Generally speaking, I try to keep this blog very positive. There is absolutely no denying that the first year teaching experience is hard. I can only speak for myself, but I know that my corps friends and I share an understanding that most days we are only surviving. Successes are intermittent, and when they are occur, they make the challenges worthwhile. Nevertheless, the frustrations, stress, and pain of this job are constant and brutalizing.
As we approach the summer, I have begun to imagine what I would say to new corps members to prepare them for the first years. And while there are myriad strategies and tips I might share about the classroom, I think my message to them would regard their personal lives. What I have found the most difficult- more than all the hours working, the emotional and behavior issues of my students, and the strain of fighting massive inequality- is learning to be an adult in the midst of it all.
The majority of corps members, like me, are fresh out of college and learning to live “real life.” At its face, this isn’t particularly challenging (well, it is a shock), until you take into account the added pressure that teaching provides. What would have been workable challenges are now massive crises, because it’s impossible to leave work early, take multiple days off, put off planning or grading, or not attend to student phone calls. Car trouble is more than an inconvenience and doctor’s appointments are impossible to schedule, because most doctors don’t provide evening or weekend appointments.
In the last month, I have totaled my car, purchased a new car, and (as of yesterday) had my new car broken into and my belongings stolen. I had the stomach flu last week. I have had a loved one die and been involved in a very scary incident with a student, his parents, and the police. Taken individually, any of these problems might have been stressful for a recent college graduate to handle. Taken together in a “normal” job, these problems might have merited a day or week off. But I am 3,000 miles away from my family in a job that requires 80 hour work weeks and 30 page long credentialing assignments. I live in crisis mode at work, where I am responsible for the futures of 82 students, and then, I live in crisis mode at home, where everything seems to be falling apart.
So, I’m currently talking to three of my best friends from home trying to get my bearings before I head to bed and wake up hours early to get my classroom in order for the week. I suppose the moral of all of this and my message for the incoming corps is this: Plato wrote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” So, take care of each other. And remember why you came, because your kids will be the reason you push forward and stay.
For the kids,