One Friday night about 15 years ago, I was resting on my couch after a long day at work when my cell phone rang. I looked at the phone to see who was calling. It was a friend of mine and former teaching colleague. I was back working as a structural engineer, and he was in his third year of teaching. Since we had not talked in a couple months, I was interested to ‘catch-up’ with the news in his world.
After initial salutations, he began talking about cycling and running, and then he quickly transitioned into his current teaching job. This caught me off guard. I did not expect him to talk about work. I talk about work all the time, but I could not remember him ever speaking to me about work – away from the school.
As he continued to talk about his school day, his voice became more animated. This was another surprise – out of character for him. About 2 minutes into the conversation, I inquired, “Did you have a rough day with the kids today?”
He answered that he had, and I continued, “Did you call me because your wife did not want to listen and commiserate, and she asked you to call me for a therapeutic sympathetic ear?”
He chuckled and replied, “Yes.”
I was tired, but I understood his situation of needing to talk and vent about these happenings. I had similar days when I taught – all teachers do, especially after a couple of months after the start of the school year.
“My friend, I am all ears,” He told me about an up-and-down day with his students’ lack of motivation and their more than a little attitude about not desiring to learn much of anything.
Teachers care. They want to do a good job. They want to help children grow socially, emotionally and academically. When the school day unexpectedly unfolds poorly despite ample preparation, it is frustrating. I knew he needed someone to listen so he could discuss the issues that were bothering him.
Novice Teachers – Prepare – This frustration will not be avoided!
Novice teachers, be warned. These difficult days are coming. We work with young kids. They do not possess perspective of adult world needs. If a frustrated teacher tells their class, “Y’all will need to know this material to get a good job, someday.” That statement is the equivalent of telling a cat not to sleep 18 hours a day. And, teachers, expect the same reaction from the cat as the teacher receives from a group of fifth graders that are told to learn to add proper fractions with unlike denominators so they can get a good job someday. Kids get tired, too.
No matter how much a teacher prepares, a day with 25 or more students in a closed four wall setting is not always going to go according to plan. I must not forget to mention the lack of appreciation that a teacher receives from time to time from parents, too. That can also be equally disappointing, to say the least. Thankfully, it is seldom. In nine short months or less that parent is off to a new teacher – wait them out.
What can the inexperienced teacher do in these times of frustration?
The first thing the teacher should do is realize the experience is a rite of passage in the profession. It is part of learning – professional learning. Secondly, please reflect on the events that lead to the frustration. What was the cause? What can I do differently next time? Lastly, adopt selective amnesia on these events, so the teacher can start the next school day afresh. The day has happened, and it can’t be changed. However, a teacher can change tomorrow. So, do not dwell on the past.
As my mother used to say, “Tomorrow is another day.” So, Chin-up – Evaluate – Regroup – Move Forward!