So last week Wednesday was my last day of school! Well for the students that is. Friday was the last day for teachers because you know, grades. This first year has been quite interesting to say the least.
First of all, it was really exciting to even get into this field. It’s not like I didn’t know the challenges that were to come (in fact, a lot of my professors in undergrad told me their struggles and frustrations in the education field) so it wasn’t like I thought teaching would be rainbows and unicorns. There is a lot that they didn’t teach us in school as far as teaching goes, but I won’t say that going to school was a waste because it wasn’t honestly. First of all, the classes did help when it came to taking the teaching exam. It did help with some background like how to set up a classroom and the why behind what we do what we do BUT each school is different. Every district is different.
I’m not discouraging people from going into an education program, in fact I wish more people would go into it from the get go because there are a lot of out of field teachers. Also, a lot of teachers leave the field in the first three years. This can be for a number of factors like lacking the background knowledge of what goes into managing a classroom, pay, testing of both the teachers and students (see my post here on teacher testing), the stress of the job, lack of respect, etc. For me personally, it’s bigger than what we go through. It’s about our students and the love we have for them.
Anyway, I came into this career with this information in the back of my mind. It took me a while after I graduated to find a teaching position. I knew I wanted to move out of town, which I did, and teach English. All those times I’d apply for jobs in Tallahassee and never get a reply really hurt but I knew that deep down inside one day I’d teach, I just didn’t know when and things at the time felt bleak. When I started applying outside of Tallahassee, I actually started getting phone interviews and eventually one of those interviews led to me teaching in Kissimmee. I was so estatic and nervous at the same time.
Karina and I came down to look for an apartment and things slowly started coming together. When the time came closer, I got even more nervous because of the unknown. I’m afraid of the unknown. I was also really broke like I had no money in my account because I had to pay for my deposit, lights, gas, like so much stuff that I just didn’t have any money. I was going to get a $700 check from my last job which kinda came in handy but let’s be real, at the start of the new school year, I had no money. I wanted to decorate my classroom with all this Harry Potter stuff and looking at the other teachers’ classes, I felt so bad about my lack of decoration. True, students will remember what they learned and how you taught them over how the room looked, but still appearance is still important.
I didn’t know what to expect. I was so nervous (I know I say this often but it’s true!). I didn’t know what I was to teach. Didn’t know how my students would be. I mean I’m an introvert to the core and I was expected to stand at the front of the class and have all eyes on me while I taught (YIKES). I was honest with my students and told them that this was my first year (big mistake) and I thought it would help them see me in a different light and not as someone who was threatening. BOY WAS I WRONG. They totally used it against me.Granted this was an alternative school and the students there were behind their peers and this was their last chance before they were formally kicked out of school. At the interview, I was told that it would be great for me because it would be a small class (lie) and it would be a great opportunity to thrive as a first year teacher. My time at that school was honestly, hell. It was a number of factors and I’ll be honest: I messed up so many times.
Like I said, my first fuck up was me telling my students that I was brand new to teaching. They used this excuse many times from undermining me to getting out of trouble with their parents when I’d call home about their behavior. They didn’t respect me and I had like no control over them. It’s already hard to break through to kids who felt neglected by society but to try to break through that wall AND teach? That was so hard. Like no matter what I did, they wouldn’t listen to me. I guess when you’re used to people giving up on you, it’s hard to let people in, which I totally get. I mean when people let me down, I tend to put my guard up. So I knew they weren’t going to let me in that easily. There were a few students who let me in and I’m so grateful. Still to this day I hold a special place in my heart.
What were my other fuck ups? Not being organized. It is important to be organized as a teacher. You need to be able to locate things and a lot of times, I couldn’t find assignments that they turned in. Also, I didn’t have control in the beginning. With me not following through with my punishments, the students easily saw me as a pushover and would just ignore me. I had no control of my students. It was to the point where they would disturb the other classes because they were too loud. When there was testing going on, they would be so loud that they asked me to go to the library so that the other students can test quietly. I was so embarrassed. I’m pretty sure when people saw me, they called me a mess. Also, I dressed more “like a student and not like a teacher”. I saw some teachers wear jeans and more casual clothes, so why couldn’t it? I guess because I look so young that I was expected to dress more professional to really distinguish me as the teacher and them as the students.
I waited to the last minute to grade things and that honestly was a big no no. Seriously it was! I would spend so many nights working. I was also in a rush to get home. Granted I did live 45 min away, so I wanted to beat the traffic home. I should’ve used those 10-20 min after school preparing for the next day but I didn’t and would try to rush in in the morning to get things situated, which isn’t very smart (I had like 10 min to spare before the first bell rang for the day). I was a mess. My class was a mess (I’d ask them to help clean and only one or two would actually help me sometimes). I would yell at them which probably made them want to put up a wall even more. It would legit get to the point of me taking personal days and hoping for workshop days because that meant I didn’t have to deal with my students. No learning was taking place at all because I couldn’t even get them to pay attention to me and they’d just ignore me.
I has to work with another teacher (my ELA 8th grade team teacher) which first and foremost, she was pretty nice. She’d buy me food when I had absolutely no food for lunch. She bought some small knickknacks for my class and would offer advice. The same could be said of my mentor (which trust me, you need one). The same could be said of some of the other teachers on the 8th grade team actually. There were times when I felt left out. They had relationships and families and hung out after work together and I honestly just didn’t feel like I belonged. I usually get vibes about places, people and situations and my vibes usually aren’t wrong. With that being said, sometimes the vibe I got wasn’t a good one. First of all, she would always ask me what I was peached but would never share with me what she was teaching (we were to teach the same thing). Then when all was said and done, after I left, she totally listened to the students when they said lies about me, like one was that I was on my phone in class (like no) and had no sympathy for me when I shared my frustrations. I felt hurt.
I kept telling myself that when the semester was over, I’d get a fresh start in January because I’d get a new batch of students (thats how the classes worked at the school. They lasted a semester). That fact gave me a little bit of hope on my tough days. When things finally started to unravel, I was mentally done. I hated going to work, not to mention I constantly had car trouble (it’d shut off on me while I was driving…on the interstate at that) due to the long distance. Feeling frustrated with my car and students, I was ready for a break. I prayed to Jehovah one night because I was just at a loss. That night, I had a dream of me teaching sixth graders, so I took that as for the next school year, I should teach a younger grade. The next day, I went to work and was asked to not come back in January. I was stunned (also that same day I got the news that my uncle had passed away so that day just sucked all around). I felt rejected and dejected. I would cry and cry. I felt so lost and felt like a failure.
January came and I got a new job at a charter school. Again, it was a school for students who were on their last leg in public education. This time, I’d be teaching 6-12th graders. The pay was almost $10,000 less than what I was getting at my old district. There were metal detectors and fights every single day. There wasn’t a lot of funding and honestly, I hated it. I was scared to be honest. Students were always getting arrested or suspended. The students would curse you out and I was not down for that. The guy who kind of help to run the school wanted you to just give your all (even your weekends) to the students. He felt that no matter what, even if your personal life fell apart (which he told me his did) then that was good. I’m sorry but no. I’m not sacrificing my mental health for my job. My gut was telling me this wasn’t the place for me and I’m glad I listened. I called out of work one day and went to a job interview and landed a job at a different type of charter school.
This time, I’d be teaching sixth grade. I nailed the interview and was offered a job on the spot. I accepted the job and immedietly quit the other job. I didn’t want to put myself in a super high stressed environment and for less money. This newer job was about $4,000 less than my last one so I felt better. Plus, these were normal students. There weren’t many fights at the school (I legit saw one in all my time of being there) and the students were actually listening to me. Again, it wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies. I came in the middle of the year so there were students who did not want to give me a chance because their teacher left them. However, they were much better than the students at my first school when it came to following instructions and listening to me. I never told them that this was my first year and I think that might’ve helped as well. I dressed more like a teacher and got more organized. When I needed help with something, I learned to advocate for myself.
Things were going pretty good. Then COVID-19 happened. Thanks to COVID-19, we had to change to distance learning. It was the week before spring break. I was putting in grades because they were due (btw I had access to the grade book two days prior to when they were due) and left school at noon that day, Friday March 13th. That following Sunday, we got the news that we would not return to school until a month later. We were thrust into distance learning, learning as we go. Mistakes were made on the part of us teachers, admin, and students. Some students had access to wifi and computers or iPads, while others didn’t. We had to adjust to doing things differently. While technically the students had less assignments, a lot and I do mean a lot started failing.
Online learning is not for everyone and this was truly their first time of having to work online. Maybe they had other siblings who shared the laptop or iPad and they couldn’t do things when they needed to be done, like attend live class sessions. We held three live class sessions a week but were available on the other days via email. Since I taught ELA, all of my students hopped in my sessions every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8-9 am. I worked hard to keep contract hours. I didn’t want to be a victim of using my computer all day and all night. It’s not healthy. In fact, my principal would suggest that we take mental breaks throughout the day. We had three meetings a day, which was a lot and I do mean a lot. It was truly mind numbing.
I got to know more of my co-workers and it felt great to vent to them. Speaking of venting, Instagram is such a great way to meet other teachers and one of them I’ve befriended and she’s been an awesome support for me as well. She’s from Miami, like me, and teaches ELA here in Orlando as well. She’s donated and bought books for my library. We vented to each other, its just the thing I needed as a first year. It’s nice to know that someone else can understand what you’re going through. There were lots of ups and down but we got through it. I don’t know what next school year will look like because of COVID-19. I do know that I’ll still be at the same school I’m at now (yay) and I’ll be teaching some AVID strategies (which I’m not sure what they are but apparently it helps students out in the long run).
This year have been insane. Crazy. I was told that with the first year, it’s all about survival, but man they were not kidding. I’ve cried. I felt frustrated and like a failure. I messed up. Life has been truly humbling and I can finally say I came out oF this a stronger person. I legit felt like the scum of the earth, like I was failing at life. However, I bounced back and have been thriving ever since. I feel like things are the way that they were meant to be. I don’t have any bad vibes so far (fingers crossed). It’s so crazy how God can lead us to where we were meant to be if we just ask him. Really, try it. If you’re unsure about a situation, go to him in prayer and ask him what he wants you to do.