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Goodbye to the Dark Days of Teaching
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
When I entered the teaching profession, many warned me about the “disillusionment phase” to come. Though I anticipated some difficulty with teaching, when reality set in, I realized why people call October the dark days of teaching.
My first few weeks of teaching were amazing. I successfully introduced my class to scientific inquiry, found my students engaged with the curriculum, and encountered only a few behavior issues. I was walking on sunshine and telling myself “teaching is easy!”
Then a black cloud rose over my head. An almost paranormal shift occurred after the shiny days of September. Suddenly, the Las Vegas desert heat disappeared, the days got shorter, and my students were no longer perfect little angels. I left my desk each day with a giant pile of ungraded papers, and red Fs littered my grade book.
A month into teaching, I realized how difficult this profession can be. I became more aware of my students’ abilities. Many read far below grade level. They struggle with reading test questions, which reflects in their low scores. More than that, they often neglect their homework or struggle with the content, and they never ask for help.
I wanted my students to feel a sense of urgency about their education; I pictured them as little Loraxes actively advocating for the world they wanted to see. Yet, as time passed, my students still weren’t turning in homework, their quiz scores reached an all-time low, and I felt their attitudes creeping towards apathy. My own emotions shifted from disappointment to all-out frustration. I started to blame myself for my students’ lack of achievement.
I didn’t know what to do until one day I sat down to talk with one of my struggling students. We spoke about things outside of school: his family, his goals, his dreams. “I want to be the first person in my family to graduate from high school,” he told me. The next day, this student walked into class, paid attention, and for the first time, aced a quiz. From this experience, it became clear that my students don’t just require instruction and homework, but more individualized attention and strong relationships with their teachers in order to succeed in the academic content. Being a successful teacher, then, requires getting to know my students on an individual basis.
Alas, the teaching profession is far from easy. Teaching is a delicate balancing act that requires organization, commitment, and perseverance. My job doesn’t end after I teach a lesson, or when I formally dismiss my students from class either: Being a good teacher means building relationships and rapport with students and forming partnerships with parents and the larger community.
Getting through the dark days of teaching requires me to remind myself why I came here in the first place. I chose to be a teacher not because it was easy, but because education served as my primary vehicle of success. I desired a profession that would provide meaning. I wanted to be challenged while contributing to the greater good; I wanted to change lives. Little did I know how utterly exhausting all of this would be. My students make me laugh and giggle with excitement and amaze me with their insight and intelligence. At the same time, they make me want to cry out of disappointment and they make me more angry and frustrated than I’ve ever felt before. Yet each morning, I can’t wait to come to school to teach them.
The sad truth is that nothing about this job is easy. In fact, it requires completing daunting and unimaginable tasks. Despite all of this, I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. Getting through this dark month means adjusting my mentality, learning from my mistakes, and remembering that I can and will make a difference in my students’ lives.