I think every teacher I know has told me that the first year is the hardest, and sometimes that it was even the hardest year of their entire lives. If this is the case, then I’m mighty excited, because this year has been pretty great so far.
I think this is partly because I’ve had so many hard and chaotic years building up to this, that the daily schedule and stresses of teaching just can’t compare to all the past trials…in fact, the constant demands are almost comforting in their consistency.
What’s been going well is that I think I’m doing an okay-to-good job at the actual teaching part, I’m taking home very little stress at night, I’m getting a lot of time with our new little one (because I do child care while Glendi works in the evening), and as I get better at the planning and grading piece, I actually see pockets opening up for a social life, political involvement, and even writing like this! This career feels so completely right for me, I don’t even know how to describe the feeling that washes over my body while I’m doing it. Like I’ve said many times before, teaching just feels like home to me. It actually doesn’t usually even feel like I’m working.
However, let me be clear about something: just because I’m doing okay doesn’t change the fact that teaching is a cruel and inhuman gauntlet. It’s a machine for generating cynicism, alienation, isolation, and self-hatred in teachers…and I think if I didn’t have prior youth empowerment, organizing, and life crisis experience, this job would be destroying my soul.
Here’s a brief outline of why it’s so hard:
-An industrial pace and workplace organization where the work never stops and where student relationships can end up feeling like commodities that you are producing and augmenting…just because of the speed and numbers of people involved.
-A non-stop realization that there’s more that you could be doing, that you aren’t doing all that you could do, that you only half covered that thing. It is a festering mosquito’s nest of self-doubt and inadequacy.
-A national climate and narrative of teachers “failing” students and communities, which creates and internal school culture of every mistake we make as “I’m failing my students.” As the Northwest Network would say, we go from zero to 6,000 when it comes to our sense of accountability.
-The length of the workday almost guarantees that teaching become a lifestyle instead of a career. I think I’m getting better, but I wake up between 3am and 4am every morning. I work at least 12 hours a day. I get home around 3 or 4pm, and that’s great because my mind is clear and I can relax, socialize, and take care of the baby…but then I go back to bed at 9pm!
-The scope of student needs is so very daunting! This is where radicals and organizers miss the boat in such a big way! There are so many nuances to learning, understanding, and knowledge, that the limited ways that I learned how to talk about education and “consciousness raising” in social movements just didn’t prepare me for the deeper realities of helping people learn things. Seriously, the things that teachers could and should be offering to social movement education efforts!
That’s just a the short list, but my point is actually that I’m satisfied that all of the hard things about teaching aren’t destroying my will, my energy, and especially my dedication to a political vision.
However, I still need to figure out many ways that I can live my values and vision with more consistency both in and out of the job. Because, as a first year teacher, I do still feel like my intellectual spirit and personality is just barely punctuating my teaching. I haven’t really developed my full and best style yet, I don’t think.
Anyhow, it’s 4am as I right this on a weekend. I should probably get back to sleep.
Hi to you who read this.