They say that the earlier you identify a problem, the more likely you are to prevent damage.
I guess what I’m about to say is kind of like that.
I’m not going to play up my teaching experience as a wonderful, squishy nice, fun fest in which every day I awoke with energy brimming, ready to embrace my disadvantaged, minority, inner-city students.
Not every day have I felt like that. Definitely some days, more than not I’d say, but not every day.
I highly doubt anybody feels like that. Not even those peppy Teach For America over-achievers. (A TFA-er works at my school, in which we discuss often that this job doesn’t get easier, only more difficult). Not that difficult’s a bad thing, but I notice that I have asked myself at least once this year:
“What if I went to med school?”
“What if I went to law school?”
“Is it too late to transfer to the business sector?”
“How long ’till I retire?”
So, I’m trying to figure out why I have these thoughts. I’ve read pretty extensively about teacher burnout,* fearful that I could be one of those teachers. My cooperating teacher once told me, “don’t be a seven-year teacher.” Teachers usually leave the profession in about seven years. I even think that value has decreased in recent years.
Trying to prevent this burnout has been combated with reading about burnout and trying to figure out why I would leave. For myself (although I only have less than a year experience at one very untraditionally-operated school), these are some reasons I can foresee or am already experiencing:
1. Not enough preparation and supports once you’re on the job.
I get that you can only read about Dewey’s student-centered learning and Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development so much in an undergraduate program, but what about the training after you get that first job? I can’t say I’ve had a whole lot of formal instruction about my own instruction upon getting my job. I’m not blaming my school leaders, because this is just the culture of teacher preparation as it is. My intervention specialist has been my savior as far as advice for classroom management, but not everyone has someone like that. I just think that walk-thrus and observations really could be more constructive for teacher instruction.
2. The fact that everyone hates me because I get paid by the government.
That was slightly a joke, but it’s a bit true. Ohio has been a battle-ground á la Senate Bill 5 for public service workers vs. privatization. No one actually realizes what a freakin’ bang for their buck I am. The hours I spend outside of class (about 10-20 a week) preparing, the thinking I even do while I’m sleeping (you never really stop thinking about teaching when you go home. You can run, but you can’t hide). My meager salary rivals someone who can leave their work at work and not have to be a professional on the off-hours. And I do work summers. The planning and inservices leave me with about as much vacation time as any normal human being. At my age and level of experience, I’m pretty much a catch.
3. The kids I teach.
They are sometimes my saving grace and sometimes the reason why I drink a healthy amount of wine with my dinner (For the record, I drink the recommended amount of alcohol—I am not an alcoholic because of my students.) But they do drive me a bit insane sometimes. They are frustrating, and many of them have mental health issues I am becoming more aware of. Doing my job is difficult because they do not come to class ready to learn all the time. They have a lot going on in their lives, and it’s very difficult to ask them to push it aside for 45 minutes so they can learn how to read an OGT prep question. And that brings me to…
4. The Mo’Frickin OGTS or Whatever They’re Going to Be After Next Year, Thanks to PARCC
Seriously, a waste of every person’s time and money with no real data that I didn’t already know about my students. Will it get worse? One can only imagine, and that’s why I’d rather not have to deal with it. Props to Garfield High School, by the way. I want a test that accurately assesses what a student’s skills are, and the OGT ain’t it. My students cannot connect with the reading content, which revolves around “white people” (their words, not mine) topics like Broadway, gardens, traveling, obscure literature, etc. The OGT reading portion is very difficult for them to read anyway, and the content is important for their prior knowledge. So, teaching to a test like this makes OGT prep hell when students say “I’m not trying because I’ll just fail anyway.” I’m a motivational person, but it’s hard to motivate them when I don’t believe in what I’m teaching. I really do hope this part of education improves in my time. I could see myself breaking away for this reason.
5. I tried to come up with a fifth but I can’t because TEACHING IS AWESOME.
Yeah I said it. This is my first year and I probably haven’t come up with a whole lot of reasons for quitting, but I’m not a quitter so I doubt that will happen anytime soon. Regardless, there are days (like today) when my students are difficult but then I end up having a 30 minute conversation with a colleague about how we are enjoying our first year of teaching at one of the toughest schools in Cincinnati, and how much we love our “kids.”
Stay tuned this week for ways I’m stayin’ alive during my first year of teaching.
Teacher burnout tips here