It was a slightly eerie thing today, seeing my classroom with naked bulletin boards and bare walls and no signs that I had ever been there. It was an even weirder thing to load up my trunk with the few boxes of my possessions I’d brought with me to my second home for the past four years and drive away from my school, unsure of when I’d be back again.
As a teacher, you pour so much of yourself into your work that when it’s time to walk away, there’s definitely a sense that there’s going to be a bit of an identity crisis to work through for the next little while…the question to answer of, “Well, who am I going to be NOW?”
But, while driving away today was eerie and weird and a total mixed bag of emotions, it was also, unquestionably, a relief.
Ah, and therein lies the great paradox of being a teacher, one of the world’s most noble (and stressful/crazy/hard) professions–on the one hand, you get to help shape the future of someone’s life and, if you teach long enough, the actual overall feeling/sentiment/trend of a community. On the other hand, you work long, exhausting hours with very little visible (or verbal) payoff on a daily basis (at least you do if you’re a middle school teacher). There have been so many days over the course of my 4-year teaching career that I have doubted and asked myself the ever-pressing question of all teachers—“Am I really making a difference in these students’ lives? Any at all?”
So, to commemorate this final day of teaching for what will likely be a long (and perhaps permanent) break from the profession, I have decided to write down a few things that I will (and won’t) miss about being a teacher.
We’ll start with the ugly stuff first—
What I Won’t Miss About Teaching (AT ALL!!!)
Oh. My. Heck. The paper load as a Language Arts teacher is insanity itself. At any given moment in the school year, I will be almost guaranteed to have a backload of at least a couple essays, a book project, a test or two, and several more projects coming in over the course of the next week. I feel like I’ve spent so much of my life grading that I could almost do it in my sleep (and very well have come close to doing just that come report card time, truth be told). Grading is stressful and hard and burdensome, and even though I know it’s an absolute necessity in order to give my students feedback so they can improve, I still absolutely loathe it.
2. Trying to motivate unmotivated students.
Hollywood has managed to perpetuate this myth that if you’re a brilliant enough teacher, you will be able to motivate 100% of your students 100% of the time. THIS IS A LIE, PEOPLE! Even on days when I planned the most engaging lesson you’d ever heard of (and most of the class was on the edge of their seats with excitement and enthusiasm), I would always have at least a couple students who were glaring at me with their arms folded, refusing to participate, or who kept trying to put their heads down and sleep. I literally had a student just this past week or so who managed to fall asleep with his head still up while I was in the middle of the most intense storytelling ever (complete with wild hand gestures, jumping up and down, loud noises, and lots of juicy information about my past life). Everyone else in the room was riveted, their eyes on me, their mouths open…and then there’s this one kid in the back whose head is nodding up and down, totally out. Incredible.
3. Dealing with The Tough Kids in general.
I KNOW I should be understanding of their background situation (and I did try), and I KNOW that they’re the ones that need the most love and attention (which I tried to give them), but dangit–some of those kids every year will just get on your every last nerve and then basically spit in your face while they’re doing it. By the end, I’ve usually developed a decent relationship with even the toughest of kids, but every year, I’ll always have a few that continue to elude me, and we’re both breathing a massive sigh of relief when it’s all over.
4. Pointless work/meetings/assignments (often handed down by the district or state office to us) that we’re forced to complete to show that we’re “highly qualified” and “highly effective” teachers.
Every year, the elusive “They” come up with something new that we have to do to try and prove that we’re not all sitting on our butts all day eating cupcakes with sprinkles and having the kids watch movies. And every year, that Thing (whatever it is), is a time-consuming waste of energy that proves nothing of our worth (or effectiveness) as a teacher.
5. The low salary.
You know what’s disheartening? Putting your whole soul into something for 50-60 hours every single week and then getting a paycheck for $1600 at the end of the month for all your blood, sweat, and tears (yes, that was indeed my take-home pay for the first 2 years of teaching). Everyone knows you don’t go into teaching for the money, but still…it’s a bit discouraging.
6. The many, many moments of feeling overwhelmed and underappreciated.
I’m sure this is true for many professions, but it is definitely true of middle school teachers—very rarely will your students volunteer information that will let you know that they do, in fact, appreciate you teaching them, and since the only parents contacting you first are usually the parents who have a beef with you, well…you can see why it gets a little rough sometimes.
But enough with the negative—if teaching were all bad, there’s no way I could have stuck with it for so long. So let’s switch gears, shall we?
What I WILL Miss About Teaching
1. The Grandma Stage
At the end of the year, a funny thing happens to you as a teacher—you reach what I have affectionately dubbed “The Grandma Stage.” Basically, it means this–all year long, you’ve felt like you’re parenting your students every day, constantly reminding them that it’s not okay to hit their friends or run around the corner at full speed or throw their empty Cheetohs wrappers on the floor. All year long, you feel constantly stressed out that they’re not progressing enough or that they’re not getting all their work turned in or that you somehow are not doing enough for them.
But then, at the very very end of the year, you get to pass them along to their new “parents,” and you just get to be the grandparent and love on them and not be kept awake at night worrying because they haven’t finished that one assignment yet. It’s glorious.
(And by the end, I’m even able to really love on the really tough kids because I know that they are no longer going to be my daily concern!)
2. Being part of an awesome faculty
Not every school has a close faculty, but I’ve always felt really lucky at my school, where everyone seems to get along with everyone else and where, petty dramas aside, we really have a lot of fun with each other. In the many years ahead, where my days will be largely comprised of conversations with people much, much smaller than myself, I will miss the adult conversations, the collaboration with colleagues that I highly respect, and the constant inside jokes/gripes/triumphs that are daily shared, either in the faculty room at lunchtime or just between hours outside of classrooms.
I’ve made some amazing friends at my school, who I’ll never forget—
My department head, who really kept me afloat my first year of teaching by giving me last-minute lesson plans, cheering me on when I felt like I couldn’t go one more day, and going above and beyond to make sure I felt supported and cared about (and who continued to do so even after my first year, when she was no longer my mentor);
The other Language Arts teacher in our department, who could always make me full-on belly laugh and who is one of the best listeners I think I’ve met (as evidenced by the fact that she constantly let me drone on and on about whatever (or whomever) I had a current beef with;
The resource teacher in the classroom next to me, who commiserated with me about our autoimmune diseases (oh, how great to have someone so nearby who intimately understood what I was feeling!) and who always laughed at my lame jokes;
The math teacher across the way who started the same year as I did and who I often gave rides to since she lived nearby (and who was always willing to return the favor when I needed it), which paved the way for some deep conversations about teaching and family and life goals and what motivates us;
The principal who first hired me on, who believed in me so powerfully from the beginning that I felt like I could do anything, even though I was just a newbie with zero clue what I was doing;
My current administrator, who has always made me feel appreciated and that my opinions were highly valued…
I could go on forever. I’ve always stipulated that it’s usually only the people with the biggest hearts who go into teaching and stick with it, and I sure appreciate all the bighearted colleagues I worked with who inspired me daily.
3. Seeing the “ah-ha!” moments happen right in front of your eyes.
Moments of clarity and sudden, brilliant understanding didn’t happen every day to my students, but sometimes they were so visible that I would feel a tremor go from my ankles to the back of my neck, and I knew in that moment that I WAS THE ONE THAT MADE IT HAPPEN. It was like for that one second, the heavens magically parted and glittery unicorn dust was floating all around me, and I felt like I could do anything, like make chocolate grow on a small shrub right in front of me or else teach the kids advanced calculus in under two minutes (with a dash of European history thrown in on the side, for good measure).
Okay, so maybe the ah-ha moments weren’t usually that extreme, but they were pretty spine-tingling awesome when they happened.
4. Teaching my country swing group.
I had never intended to be a dance instructor ever, but I had an opportunity my first year to start doing it, and it has been such a fun outlet for my creativity to develop the dance routines for the performances we put on 2-3 times a year for the school. Also, the deep bonds between the students who all became part of my “country swing team” each year never ceased to delight and inspire me. (See video of our final performance for this year below.)
5. Having a job that pushes my limits.
Although this point is something that is also really exhausting and hard, I always loved that teaching was a CHALLENGE—none of my previous jobs had every pushed me enough, but I never, ever had that problem as a teacher because each year is a new beginning with new students and new obstacles to face, and you are constantly modifying and improving and looking for the absolute best way of helping your kids to effectively learn what they need to. I have grown so much personally and professionally over the past four years, and I recognize that that was only possible because of the excruciatingly challenging nature of what I was doing on a daily basis.
And, finally, my most favorite thing about being a teacher (besides summer vacation, of course)—
6. Having a student tell me either currently or years down the road that I truly made a difference in some significant way in their lives.
I did it all for love of my students, and even though I know for sure that it’s the right thing to be walking away from it all now, I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything.
So goodbye full-time teaching, and hello full-time motherhood! I can’t wait for the adventure ahead!