Sometimes when I think of my first year of teaching, I run out of the room, tearing my hair out and shrieking like a banshee.
No. Not really. But it was a traumatic nine months for me.
I was unprepared. The books I’d read and the education classes I’d taken seemed to be geared towards teachers heading to Pleasantville Middle School, where the biggest problem I might encounter would be a student forgetting to call me “ma’am” in a yes/no response. But instead I went to Pleasantville’s polar opposite, and it was extremely hard to reorient from the perfect world, Hollywood-type expectations I had set up for myself.
One of the most powerful things I experienced that year was the camaraderie with fellow new teachers. I wish I’d known in advance how hard it would be, but it helped knowing that I wasn’t trudging through it alone. Sometimes hearing the words “Me too” was all we needed from each other.
So in case you are having a tough year or maybe just a rough patch, here are some “Me too”s—times I’ve been there and been frustrated as a new teacher, but have made it out alive.
1. Witnessing a lesson you spent hours planning fall to pieces
I remember sometime during my first year planning this elaborate grammar lesson involving red Solo cups, strips of paper with tiny sentences that I spent way too long cutting up, and hundreds of paper clips. I was so sure the lesson was going to be awesome. My tactile kinesthetic learners would be lining up after class to give me high-fives!
About twenty minutes into the lesson, the strips of paper had been chewed up and spit across the room, the Solo cups were crushed, and the paper clips were being unfolded and used for miniature sword fights. I definitely cried that day. During class.
Some of your lessons will fall apart, but that doesn’t mean that you have to abandon the idea altogether. Be reflective. What about your lesson did work? What can you do differently next time? What procedures can you put in place to ensure that paper clips do not turn into weaponry?
2. Watching a student fall asleep as you’re talking to them
There are few things more damaging to one’s self-esteem than this, but don’t take it personally. Sometimes a student falling asleep is a signal that they’re not getting the proper amount of sleep at home, and sometimes it’s a signal that giving an 80-minute lecture to 7th graders maybe wasn’t the best instructional choice.
3. Thinking that some or all of your students hate you
First of all, this happens to every teacher. (Show me a teacher who claims to have a perfect record of being adored and I’ll show you a liar.)
Here’s the thing, though: unless you are truly a terrible person, which I’m betting you’re not, your students don’t actually hate you. What they may hate and perhaps can’t fully articulate is being in a classroom that doesn’t feel safe because you don’t have control over your students, or that you don’t follow through with what you say you’re going to do, or that you don’t pass back work after you’ve graded it, or that a kid who put in one eighth of the effort they did made the same grade on a project.
These are things you will learn over time. But for now just know that their hatred of you is most likely misplaced frustration.
4. Something humiliating happening during an observation
During the first few years of teaching, my observations have included the following:
- A student being completely asleep for the entire observation
- The date and objective on my board being two weeks old
- My phone going off with a particularly embarrassing ringtone
- Students completely refusing to cooperate, resulting in me shrugging at my administrator and nearly crying on the spot
- A student insulting the administrator observing me
- A student scrutinizing the length of my leg hair aloud
There. Now don’t you feel better?
5. You think this job will never get any better or easier.
But it will. Years will go by, and while you’ll still get a crummy observation or difficult student or failed lesson, the day-to-day won’t feel nearly as hard or unmanageable as it does now. I promise.
But for now, indulge in a nice, long under-the-desk cry, leave right after the last bell rings, and buy yourself a milkshake on the way home. You deserve it.
What was (or is) most frustrating to you as a new teacher?
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Love, Teach teaches English at a Title I middle school and writes about it at http://www.loveteachblog.com. In addition to teaching, she enjoys getting enough sleep, listening to podcasts, and drinking anything out of a teacup.