This is obvious, and probably doesn’t need to be said, but I have not been posting much on this blog lately. The primary reason is that I do not have a ton of positive topics to discuss with my work.
I am not going to be the teacher to post lesson plans, photos of my classroom, or talk about grading techniques. To be frank, I don’t enjoy that. It feels like additional work. I also collaborate in lesson planning with other teachers, and it doesn’t feel like fully my material to be displayed out in the digital world, so I won’t post that type of material. I originally made this blog for two primary purposes: to process my own personal experiences, and to relay to others outside of the profession what it’s really like to teach in America.
I have tried to rewrite this half a dozen times, but the truth is: teaching is obnoxiously difficult. It is draining. It is thankless. It is grossly misunderstood. My first year of teaching was one of the most difficult years of my life and this year, my second year, is only marginally better.
People don’t want to hear that. When I attempt to talk about this, the reactions I receive in return range between ignorance of the profession and patronizing. I’ve been told I’m too negative. I’ve been told that I didn’t understand what “real work” is like, and that I’m adjusting to adulthood. I’ve been told that I have it easy, with summers off and work ending at 3pm.
I work somewhere between 50-70 hours a week, depending on the time of the school year and what I am teaching. I wake up at 4:30 in the morning to exercise, because I’m so emotionally exhausted by the end of the day that there are about five people I can stand to be around after work. I am attempting to manage anxiety attacks, which surfaced sometime after my student died last year, and which I’ve never suffered in my life prior to teaching. I work with students who live in areas of high poverty, high abuse, high neglect, high drug use, high illegal immigration and deportation. That stress on the students transfers to me every single day in their behavior and in the relationships I build with them; I cannot do anything to help these kids, realistically, outside of legal mandatory reports, so I often watch kids go through the entire school year in traumatic situations. All of this, and more, yet I get paid so little that over half of my monthly paycheck goes to bills.
In college, I worked full-time while taking a full set of classes. In high school, I worked part-time immediately after school let out. I understand work. I understand stress. This is not normal, and this is not healthy.
Last year, during my first year, one of my friends went through her first year of teaching at the high school in my district. She is no longer a teacher. The school gave her 200 freshmen, with all classes holding 40 or more students. She saw the same trauma in her students that I did, saw the same student behavior that I did. Her department did not help her with lesson plans; she would stay up until around 1:00a.m. on weeknights, planning lessons and grading papers. She did not have mentors to talk about what she saw in the classroom. She had a department head tell her that students were misbehaving because she was pretty, not because there were forty of them. She left the profession. I have a friend who is in her first year of teaching, and experiencing largely the same issues. She may leave the profession, too.
While I recognize that my position at my current school represents and extreme end of the public school system in regards to abuse and trauma, every new teacher goes through the same mental and psychological stressors that I do. The system is built this way. The training for teachers in minimal compared to what the job actually demands; you’re expected to do everything fully and effectively, immediately, but you have no real emotional preparation for the exhaustion that comes in the first few years of teaching. And so there is this strange, distorted process that feels almost like hazing: “oh, your first four or five years are really tough, but it gets so much better after that! You won’t like your first few years but you’ll enjoy it after those tough first years!”
So people quit. Why wouldn’t they quit? Because of our culture and because of the public education system’s structure, teachers are expected to be teachers, parents, social workers, therapists, and police officers to all of their students. That is an impossible burden. There is barely enough training for teaching, the act of instruction and transferral of knowledge, let alone training for any other aspect of what I do every day. People aren’t prepared, and people are expected to do the impossible, so people quit.
Over the last two years, my mental health has suffered incredibly. I am exhausted. I am increasingly resentful. There are about a thousand different ways this post could end, but I don’t have a clear ending. I’m just exhausted.