This semester has been hard.
I have almost 150 students, the most I have ever had. Plus an additional 12 students for our newest initiative which assigns each adult in the building 12 students to advise throughout their time in high school.
I have had a meeting almost every Wednesday.
We moved to a new, awful gradebook system, and I am constantly fielding emails from parents and students for grades being put in incorrectly.
We have a new standardized benchmark testing program which now disables teachers from giving a paper pencil test which means over 30 classes are required to give their exam during the same 4 days using the same 2 laptop carts.
And this week we had an intruder drill on the same day as our shortened bell schedule day so while I already had 10 minutes less with my last block, I had an additional 10 minutes taken away from me for a drill. In the middle of a quiz.
Meanwhile my newsfeed is filled with teachers leaving teaching with dramatic exits for much higher paying jobs, while I’m sitting here thinking, “what am I doing? I could be using my math degree to make a lot more money sitting behind a desk (oh, sitting! That would be so nice!)”
I’m not complaining. I’m really not. I love my job. I love my kids. I am just overwhelmed.
Two days before winter break, I broke out into stress hives. Not only has this never happened to me, but I didn’t even know this was something that happened to people. I was freaked out. I almost never allow myself to believe that I’m stressed out. I just make a list, deal with it, and move on. This time, my body was not allowing me to do that. I honestly did not even know I was stressed.
It’s not just me either. Teachers are conditioned to compartmentalize constantly on the job. We have to reprimand a student one second and then turn around and cheerfully continue to teach our lesson. We don’t even have a moment to process our feelings. We have to store it away and remember to think about it later. That’s just what happens when you make more decisions in a day than a brain surgeon.
I know I’m not the only tired teacher out there. So what do we do about this? How do we make ourselves feel better? How do we deal with all of these outside factors so as to not let them affect us as much?
The first and biggest thing we need to realize is, and I cannot stress this enough, this is just a job and all jobs suck sometimes.
Whether you are a nurse, a lawyer, an accountant, you are forced to work on new initiatives and practices that are imposed on you and that you may not agree with. Even when I worked in the ER, I would hear physicians grumble about procedures they had to comply with even if they didn’t believe it was best for patient care. This is what happens in any job where you don’t work for yourself.
Another thing I had to realize was the people who directly give me my directives are most of the times not even the ones who come up with them themselves. They are just passing along the message from above.
Yes, we have to have meetings every Wednesday, but that’s because the school board is requiring us to have more PD hours and we have to meet our accreditation requirements.
Yes, we have a new awful gradebook system, but that’s because the company stopped supporting the old program.
Yes, I had to give up 10 minutes of my precious class time for an intruder drill, but the county sheriff’s office shows up unannounced at any moment and mandates we have one.
This is what all bottom of the totem poll jobs have to deal with, and yes, it sucks. But we have to remember that it’s not always the people we think are responsible and most of the time those people don’t even have control over these decisions.
While this realization helped me immensely, it is a hard pill to swallow because for most teachers, myself included, this is not “just a job.” Most teachers didn’t go into teaching because they “just needed a job.” For most of us, this is our passion. The fact that we see our jobs this way speaks volumes about the kind of people we are. We walk through the doors not even feeling like we are going to work. We start every lesson knowing we were born to do this.
So we need to remember that this is our passion and use it to drive us forward. Lately, this has been hard for me to do because honestly the tough has started to outweigh the good.
Until today. I learned if I just look hard enough for something good to keep me going, my students always deliver.
My students are working on their semester project where they are to choose two functions we have worked with this semester and find a real world example of them to model. One of my students chose to model the distance the moon is moving from the Earth each year and created a linear model to predict when the moon would leave our orbit entirely (don’t worry, we still have 50 billion years). This is how cool my “job” is. A lesson I taught him was enough for him to come up with something so incredible. I know I didn’t do it myself, but it feels like a piece of me did.
I’ve decided to keep a little bank in my head for moments like these, as well as moments when my classroom lights up with cheer, laughter and “Aha!” moments so I can call upon them when the going gets tough. Sometimes they’re hard to remember, but we have to, because this is what keeps us going.
But I will tell you what we need to stop doing: we need to stop getting in our own way. A lot of the problems we deal with, we perpetuate ourselves. Teachers always figure out a way to make it work for the sake of our kids. No matter how ridiculous the conditions are, no matter how many laptop carts we get, we always find a way to make it work when we need to find a way to make it stop.
Because what ends up happening is we stretch ourselves too thin, get too overwhelmed and complain to the world, calling out our principals, parents, and students who most of the time don’t deserve it. All this ends up doing is perpetuating the problems we deal with and stops great potential teachers from entering our field. Have you scrolled through your News Feed lately? Facebook makes it look like teaching is the worst profession in the world. There is a reason why my students think twice before deciding to become a teacher.
But the only reason why you see so many “Teacher in Texas leaves after 30 years” posts instead of more “Nurse in Oklahoma leaves after 40 years” is because everyone in their lives has learned something, gone to school or even has a child in school, so when they see phrases like “standardized testing,” and “student-teacher ratio” they know exactly what you are talking about and mostly likely have an opinion of their own as well. If a nurse complained about patient documentation or a new beeper process for washing their hands, some people may get it, most people would sympathize, but almost no one would be able to truly understand. Teachers have a unique job because everyone, teacher or not, can understand what we are going through, but there is no reason to take advantage of that. Teacher appreciation will not increase from these “open- letters,” only teacher sympathy will, and that is not what we need to reform this profession.
I’m not saying teaching is actually a perfect job and it can all be sunshine and rainbows if you look hard enough. There is plenty that could be done to make our jobs better, but there is plenty that could be done to make any job better. We need to stop isolating ourselves and thinking that these things only happen to us. All jobs suck sometimes, but we have to keep it going, because the moon is going to leave our orbit some time and we need to help our young minds figure out when.