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!


Cassy said...

I can totally relate. I have felt more conflicted this year than any other. After 19 yrs of teaching elementary, it was supposed to get "easier", I thought. Now, it's more intense, the work load is outrageous, and I am beat at the end of the day, where I have little energy left for my own kid. But, I do love teaching. There's nothing like it. How exhilirating it is to watch your students discover things on their own, solve their own problems, grow up? How about "I Want to ENJOY Teaching Forever?" Admin and policy makers are taking away the joy...

Hang in there - it's obvious in the way you write, that you do still want to do this great job forever. I'm with you.

Mr. D said...

Thank you for your words of encouragement! I like the idea of enjoying teaching forever... it takes a lot of reflection and positive thinking to remember that I do enjoy so much of it.

I have a feeling some things are going to change, especially concerning standardized testing, before President Obama's term is over. We'll see!

Tiki Martin said...

I have pretty much always taught at alternative schools. I get that feeling every now and then, when it all seems so overwhelming. This year, I signed my contract with joy, which was, in fact, unusual.

Keep on keepin' on!

Angela said...

LOVE this post! I've featured it in this month's accolades at The Cornerstone:

HappyChyck said...

I teach at an alt ed school, and some nights I want to quit. Throw down my whiteboard marker and go running out of the classroom screaming expletives on my way out the gates--that kind of quit. But I come back night after night--and year after year. Teaching is sometimes a day by day commitment. Forever is a long time when you're in the weeds, but before you know it, years pass.

siobhan said...

I started my blog in part because I was trying to decide whether to continue teaching. The blog has provided the sustenance I needed. Now, all my challenges are "material" for writing, and writing about them reminds me that the problems are in part WHY I'm teaching: the obstacles are what help me learn and grow instead of settling into a comfortable and easy life. I teach because it gives meaning to my life, but also because it gives me stuff to write about!