A Natural Teacher

Double-post Saturday! As much as I enjoyed posting my minestrone soup recipe, I have other things on my mind I want to share. This one has been on my brain for a few weeks.

To all you teachers/guidance counselors/anyone who works in a school out there – do you find this job different now from the one you signed up for? Let me explain.

I love teaching. I’m great with kids and always have been. One of my strengths in working with kids is the ability to read them, figure out relatively quickly who they are as people, and tailor the way I teach and what I teach to their strengths, abilities, and interests. That skill greatly contributed to my success in the school I worked at in the first four years of my teaching career, which was a wonderful school in a very low-income neighborhood, with students who really were put through the ringer at home. They came to that school to feel safe and secure, and the majority of them were always upset when the school year was over. All of the teachers in that building had their heads together, and were on the same page. I was really on my game. I also wasn’t trying to get pregnant.

This year, I have been moved to a new school. In fact, we all were, because they closed down my old school, and spread those kids out into the middle-class schools around the rest of the town. It was very sad and emotional. I also switched grades, from 6th to 5th. However, in my new school, where the kids are much happier at home and have access to many more resources, I have fit in relatively well. I love the women I teach with (I went from no teaching partner last year to five this year) and we all work really well together.

Here’s the problem. I’m not on my game.

I actually think the problem is two-fold. First of all, my head isn’t in it like it always has been. In past years, I would go home and my students would be on my brain all night. I went above and beyond for them, making them all hand-made cards at the end of the year, and caring for them as if they were my own children. Talk about motherly instincts – I’ve been acting motherly for five years now. My first year, my class was so wonderful and supportive and I couldn’t wait to go to school. I was the first or second teacher there, and one of the last to leave. I was dedicated, plain and simple.

I’m still dedicated, I would say, and I’m still teaching well. I have a nice class, and I care about their well-beings. I am meeting every requirement and doing what I have to do. But my head isn’t in it. As I said, one part of the problem is what’s on my brain. I’ve been using my brain space for thinking about getting pregnant, and all that has happened with it. I’ve been blogging, which I love. I read more, I drink tea. I take my time at home. Now, I get to school on time, but barely, and I try to leave as soon as I can. I want to be home, with N. I want to be trying for a kid. I want to POAS, watch for ovulation, chart it on my phone. I want to be a mother, and not just use my motherly instincts at my job.

There’s another problem. Teaching in the United States, or at least in my state, isn’t what it used to be. I’m only a five-year teacher, and it’s different from what it was when I started. It’s drastically different from what it was when I student-taught seven years ago, and from what I learned in college.

I’m not going to get all political – it’s not appropriate and I suck at interpreting politics, anyway. But I do know it is partly a political issue. In my state, collecting and analyzing data has been the main focus the last two years or so. Forget developing wonderful hands-on projects, test, test, test! Of course, I knew getting into this job that standardized tests were important, and were something students had to go through. I’m fine with that. I was tested as a child, too. But teaching is starting to feel more like a factory, churning out students who can do well on a test. Data collection has become slightly obsessive. At the same time, we’re stuck in a rut in this bad economy, and towns are losing money like crazy, including my own. Towns in my state are laying off teachers and counselors, but are raising the stakes on our students passing tests. We have to do more with less resources. People are being spread very thin, and I wouldn’t be lying if I said I can see the stress and worry on everyone’s face. I know I’m not the only one thinking this. I have seen more teachers cry and lose their confidence in the last few years than ever before. The pressure – it’s mounting, and it’s unbelievable.

Stress is something that sort of runs in my family, and I try very hard to eliminate it from my life. It’s not healthy, and it makes me over-eat. I used to feel relatively stress-free at work. I love teaching a skill to my students and watching them practice and master it. I love sitting down with them at snack time and talking about college and their futures. But now I’m stressed at school. My work load is unreal, honestly, and papers are stacked sky-high. We all seem to be running around like chickens with our heads cut off, trying to make sure we cross our t’s and dot our i’s, and the children lose in the process. We are losing in this process.

I knew after my first year of teaching that there is no other job I’m better suited for. I was born a teacher. But I would be lying if I said I haven’t been daydreaming this year about being a stay-home mom, when that day finally arrives. Or staying home and blogging for a living. Writing children’s books. Traveling, taking photographs. Anything where I can make my own decisions, I can decrease my stress level, and tailor what I do to my strengths. This sounds awful. I’m not leaving teaching; I’m really a natural teacher. I’m just a little nervous for the future. If this is what it’s going to be like for the next 30 years, could I handle that? Teaching requires you to put in 110%, every day. When I have children, am I going to be able to give teaching/data collection my best?

In the next few years, either something in our eduction system will change, or I am going to have to change, in order to allow this career to feel like who I am again.



6 thoughts on “A Natural Teacher

  1. sherry says:

    Your first few years your brain was focused only on your students. You can put all your effort into your job. Once you decide to start a family you become less of a teacher because now you have to share your time and thoughts. It is not a good feeling. You feel guilty either way. When you have more in your life it becomes a balancing act and boy is it difficulty to stay balanced. Too much of one thing is never goruggle with balancing my teacher career and my family on a weekly basis.

  2. K.Smitty says:

    Thanks for the guidance counselor plug…**wink.** I think I know what you mean…sort of. Although I’m still one of the first ones in and last to leave, I start wishing I didn’t care as much about it and I have noticed I’ve started to let go of a lot of perfectionism I have for my work and realizing that being “good enough” really is ok, that I have needs too and I had to learn to not be so hard on myself for devoting my energy into myself instead of my job. And like you, I have started to imagine what it would be like to be a stay-at-home-mom, which is something I never would have considered before. I used to say, “Why did I go to grad school then, if I’m just going to stay at home?” I guess what I’m trying to say is, what you’re feeling is natural and hopefully when we both become mommies, we can figure it out then. Until then, I hate feeling like I’m struggling to keep my head above water, but I keep thinking it won’t be long before something gives and then, what I need to do will be clear. Whatever you decide, have faith in the fact that you know you can make it work. You’re distracted right now. But you won’t be forever. And you will be able to balance it all. One way or another, I think things will work themselves out.

  3. Shannon says:

    Love the new look of your blog! I think what you are feeling is totally normal and pretty typical given what is going on in education, especially in the town we work in. Toying with staying at home or a career change doesn’t mean you don’t love teaching anymore…it just means you are exploring your options. And what is life without options! 🙂 That said, you are a wonderful teacher and you are going to make an amazing mother. Plus you’re a damn good blogger too! 🙂 You will know what is right for you. Remember there is more than just one path that can lead to happiness… 🙂

  4. ozifrog says:

    When you move your main focus away from work, it feels like you are not doing your job as well. But is that true? When I had to step back a bit from my work at uni to cope w ivf, I had to keep saying ‘just lower your standards’. And you know what? I did, but no one else noticed. I didn’t do a worse job, I just did it w different balance in my life.

    It feels like you are letting students down. But education is a difficult sector to work in, and we have to do what we can with the time we have. Self sacrifice is sometimes needed, but balance between life & work is a wonderful thing to model for your students. Lowering your standards is sometimes really healthy.

  5. Lyndell says:

    I totally agree, I’m a teacher too and I think the way we educate (and I say ‘we’ not us teachers, but society) needs to change. I worked in a low socio-economic area too and put everything I had into my teaching, most of the time loving it. But I always felt that I still wasn’t doing enough. Now I’ve stepped back I realise I took on too much, and it really shouldn’t be like that. I don’t think I’d go back to a general school again, I’m looking at retraining, maybe work in a specialist school? It would be nice to have the support and resources to really make a difference. I still love teaching but it shouldn’t be at the detriment to your own life.

  6. bigsplash24 says:

    You know when you first learn to drive a car and it takes all of your attention to do it well. Then, after a few years, you practically drive from place to place without ever thinking about how you did it. YOur first few years of teaching are the same way. But now that you know what you are doing, the basic things don’t require as much of your working memory and you can concentrate on other things. We all know you are a fantastic teacher and extremely dedicated to your students. Education is not what it used to be and getting harder every single day. The world should be singing the praises of hard working teachers like yourself, instead of blaming us for the detriment of education policy (which has so little to do with us!)
    You have nothing to feel guilty about. A more well rounded person will make a better teacher!

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