Friday, March 27, 2009

On Success, Part 4: I Still Want to Teach Forever

This is part of a two-week series on my five biggest successes and failures as a teacher this year. This week is focused solely on success.

This year has been a true test of faith. Teaching at a high school designed for young people who haven't been successful at their former schools for every reason you can think of (truancy, misbehavior, drugs, fighting, legal issues, no support at home) has been a challenge to say the least. While for the I've dealt with almost all of these issues amongst my students before, I guess I just wasn't fully prepared to face a population where everybody has serious issues.

It was stressful, but so has every year I have taught. It's the paradox I've wrestled with since I started in this profession: my passion is what makes me a good teacher, but it also leaves me completely frustrated when I feel things aren't working. It's my greatest strength, but also my greatest flaw.

Whether that is mostly to blame or not, I don't know, but I can say this: this is the first year I have ever seriously considered not wanting to teach the following year. If you had caught me at my lowest point, sometime during the first semester, I was not only done with this school, but school in general. It was painful to even think about, because teaching is all I know. It's all I've ever done. Could I really go work anywhere else without losing my mind?

Eventually, I talked myself out of it. For one thing, there were other problems that needed to be solved that were making things harder than they needed to be. A lot of it was completely outside of the classroom, and shouldn't have been allowed to creep inside it.

A recent project of looking through all of my teaching records and digitizing most of it also gave me quite a bit of perspective. I've been through much more bad times than I could remember, but I didn't let that stop me. I've kept meticulous records of everything from daily logs of student behavior to end of year survey results in order to help me keep some perspective. I knew after looking at everything that I had done too much good to let it all go so easily.

Secondly, as silly as it may seem to some of you, one of the things that turned me around was thinking about this blog. How could someone who had the audacity to declare "I want to teach forever," in a public space with hundreds of loyal readers just up and decide to quit? I'd be something I think most people fear becoming: a grade-A hypocrite. Worse yet, I would become just another statistic, lost among the 50% of teachers who leave the profession after five years. I take great pride in having proven that stereotype wrong, and here I was trying to make it true.

What would I say to the teachers who emailed me to tell me how my blog had inspired them? Or those who purchased my book and sent me their praise? What about all of my former students who shared the same sentiments? It was too much to give up. This is what I was born to do.

So not only have I survived yet another challenging year of teaching, I will continue to do so for as long as I can. That is as big a success as any I'll have this year.

In a Sentence
I still want to teach forever!