Thursday, March 10, 2011

“I want to quit teaching”

Six weeks were done and my class was not magically ready to be taught; in fact, it seemed like each week they were getting worse. They did start their mornings quietly coloring in a rainbow with addition problems that told them which color to use, but by the end of they day, balled up papers and broken crayons were all that remained.

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?


Anonymous said...

In order to be a successful teacher you have to simply not care or burnout. Some students have not been taught to treasure an education and/or discipline is just not present in the home. Blogs like ours will become the norm.

Walters said...

It is an interesting question, what makes a successful teacher. Especially what makes a successful teacher within a chaotic classroom. For me, giving up meant giving up on escape and giving up on being the incredible teacher I always imagined. It still meant coming in everyday and trying to teach. Consciously giving up on the kids was an option, but it didn't work for me. It only made things worse. It was when I decided not to give up on them that things changed.

Anonymous said...

I feel your pain! I've been a music teacher for three years and I finally just quit. I couldn't handle it anymore. My most recent position had me teaching ten classes a day to students ranging from first grade to eighth grade. My middle school band class had four different grade levels! I've taught in public school and private school to a myriad of different grade levels. What everyone expects out of teachers is ridiculous. It doesn't get better if it's not for you! Go find a job that you like where you can enjoy your life at the end of the day!

Michelle said...

I have been teaching 15 yrs and I'm in tears right now and terrified that I'm going to be quitting tomorrow! I know I made changes and had a gift a knack or whatever but now I believe that those warm fuzzy moments are not enough. I promised myself years ago to never stay when I knew that bitterness would grow! I know it started the year my son was born and at 5 weeks I had to take him to a sitter to hurry back to work and for what, I'm still behind financially because I took 2 back to back maternity leaves. Now had I had my children in my 20s this may not have come up but I didn't have them until late 30s, why? It wasn't an easy thing or something I was just able to do! I was given a gift x2 and I have already waisted so much of that time to go up to a place where I'm not treated with respect or given a raise or even a pat on the back, nope we are talked down to, made to feel stupid and all of this comes from people running the district and administration who have very little experience in a classroom or zero in ECE. I can't justify dropping my children off everyday to fight a battle that's not winnable I want to be in control of my life. I have worked very hard to say this, and now the last slap in the face.. I lose access to my own retirement so disgusted! I appreciate your greats post because like you I find comfort in the fact that I'm not alone!

Anonymous said...

I am in my 14th year of teaching and I am starting to think that I am not cut out for teaching in this new generation, where students across all levels need to have fun edcuation in order to learn. I'm pretty traditional and so does my way of teaching. I think should switch my job within the next two years if I can't change.

Anonymous said...

I just came across this posting. Anonymous mentioned that he/she is pretty traditional and so is his/her teaching. I have been teaching for years and feel the same way. I am a great teacher (or so I've been told)-Teacher of the Year, etc, but I'm burned out, my family is neglected, and I feel like all they get are the leftovers.
I agree that things have changed-life isn't always fun and neither is learning. I'm exhausted at the end of the day after my attempts to interest the students.
Also I'm a big believer that motivation comes from within the individual. Encouragement is external. You may spark something in an individual, but as a former athlete, band participant, etc, no one pushed me harder than myself.

In the past, my students worked hard. Now I work hard to get them to do the minimum.

I will have two teens in high school next school year and I've decided to be a "stay-at-home" mom and do some part-time work to focus on my own children before they go to college.

Sorry I rambled. This is such a tough decision-so emotional right now.

Anonymous said...

P.S. My comment about things changing was in reference to the fact that students want to have fun all the time and that education should be entertaining.

I am pretty old-fashioned in my thinking of what is acceptable behavior and I can't believe how students behave. And I work at a high achieving school in a decent area!

Rest in Grace said...

I taught my own two sons at home and loved it. I have taught swimming, parenting classes, 4th grade, middle school and high school. I have taught for over 20 years. It seems to me that students of today want fun/fun/fun education. They want to play games for "review" or go out side because their last class had a test that was "so hard." We grade our Logic tests in class and some students have low scores and ask me if these scores will count. How much did you study, I ask? Oh about 15 minutes they reply..I have decided that it all counts. I have said over and over to study the material 15 min a day and we have gone over how to study, etc. I think this era of Facebook, iPod/iPhone, computer games and so forth has made many of them have short attention spans when it comes to old-fashioned reading and studying.

Anonymous said...

Wow. SO glad others feel the same way. For some reason this year, my ninth year teaching English at the high school level, it is all I can do to run out of the room crying from some of my classes. The behavior is unbelievably bad. If I am not an angry drill sergeant AT ALL TIMES they slip into chaos. The energy it takes to maintain classroom discipline is enormous. I had two good years of teaching about halfway through my tenure and that was it. I had 20-25 in a class, and now we are up to 36 in a class-try managing 36 14 year-olds everyday, 36 kids x5 classes a day=that many essays and papers to grade on top of behavior issues. It is insane. All I know is that schools reflect society and it doesn't seem like society wants to accept responsibility for its children-somehow it is always the TEACHERS' fault for failing the students. Are you kidding me? My coworkers can tell I am losing it. I know it is because I care too much. I want so badly to help each child learn and make the admins and parents happy and I am losing my mind. Something has to go. I feel terrible when I don't get everything done, but then I think, who set the bar so friggin' high? It is not HUMANLY POSSIBLE to do ALL OF THE THINGS you are expected to do as a teacher. AT least not an English teacher. I have applied for five jobs in the last three weeks. I sure hope I get a call soon. Good luck all you fellow burnouts.

Anonymous said...

Quitting teaching does not mean giving up on kids, learning, or permanently sacrificing the joy of watching a child learn. All of those things can be accomplished volunteering for an after school program after working an office job--hey, you would have been grading or planning during that time as a teacher anyway, and the volunteer job is optional or not every day. It does mean giving up on all of the stress, frustration, depression, and lack of personal life that eventually creeps into teachers' lives. Teachers are often manipulated into thinking that if they are struggling, unhappy at work, or thinking about quitting that they just don't care. If they didn't, though, they wouldn't have done it in the first place.

Find a venue for helping children that is not bogged down by the school system, work a day job that does not rob you of joy and vitality, and enjoy your life!