Sadly, it was better than my first year. The majority of the students did their work, and they did it well, but most afternoons things got out of control. In fact, each day was getting worse. My birthday was in late September, and my wife planned something especially nice because she knew my class’ behavior was slowly gnawing away at my sanity. She asked me to take off half the day after my actual birthday, keeping the reason as a surprise. With a two-year old at home, staying out past 10pm was a rarity, and sleeping in was a never. She secretly called my mom to drive up and babysit, and as we walked down the sidewalk to our car, my mom mistakenly yelled out, “Have fun at the concert!” My wife slowly lowered her head, and I could only smile, “So a concert, huh?” “U2.” “U2!” It was our favorite band--"Sunday, Bloody Sunday" is one of the best songs ever, in my humble opinion.
We never did things like this. We were so cheap that we had a rule we couldn’t spend more than $30 on a gift. But somehow, as we pulled away, smiling and waving at my mom, my eyes went blank, and my forehead creased. “Can I tell you what happened during the day at school? I know it's my birthday, and I want everything to be happy because, you know, this is an awesome surprise, and I'm really excited about it, but if I just say all the bad things right now then I won't think about them anymore.” I had no idea how to relieve stress because I had never really been so stressed. I imagined it was like drinking so much that you get dizzy--the only solution is throwing up. Now, instead of liquor, I had to unload my thoughts. Throwing up might be ugly and depressing, but once it's done, it's done. Or so I thought.
When we arrived at the stadium, I had just finished the list of all the terrible things the kids had done. It wasn't just what they had done, but all my theories on why they did it, and how I should change my teaching. "Maybe I should just take his recess, right? Yeah, but I did that to him last week, and he flipped out and threw the chair across the room..."
When the concert started, I repeatedly and secretly glanced at my watch. I had asked for a day off like she had asked, but I asked for the second half of the day off instead of the first half because the afternoons were that bad. This also meant that I wouldn't stay up late because I had to wake up early to go to school, exactly why she had asked me to take the half day off in the first place. Any rational teacher would have taken off the whole day, but for some reason, I felt bad even taking half.
Bono was screaming Sunday Bloody Sunday, and I screamed right along with him, but my mind kept on: “What are we going to do tomorrow? I should have called Ryden’s mom, he did get in a fight… Adam should have lost his recess… He’ll probably do the same thing tomorrow… I don’t want to go in tomorrow… I feel sick.” It should have been an incredible concert, the best concert of my life: the crowd was singing along, pounding their fists in the air, and I was with my best friend. But as I continually chanted, "have fun, smile, have fun, smile," I couldn’t. For every "woooohooo!", there was a glance at my watch and a muffled yawn, and I thought, “It’s getting late. Would it be horrible to leave before the encore?” She turned to me, "you look tired... we can go home if you want."
"No way! Are you kidding! This is the greatest concert ever! What an incredible birthday! I'll remember this forever." At least, that's what I should have said. Instead, I just said, "Yeah. Okay."
The next day I typed, “I want to quit teaching” in Google just to see what would come up, and I smiled--there were plenty of results. There was a pleasure in reading about all the teachers who hated their jobs. I wasn’t surprised by all the first year teachers who hated it, but it was the others that made me feel like I had company. I read about a fourteen-year veteran who regretted he didn’t get quit earlier. I read about a teacher who had already quit and was so happy even though he was barely getting by on unemployment checks. Then I found a website designed for frustrated teachers that listed all the reasons why I should stick with it. At the bottom of the list it said if you really didn’t like the kids, you should get out. Come to think of it, I thought, there aren’t many kids I like. It seemed the answer was clear. It was finally time. Time to get out.
My first year I always kept the hope that things could only get better; there was still a good chance I would pull through, turn the class around, and become a good teacher in the process. I imagined stations of collaborative groups, I imagined facilitating conversations in book groups, I imagined students joyfully filling egg cartons with beads. I knew it wouldn’t come easy, but I assumed it was only a matter of hard work and time. So I wasn’t teacher of the year after my disastrous first year, maybe it would take five years. But I would get there, just had to keep on trying.
Something changed my second year. Just trying hard wasn’t working, it seemed like I was making it worse and the same questions came back—why did I come here, what was I thinking?