Dear 100 Hour Board,
I don't know where else to go for some clarity. You don't have to answer all of this. But a little advice would be nice. You all tend to give good advice.
Why do we let students treat their teachers like crap and expect the teachers to take it because "we are supposed to love our students" and "they are going through a lot we don't know about."
I'm going through a lot too. I don't get to lash out and blame everyone else for it and ruin others experiences because of it. I don't get to only do things that are interesting and engaging. That's nice but not necessary.
Loving them shouldn't mean accepting poor behavior either. Imagine saying that to a someone in a verbally abusive relationship. "You love them and they're going through a lot right now." That doesn't excuse their behavior. Nor does being a teenager. They know enough to treat people with dignity and respect. But parents and admin seems to just give them chance after chance till I feel.like there are no consequences that actually matter to them.
Why are we okay with telling teachers that their first year is going to be horrible but it'll get better? Why don't we try to make it not horrible? Why is no one willing to actually step up and change the system.
It all boils down to this;
Why am I wasting a year of my life being miserable most of the time because that is what is normal in this job? I keep thinking, "maybe this week things will get better." And a day or two go by and it's okay. Not good. Just okay. I get my hopes up only to hit a low even lower than before.
I feel like my students are out to get me. I feel like nothing I do makes a difference. I get to know them. I talk with them and dont overload them with work. I just ask that they work in my classroom. Not play games on their phones or chat with their friends all hour. The two or three in each class that are wonderful, kind students just don't make up for the 10 that ruin it all and the 20 who go along with those 10 or say nothing. I feel like a failure. I'm scared to leave and have to try to find something else but I am scared to stay and be miserable.
-First year teacher
Oof. I feel for you, my friend. I'm a first-year teacher, too, so believe me when I say I know how completely and utterly exhausting it can be. I want to share with you some journal entries I've written this year:
November 2, 2019:
"Ugh. What a week.
I sort of want to leave it at that, because how do I put into words what a monumentally crappy week I had? Do I talk about how I had full classes just completely mentally check out? Do I talk about how I got mad at them, or how I felt like a complete idiot while doing it because it was Halloween and I was dressed up like a witch and I was standing there telling them to be more respectful with a witches hat bobbing around on my head? [Side note: with the benefit of time, this mental image is now hilarious to me]. Do I talk about my class that apparently has so little respect for me that half of them just don't even TRY to do what I ask them, and the other half are writing bad words on my board and grinding chewed-up gum into my carpet? Or what about how yesterday during lunch I locked the door and turned off the lights and cried? Or how I'm worried I'm taking away my students' intrinsic motivation for learning by making them take notes as a punishment? And how I'm so scared that my students would be better off with a different teacher because I'm probably screwing them up? And I'm scared that even my students who liked me at the start of the year probably don't anymore. And how do I explain that every time I start doubting myself I hear my mentor teacher's voice in my head saying that I'm a "weirdo" and that "all the students hated" me and that she "didn't realize how bad the situation was" until after I left (even though I thought things went great during my student teaching and that the students liked me, but maybe that just means I'm bad at reading a room)? Or should I talk about how one of the other teachers in my department (who's also a first year teacher, so it's not like he's coming from some separate realm of expertise) feels the need to immediately start talking about what a great job he's doing and imparting his unwanted wisdom whenever somebody even mentions that they had a rough week?
Overall it was just a crappy, crappy week when everything sucked."
December 6, 2019:
"Today in just one class period I had 2 students make fun of gay people, one student make a joke about suicide, and another student make a joke about rape. Why am I even a teacher?"
January 16, 2020:
"I was at school for 12 hours straight today, and I accidentally stabbed my hand so hard with a pencil that it bled and still hurts 8 hours later." [And I still have the graphite mark in my palm, more than a month later.]
You get the idea. It's so easy to get discouraged in teaching, especially because it's a job that relies so much on heart and on doing it because you genuinely, truly care about the students, and so when it seems like they don't care at all it can be heart-wrenching. And on top of all that, there are long, tiring hours filled with things like accidental pencil stabbings and not being able to just go to the bathroom when you need to.
But here's the thing. If that were all I shared with you, you wouldn't get the full picture. You wouldn't see how I ended that supremely depressing entry on November 2nd on a hopeful note by talking about all the things I'm trying really hard at, and the things I think I'm being successful at. You wouldn't see the truth that it was one student who accidentally stepped on a piece of gum, not some systemic problem where my students are all trying to sabotage me via carpet gum. You wouldn't see all the journal entries where I talk about all the things I LOVE about teaching, and the weird and hilarious things my students do, or the thoughtful comments they make that help me expand my world view, or the small shining moments like when I taught my 8th graders about the electoral college and then had a student come in the next day and say, "So I woke up thinking about the electoral college, and I have more questions for you!" Yes, there have been low moments this year, but there have also been highs. I'm really not trying to brag, because I get how obnoxious and unhelpful it is for someone to tell you about their successes when you're feeling like a failure, but I am trying to say that the bad moments don't mean that the good moments never happened. For me, the good moments make it worth continuing as a teacher, but that doesn't mean you have to come to the same conclusion as me. You don't need to be a teacher if you don't like it, even if you thought you would and got to the point where you're a first-year teacher. It's not some sort of moral failing to quit teaching if the bad moments are outweighing the good moments. If you decide to keep teaching and think that the good moments make it worth it, great! You have my support. If you decide to quit teaching and pursue something else, great! You have my support. But whatever you do, do it because you think it's what's best for you, not out of some shadowy sense of obligation.
I totally agree with you that loving students shouldn't excuse bad behavior. In fact, I'd say if you really love them you'd want to help give them the tools to be successful in their lives, and part of that is learning how to be respectful and try your best even when you really don't feel like it. Some kids might need more exceptions or support than others, but that doesn't mean you have to take crap from them. Does your school have a referral process for students who act up in really big ways, or who repeatedly act up in small ways? If so, take advantage of it! You don't have to be the sole disciplinary force for your students--get the admin's help for the students who are creating the biggest problems! Of course, whether the admin will actually help or not can definitely vary from school to school. Where I did my student teaching, any time a teacher would send a student to the office, the student would get a candy bar and be sent back to class 5 minutes later. They were actively rewarded for bad behavior. The admin said that this was because they wanted the students to know that they were all on the same side, and that the admin cared about the students and they needed to know they were loved, but it just sent the message that the students could get away with whatever they wanted, and in fact be rewarded for it. It was disastrous. At my current school, though, the admin is SO supportive. If a student gets sent to the office, there are actual consequences, despite the love the admin has for the students, and it's made a world of difference in student behavior. So you can definitely show love and support while still having high expectations. And if the administration backs you up in that? It helps so much. If your admin is closer to the, "Here, have a candy bar and then leave my office" type, you could maybe consider switching schools to a school with better administration, because having worked in both types of schools, the difference is seriously like night and day. I know it's obviously easier said than done to switch schools, but it might be worth it for you. I was scared to try and get a job somewhere other than where I did my student teaching, because I was terrified I would end up without a job at all, but I'm SO MUCH happier now that I'm not at that school anymore.
I understand how frustrating teenagers can be, especially when you've got 30+ of them crammed into a room and are asking them to do something they're not inherently motivated to do. It's a lot, and sometimes they do such weird and awful and inexplicable things. But remember that their brains aren't even fully developed yet. The pre-frontal cortex, responsible for rational decision making and thinking through consequences, isn't fully developed, so instead teens make a lot of decisions with their amygdala, which is super emotional. And it's not that they're morally bankrupt or whatever, it's just that their brains aren't yet capable of working the way yours or mine does. They're impulsive and do things without thinking, and don't have the skills to think about the long-term consequences yet. This article is geared toward parents, but it has good information about teen brains and why they do the things they do. Remembering that their brains aren't fully developed has helped me have more patience with my students, and realize that they're probably not doing things just to spite me. I mean, I think about all the weird stuff I did as a teenager, and yikes. And remember that while you can certainly identify certain behaviors as unacceptable, the behaviors are to blame, not the person. The student themself is not terrible, although their behavior might be. The student themself is a human being deserving of respect, who sometimes makes good decisions and sometimes doesn't. No matter how frustrating their bad decisions may be, they don't make the student a bad person. Seeing the humanity of my students, in all their complex glory, has helped me be more patient with some of their less-desirable behavior.
At one of my lowest points this year, where I felt completely incapable of continuing to try to give good lessons that the students didn't care about, I spent an entire day reviewing my classroom rules and having the students rate themselves on how well they were doing, and then had them set a specific goal about one thing they wanted to do better at (I didn't want them to set so many goals that they didn't do any of them). I also had them all come up with a list of things they were already doing a good job of, because I wanted them to know that I think they all have good in them. It was a very chill day for my students, but rating themselves on their behavior and then setting a goal helped them think about their actions in a way that they don't often take time for, and I did notice an improvement after that day. I also told my students that because I was having them make goals for their behavior in my class, I was also going to make a goal for MY behavior, and told them that I wanted to be better at noticing and praising the good things they did. Sharing that goal with them helped me actually do it because I knew they would keep me accountable, and I'm so glad I did it. Giving more praise and positive reinforcement helped me change my attitude to focus more on the good, and it's also helped my students do better and hopefully feel more welcome in my class. There are a bunch of studies about how giving praise in classrooms helps students be more resilient and also improves their behavior (here's just one), but even if it didn't change anything about my students, the change in MY attitude has helped a lot. It was a much needed perspective check for me. I'm not saying you're not already doing an amazing job of giving praise, because for all I know you are, but try to find something that works for you and then really go for it.
On the same day that I did a rule review with my students, I also had them write thank-you cards to any adult working in the school (other teachers, custodial staff, administration, counselors, lunch workers, etc.), and then I delivered all the cards. That simple thing really cheered me up, because I loved doing something nice for my fellow teachers, and it was also nice to see how many students wrote their thank-you card to me. I keep the cards they wrote me at my desk, and when I'm feeling sad and discouraged I like to read them. I hadn't known how much of a difference I was making until I got those cards, because teenagers aren't exactly known for being effusive with their praise of adults. So know that even if you don't feel like it, you probably are making a positive impact on at least someone, and your hard work is appreciated. And any time you get a reminder of the good you've done, keep track of it! And yes, there will still be some students who just don't like you or your class no matter what you do, and you'll have to live with that, but that doesn't mean that nobody likes you or your class.
I know that being a teacher is hard. I know that it includes so many hard things that I just tried to list them all and then promptly realized that would be way too depressing and take way too long. I know that when you feel like you're trying your best and still not getting results it's completely heartbreaking and exhausting. And I'm truly sorry that you're so disheartened right now. My heart breaks for you, friend. But like Anathema says below, every job has bad things. I think about angry people yelling at me on the phone when I did customer service, or the times I accidentally spilled barbecue sauce/nacho cheese/lemonade/whatever else all over myself when I worked in the food industry, or the mind-numbingness of being a low-level secretary at a company whose ethics I disagreed with, or the creepy middle-aged men who hit on me when I was a 16 year old cashier, or the horror of finding a drawer full of used tampons that I was responsible for cleaning up when I was a custodian. Every job I've ever had has had moments when I was completely over it, even if it was a job that I liked for the most part, and while that's unfortunate and maybe unfair, that's also the reality of life. So yes, teaching has some big drawbacks, but so does every job. And at least teaching fulfills me and makes me happy in a way that no other job I've ever had does. So this brings us back to the question--do the pros of teaching outweigh the cons? If not, it might be worth it to consider what else you could do, because you deserve to be happy.
If you ever want to talk or vent, I would LOVE to get to know you better! Please email me at email@example.com, and we could either just chat over email, or we could meet up for lunch or something one Saturday.
Best of luck,
I think that finding large drawbacks to any chosen path in life is a very common and natural experience. Oftentimes these negatives aren't "right" or fair, but that doesn't change the reality that they are.
When I was in the Applied Math program at BYU, a very common question everyone would ask each other was, "Why are you still here?" It was a question that I thought about a lot, particularly in moments like the fourth hour of a grueling test that even 20 hours of studying wasn't enough preparation to do well. I thought about it when I was sobbing uncontrollably in obscure corners of the Talmage building. I thought about it when I asked this question, where I was under so much stress that I began to get horrific nosebleeds, eventually necessitating a trip to the hospital.
For every vocation, there is a price to pay. While there are instances where that price can be negotiated, mitigated, there are many where it cannot. The real questions to ask yourself are, "Why are you still here? Is this worth it?"
Perhaps your answer is that it isn't worth it to be a teacher. And that's okay. You have the ability to pursue something different, where the price exacted is something you're willing to pay.