Sunday, November 20, 2011

Here's a Start

Excitement. Nervous. Dread. Optimism. Fear. Ambition. Gratitude. Confused. Overwhelmed.

The first weeks, months (maybe year?) of teaching is a roller coaster of emotions. You painstakingly prepare for some things (your easily accessible homework collection bin), only to find you left huge and obvious gaps in other areas (how will you grade homework, and how much of it will you assign, and when it's not done?). You never have time for lunch. Energy levels are directly related to number of cups of coffee imbibed. When you stagger to your car at the end of the day, with bags full of stuff that you are too exhausted to carry inside nevermind open, you rest your head on your steering wheel and sigh. On those days, school is really exhausting and you enter survival mode. Get through this class, day or week. Not an inspiring place to be.

Of course there is a flip side. The best part of being a new teacher; freshness and excitement. These days you come to school full of energy, thrilled that you have the best job in the world, and ready to implement some new and unique ideas in your classroom. Being creative in a practical way is invigorating. Some days students respond to your lessons, and you positively. You walk to your car at the end of those days energized and thirsty for more information and ideas that will help you to be the best teacher you can. The excitement and feeling that you are doing something valuable for a group of kids that need you, far overrides the more numerous days that don't go as planned.

The hardest part about riding these ups and downs of new teacherhood, is that they can be so dramatic. At the low points the task of teaching without all the skills and knowledge of your more experienced colleagues, feels overwhelming. More than overwhelming, it feels crushing. At the end of one of those days, a colleague came into my room and asked me how my day went. I was so bummed about my performance and apparent lack of ability, my only response was to burst into tears. However, there is usually something useful or positive that you can hang onto at those low points. Sometimes, its just a peer saying, "don't worry, I remember I felt the same". Maybe it was that one kid that took the time to smile and say, "See you tomorrow, Miss V." Whatever it is, it is powerful enough for you to go home and work out your kinks and try it all again. If you are at least willing to try, you can usually catch a ride on the coaster again, and get back to that high point.

My worst fear is getting stuck in the lows. Feeling like the new ideas and creative work is not paying off and getting stuck in a rut. We've all seen teachers there, and as a newbie, that stick out even more. We wonder why they don't care, why they aren't having fun. But the truth is, they were new and fresh and excited once too. Perhaps, riding the ups and downs of the new teacher coaster became too exhausting. So they stick at a happy point. The coaster is no longer moving, and they try to avoid hitting the low points, but they won't get to the top, where it is fast fresh and exciting, either.

So, I guess for me, if I want to continue to enjoy teaching, learning and growing, I should hope that my career will continue to be a roller coaster ride. New ideas and practices have to be tried, and sometimes they won't go over well. You always end up with different groups of students, they come with their unique quirks, talens and issues. So there will probably never be a happy medium, you have to do something new, and fail often.

I guess I'll use the roller coaster ride as a career barometer. As I move ahead, I'll be sure I continue feeling those ups and downs of an enjoyable ride. They might not have to be so big, but they should be there. If I am in a place where I haven't hit a low in a long time, I'll know something needs to change.


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