My mom is a teacher. For much of her career, she taught special ed preschool, but she’s also taught several other grades at the elementary level. She’s currently finishing her PhD so that she can teach college students how to become teachers. She is the picturesque preschool teacher: incredibly kind, optimistic, enthusiastic, and patient as a saint. She always knew that she wanted to be a teacher; my mom has always been one of the teachers to consider her profession a calling.
By October, I didn’t know how to tell her that I hated my job.
I refrained from calling my family and talking honestly about teaching. It always seemed too difficult to discuss without crying, and after the help they’d given me to get through college and become a teacher, I didn’t want them to feel like their help had gone to waste. I also didn’t know if they would understand how difficult this particular job was. Even though we already had a teacher in the family before I graduate, I couldn’t remember hearing stories from my mom about the experiences I was seeing in my classroom. I especially didn’t want to disappoint my mom, who had been so supportive of me and so excited when I expressed the desire to become a teacher.
One day, during lunch, I called my mom. In the silence of my classroom, hoping that no teachers or students would walk in, I broke down in tears. I told my mom about my students’ lives, how their behavior had only worsened throughout the year, how I didn’t feel effective, how I didn’t like my job, how I was afraid I’d chosen the wrong profession. Every part of this job seemed impossibly hard. Being the wonderful person she is, my mom listened and gave me advice I’d needed to hear.
“I’d been worried to tell you, because of how you feel about teaching,” I confessed to her, trying to quiet my tearful breathing. My mom laughed a bit before responding: “Oh, Torey, I didn’t enjoy teaching until at least year three.”
Oh wow. Pitiful as it is, I had never considered how my mom may have struggled during her first few years of teaching. She went on to remind me that every teacher has been in my position, crying in frustration at his or her desk. If a teacher acts like that hasn’t happened, my mom told me, that teacher lied. That conversation was a small but important turning point for me; I didn’t yet have solid relationships with my colleagues, my friends were still struggling with their first years of teaching, and I still had a difficult and stressful job to do, but I had the important reminder that I was not alone or abnormal or weak in my stress.
What that statement says about teaching as a profession is up to interpretation, and also up to how optimistic or pessimistic you are as a person. I feel distinctly better this year compared to last year, though I’m not yet in the dreaded October (cue horror movie music), so it’s difficult to say for certain right now.
But, I think, it’s important for teachers (like me) to remember that this is a difficult job because it’s a job for humans, and humans are messy and difficult. It is far more stressful than a “normal” job, and if you’re not stressed during your first year of teaching, you’re either lying to me or you’re superhuman. (No offense, but you’re probably not superhuman, so you might as well be honest here.) That first confession that someone makes about how extremely ridiculously insanely difficult the first year of teaching is – to your mom, friend, girlfriend, colleague, whoever – is an important confession. It is the first step to leaning on other people for support and help, which is absolutely necessary in a job like this. First year teachers, don’t be like me. Don’t wait until October to admit that it’s hard. Make that phone call home.