I’ve gone back to teaching this month after three years as a stay-at-home author. Industry standard is a working author, and my husband and I made it long enough on one income to get me through the hardest part of the author learning curve. Now I’m picking up my dry erase markers and lesson plans and cultivating the next generation while I outline my plots.
I teach at a residential high school where the students have struggled significantly in at least one area of life, and many of them have struggled with some aspect of school. During the summer session the teaching staff is half new and some even temporary. We are working together to create a consistent atmosphere for these students who have not had strong enough adult boundaries, who have not had enough success in life to believe in themselves and to function successfully in society.
Some days are hard. I’ve been in this industry my entire teaching career and I was still suprised by the degree of negativity from the students my first couple of days in the classroom. Two and a half weeks in and things have settled down and the class is beginning to hit a rhythm. There are still a couple of students who thrive on and insist on creating conflict. I know that beneath that conflict is some kind of fear that they do not understand the assignments or won’t be able to do a good enough job. They fear success as much as they fear failure, so they spin situations into something else–something they can control.
It is exhausting. We all find ways to cope. Many teachers mentally check out and let the classroom chaos run itself. Many shift to metaphorical ruler-slapping. We all do something at some time. We’re human and we have limits.
I spent some time collaborating. My principal came in to tell me that I was supported and that I was doing a good job. I cried because really I’m a big fatty marshmallow inside, and I blasted my music on the way home.
On my way home, driving down one of the most beautiful mountains in the country, I realized that I was so exhausted by the single student in my room causing the most trouble that I wasn’t looking at the others. I realized that, despite how tired I was, that for a few hours I had forgotten some of the other things that had happened in my classroom that day. I realized that I had, in fact, had a very good teaching day. I had several students submit their essay outlines early so that I could go through them before they started drafting. I had a student come in during my prep to get extra help. I had students clean up without being asked. I had students help each other.
I think as teachers we step into the room excited about our lesson plans, anxious for the students to be engaged and actively learning throughout the day. We teach because it’s something we believe we are meant to do. Because we care. We hope every day that our students will return our efforts by smiling and turning in awesome work. We wait for the angels to sing.
We work an average of an 11-hour day. When you break our salaries down, many of us make less than minimum wage to do our job well. We need to recognize that we have many, many good teaching days.
In the end, a good teaching day isn’t really about us at all. It’s about the learning that went on. When you’re exhausted and wondering why you go back day after day, ask yourself if any of these things happened in your classroom. If you can say ‘yes’ to any of them, then you had a good teaching day.
Do you have any to add to this?