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.