My Fourteenth First Year of Teaching

Even though most of my first year of teaching is a distant haze, there are some memories that remain very strong. They’re not so much memories of things that happened as they are feelings of what happened. I remember a feeling of excitement mixed with an overwhelming sense of dread, which of course makes no sense and therefore describes my first year perfectly.

One of the memories that is the most clear is that of a phone conversation with my mom, an amazing educator with nearly four decades of experience. The conversation occurred somewhere in the middle part of the school year, after I had survived the vanguard of the profession’s attack. It was right about the time when that second wave of frustration/failure kicks in after you’ve put in months of 70 hour weeks but still muster the motivation to craft a lesson that you think will be really engaging for the kids but then you give it to them and they’re like… “meh”. It was right about that time.

I remember feeling so broken and so spent and so… empty. Anybody that has been there knows how it feels to be exhausted physically, mentally, emotionally…

My mom, being the amazing mother that she is, was giving me a pep-talk to try and lift my spirits. I had so much lesson planning to do but was simultaneously so behind in grading that I just felt overwhelmed. I was at that place–mentally–where I was trying to talk myself into not going to school that night to do work (the ol’ bury-your-head-in-the-sand-and-pretend-it-will-all-go-away approach), even though I knew I needed to go in and work. I called Mom–probably because I knew that she would tell me what I needed to hear, but also because I needed someone to relate to that nothing-more-to-give feeling. What Mom said at the time gave me the strength I needed in that moment, but every year I continue in the profession, I am reminded of just how completely wrong she is.

She said, “I know it’s hard now, but it gets easier every year.”

She reminded me that the work I was doing in my first year would be work that I didn’t have to do my second year, that I’d be able to use lesson plans over, that I wouldn’t have to make out tests and quizzes and projects each year from scratch. At the time, that made sense.

However, she didn’t tell me that–sixteen years later–I would have two new preps, the fourteenth and fifteenth of my career (Math Tech 1, Math Tech 2, SAT Math, Geometry, Math Tech 3, Pre-Calculus, Algebra 1, Algebra 2/Trig, IMP I, IMP II, IMP III, IMP IV, Integrated 1, The Art of Mathematics, Integrated 3).

She didn’t tell me that every day I would leave work feeling like I still needed another hour and a half more of work in order to feel “ready” to leave.

She didn’t tell me that the school/district-assigned textbooks would be so [redacted] worthless that I would apologize to my students whenever we had to use them because I didn’t have time to make/find a lesson good enough for them.

She didn’t tell me that–in addition to grading and lesson planning and assessment-making–I’d need to spend hundreds of hours a year responding to emails, writing letters of rec, and updating SchoolLoop pages.

To be fair…

She also didn’t tell me that classroom management would get exponentially easier (like… the single-easiest part of my job).

She didn’t tell me that there would be a community of like-minded math teachers who would share their wisdom, their lessons, their mistakes, their questions… and that they would share so much  I would feel overwhelmed at not being able to keep up with it all.

She didn’t tell me that seeing cascading lightbulbs go off in a class of nearly forty teenagers because I asked/planned the right series of questions to help them make some discovery for themselves would feel like driving a Ferrari at top speed on the cliffs of the PCH.

Lastly, she didn’t tell me how conflicting it would feel to teach students for three years and realize with both pride and shame–as the kids and I both do a new POW for the first time–that their way of solving complex problems is more efficiently, more elegant, more creative, and vastly more connected and communicated than my way.

I don’t know what the me from Fall 2000 would think of my current feelings about (math) teaching, but it’s equal parts exhausting and fulfilling.

NOTE: So that’s why I abandoned Blaugust2016 and haven’t posted since.  It’s my fourteenth year of teaching, and I’m still scrambling to keep my head above water for tomorrow. (By the way, what’s that definition of insanity everyone quotes all the time…?)