Sunday, October 14, 2007

"Only a job," or: The Devil Wears a School Uniform

It's no secret that I'm struggling as a new teacher. And because the most important thing I learned from my student teaching experience was not to keep quiet about it, everyone from my mom to my assistant principal knows that I'm struggling. All of those people are full of advice, and one piece of advice I've gotten from everyone from my nana to my faculty mentor is: "It's only a job."

"It's only a job," said my grandmother. "At the end of the day, it's a job they're paying you to do" ("They're not paying me enough," I replied) "and you just do the best you can."

"It's only a job," said my mentor. "You need to get out of the building, go have lunch with people, and not stress yourself out so much."

That's why in some ways I'm trying to look at this year as my Devil Wears Prada year. You know the story: She works at a soul-sucking job for a year that causes her to hate her life, but at the end of it comes experience and along with it, something better. Only in my case, the devil is three feet tall and wears a white button-down shirt.

But ask any teacher why they went into teaching, and nine times out of ten they'll tell you it was because they wanted to accomplish something bigger, to make a difference in children's lives, to do something extraordinary. Teachers don't become teachers just because they want any old job; they become teachers because they want to do something more.

So it's not only a job when Child Protective Services comes to school in the middle of the day to remove one of my students because of suspected parental abuse. It's not only a job when children come to me crying because someone hurt their feelings. And to be honest, I don't think I'd be a very good teacher if I felt that way. For all my faults as a teacher, I think one of my strengths is my ability to see potential in every single one of my students, even the ones that drive me to tears because they're so defiant and so disruptive.

I wish it were "only a job." I wish I knew how to compartmentalize my life and leave my concerns at school instead of taking them home with me. I wish I didn't wake up in the middle of the night worrying about what to do with my kindergarteners on Monday morning. And I wish I was at the end of the year, at the point where I could tell my own war stories to new teachers: "Oh, yeah, I cried every day, I wanted to quit thousands of times," I'd say nonchalantly.

But instead of being only a job, it's only October. And it's back to the devil tomorrow morning.


Rachel said...

When I think "it's only a job" I mean:

If a lesson bombs, life will go on. If they didn't learn it today, they'll learn it tomorrow. There is no need to berate myself over it, just to plan to do it better next time.

If it's past 7PM, I'm doing something else, even if it's just watching TV. No thinking about school after 7, ever. Otherwise I won't sleep well.

When they hurt my feelings, it's not about me, it's about things from home or things from other classes or with other students. No matter how awful they are, it's not about me.

(It took me 3 years to figure all that out. :) )

Harriette said...

Hang in there. I'm also a first year teacher and I feel your frustration. It is a learning curve. We are both new at this. We are learning how to do it better tomorrow, next week, next month and the years to come. Don't give up, you care too much to let it all go. You will be in my thoughts and prayers. We're in this together.