I wouldn’t have time to stop and look around at what’s going on in education. But I did.
And that’s when I almost left.
It’s not the kids; it’s never been the kids. It wasn’t the campus; I work with GREAT people who inspire my creativity and help keep me sane on the crazy days. It’s not the even the parents, who quite frankly, get a bad rap these days. It’s the system, and the system is deeply flawed. It’s working in pieces, and none of those pieces are communicating. But that’s another blog post of its own. I just can’t go there yet.
The most important thing that keeps me going is this: I can’t save them all. I accept that. As long as that kid has someone in the building that he/she can trust, then the kids are going to be okay. So I made it my mission to forge relationships not only with kids, but co-workers as well. If I just couldn’t crack a kid, I knew a teacher that could.
There are so many of you out there, struggling. Some of you are faced with the same decision I was: stay, or return to my cushy job in corporate? Did I care if I was just a statistic?
I did, and I do. And I refuse to let them run me out.
The kids need us.