As the Oklahoma teacher walkout enters its fifth day, I am reflecting over my first-year teaching, and what I need to improve when school is back in session. It’s difficult to be raw and honest about my experience of my first-year teaching because as much as I want it to look flawless and inspiring both in writing and in real life, if there’s anything teaching has taught me is that it’s not perfect and it most definitely isn’t glamorous.
My greatest frustration as a teacher is the sense of overwhelm I feel. Last year in an interview my interviewer, a school principal, said that if you’re the type of person who likes to finish checking off to-do lists then teaching is not for you because you will never finish checking off all of the to-do list. As you probably already know, she is right in the sense that teachers have lots do. What I miss about my past jobs is that as soon as I clocked out, I didn’t have to worry about work anymore. There was no work to take home with me. With this teaching job there’s always something I can work on: lesson plans, emails to parents, grading, read essays, tasks from my administrators, etc. Little by little, I am learning how to not let this job take all of my energy and my time.
When I decided I wanted to become a teacher, I didn’t realize that as important as it is for me to know the content and the skills I am going to teach, it is also important for me to be able to manage my class from bell to bell and use effective discipline strategies on the spot. I did not think that just as important as it is to have a lesson plan ready for the next day, it is also important to create a seating chart in order to separate my mischievous and chatty students. I didn’t take into account how bullying would manifest itself in the classroom and affect my teaching and my students’ learning. This is all part of my overwhelm. The learning to accept that teaching will always be more than teaching when you want to be an effective teacher.
Even though teaching may look like a ritual of sameness, same schedule, same students, same skills to be taught, every day is different on so many levels. Sometimes the classroom dynamic changes depending on how many and which students are absent, there are lockdown drills, during a phone call with a parent or a counselor I’ve learned something new about students that makes me see them in a new light, and I never know when I’ll have printer issues and or wifi issues.
I don’t regret becoming a teacher. Teaching helps me make a difference in my community, and I don’t feel the dissatisfaction I used to feel when I worked my customer service jobs. However, and maybe this is just me being a newbie, I’m still trying to figure out how to balance all aspects of teaching—how to rid myself of the overwhelm because it’s not healthy—, so that I’m the most effective leader in the classroom the whole day. One of the graceful parts of teaching is that I can choose what type of teacher I want to be every day. Even though I care about my students, and I am passionate about education, I refuse to let teaching take over my life, so that I become a workaholic.