Reality Check

October and November are the cruelest months for new teachers, NPR tells us. The honeymoon phase is over and all of that shiny new year optimism has been replaced with the reality of lesson planning, paper grading, parent handling, administrator mind-gaming, and student motivating. Feeling as wrung-out as a bar towel at 2 a.m.? You’re far from alone.

I’m in Year 18 and usually have things somewhat pulled together (or at least it looks that way when an admin. pops into my room for a – surprise! – observation), yet there I was this weekend, seriously questioning my sanity/effectiveness as an educator while grading the latest round of freshman essays. Some of the papers were good, but too many of them were still committing basic errors on topics I’ve already taught multiple times in these first eight weeks of the year. Are these kids even listening when I speak?

The NPR article was oddly comforting as it confirmed what I already know – this job is ridiculous. It is so hard. Everyone in my hall (we range from two months to 20 years of experience) is battling the trifecta of stress, fatigue, and doubt these days. Apparently, we’re not the only ones. About 10 percent of new teachers will leave the profession by the end of their first year, and after five years nearly half of new teachers will be gone.

But not us. We’re not going anywhere because we’re going to set a plan to power through this Disillusionment Phase. You’re with me, right? Right?

A Few Sanity Savers:

1. Check failing students’ grades in their other classes and you’ll see a clearer picture. Whenever I realize that I’m failing to meet a student’s needs, I log into our school’s online gradebook and, whattya know, I discover that the kid is failing all of his other classes, too. See, it’s really not about the teachers; there’s almost always something bigger happening. Time to call a conference and figure out the root issue/s. (Now, if the kid is doing great in all of his other classes but failing with you, it’s a good time for a chat with the man-in-the-mirror.)

2. Check your ego. You are not a superhero and you do not have the power to save every child. You can do your very best, but some students simply won’t be ready to accept your help. Some kids are marinating in abuse, addiction, or depression, and you see them (along with 33 others at the same time) for about an hour a day. Do your best, but be realistic. In the comments section of the NPR article, the words of “oakspar77777” ring especially true: “I’ve had future doctors and future murderers in my classes through the years, and you can drive yourself crazy with their mess and success.” Some kids need more help than we’re able or trained to provide. Know when to seek help from the school counselors.

3. Check out – for a while. You care about your students, but you also need to take care of yourself. Look at you, you’re the kind of teacher who reads an education blog on your limited free time, for cryin’ out loud. So, if you’re tired, take a nap or maybe even set aside all school stuff for a weekend. Grading/emails/paperwork can wait. And if you need to cry, stop by my room. I have a few extra boxes of emergency Kleenex tucked away in my cabinet and nothing but love in my heart for my teacher tribe.

Okay, readers, what other advice do you have for our new teachers facing this pumpkin spice-scented Season of Disillusionment? Let’s help ‘em over the hump!

Teach on, everyone.

15 thoughts on “Reality Check

  1. Stacey Lloyd says:

    Love this! You are so erudite. Please can I come down and just follow you around for a week? 🙂

  2. Sure, Stacey! I’d love that. I’ll even buy the first round of pumpkin-spiced lattes. 🙂

  3. Stacey Lloyd says:

    You think I’m joking! 😉

  4. Laura so this is timely, thank you! I am in year 23 and just graded my last round of freshman essays. I did cry!!! I know I taught them so many important points (frame the quote, no use of you or I, don’t ask a question, etc …) but so many of them seemed determined to do exactly the opposite of what I taught. I was so tired that day that I wanted to run away!!! So instead of moving on, I am now working out how to teach those concepts in a new and exciting way. I am grateful for your wisdom. 🙂

  5. Thank you, thank you for being sane. 🙂 Just so you know, my department head and I love pretty much everything you make, share, or write, and today she shared this blog post with our entire department as encouragement through “the struggle.” Your mission is working!! Keep on keepin’ on, and don’t be surprised to find a few of us straggling along right behind you, doing our best “mimicry is the best flattery” impressions. You rock, Laura!

  6. What amazing timing! I was just wondering when our next break was in my neck of the woods and was reminded not until Thanksgiving! As always, thanks for sharing and the encouragement!

  7. Oh my gosh, Bethstone29, were we grading the same stack of papers? EXACTLY the same gray hair-inducing marks in my stack with the addition of presenting plot summary as though it were actual analysis. Sheesh! I didn’t cry, but I did consider getting in my car and driving far, far away. Mexico, perhaps?

  8. Actually, Mhskel, this helps – a lot. The struggle is real. Thanks, blog friends and your entire Eng. dept, for being a receptive outlet for my frustration and a source of renewable energy. Today’s going to be a great day!

  9. Oh yeah, Kelly, it’s going to be a L-O-N-G time until we see a well-deserved break, so let’s pace ourselves, okay? 🙂

  10. Oh what I would give to have a teacher on my campus like you! I’m in my second year of teaching, and I think I’m feeling the effects of “The Octobers” even more this year. This week was the perfect timing for this article and your companion post. Thank goodness I stumbled on your blog last year! Now please pass the Kleenex….

  11. Oh, Chelsey, the “Octobers” are universal, I’m afraid. I think the kids are even feelin’ it, too. So glad you found me!

  12. Such good advice. I wish I’d read this my first year – it was crazy stressful. Thanks for all the words of encouragement!

  13. Julie Keith says:

    I just graded papers with such gems of wisdom as “Bravery is important to Rainsford’s survival because you have to be brave to survive.” *sigh* Whipping freshmen into shape can be so arduous. Thanks for the reminders!

  14. We’re all walking the same walk, Julie. Keep the faith!

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