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Confessions of a 5th year teacher

By Molly Thacker on Jul 7, 2010 12:38 PM

As I completed my fifth year of teaching this June, it occurred to me that I had survived the curse and beaten the statistic of half of all new teachers quitting within their first five years

Although I find it much more honorable to recognize teachers who have made education their life’s work and have put in 25, 30, 35 years in public schools, I sighed a breath of relief at five years under my belt and took time to reflect on what I have learned in the past five years that will sustain me in the next 25. 

Confession #1: I have sat at a blank computer screen after midnight searching for inspiration for a lesson plan for the following day.

This is the kind of flashback from year one of teaching that turns my stomach a little bit. It is painful to recollect the anxiety and stress of that first year (there really is nothing like it, is there?), but doing so also reminds me of how far I’ve come. 

On one hand, I realize that I was uniquely creative and willing to take risks my first year (probably because I had nothing to lose), but I also had poor time management and basically worked around the clock. Quality lesson planning does take time but it’s also a process that gets easier over time. Since that first year, I’ve learned the benefit of consulting other resources (primarily teachers with great ideas) rather than doing it alone. 

Confession #2: I have entered into power struggles with children…and lost.

Word to the wise: expect to be disappointed if you attempt to confront a student who is trying to save face, defend a friend, or otherwise exercise their right to be an angry teenager. You will lose every time. Recognizing the social, developmental and emotional needs of a young person is something I was not able to comprehend in my first couple years of teaching (largely because I was still a young person myself). The more I learn about what students need as adolescents, the less I find myself in absurd arguments over pencils.

Confession #3: I drive home most days feeling like a crappy teacher.

Despite the accolades and positive observation feedback I’ve received, there is usually at least one thing each day that makes me think, “Well, I screwed that up big time” or at the very least “I could have handled that much better.” I say this not to sound dramatic but because I believe it is important to resist the teacher-hero archetype and realize that most good teachers fail.

The process of becoming a better teacher is sometimes a painful one, and you rarely get to see the fruits of your labor as a teacher, but it is a continuous process of discovery. Personally, I find it comforting that I don’t have all the answers yet and that there is still time to become the teacher I want to be.

Confession #4: I have thought about quitting (on several occasions).

Even though I may have beaten the five-year curse, there have definitely been days I have entertained the thought of quitting (and maybe even perused the offerings of Idealist.org). The truth is, teaching is an incredibly taxing job. I have seen friends take higher-paying jobs with less stress and less continued education required, and it can be discouraging. While others will remind me of the perks of having summers off, there really has to be greater incentive to stay in the game. 

It is different for everyone, but for me, feeling like I am a part of something bigger than myself and knowing that I am using my talents to hopefully shape someone else’s ideas keeps me coming back. I should also mention that of everyone I know who has left teaching, not a single person attributes their decision to students. In fact, they miss their students terribly, but do not miss the lack of predictability or professional growth in their schools.

Confession #5: I worry about how I will sustain this career over a lifetime.

I entered teaching expecting to be here for the long haul. Still, most days, I get home physically and emotionally exhausted. I marvel at how teachers with families manage both full-time jobs that require so much energy, patience, and so much of your self. I’m worried that at a certain point in my career, the cons will outweigh the perks and I will take rank with the thousands of other ex-teachers who wistfully remember their time in the classroom, yet in the same breath recognize why they no longer are.

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Comments (12)

Submitted by Paul Socolar on July 7, 2010 7:45 pm

Thanks for these confessions and congratulations on beating the odds!  It seems like being able to have honest conversations with others about the ups and downs of teaching is a big part of what keeps you going.

While online dialogue may not be a substitute for face-to-face conversation, we really appreciate your blog posts and willingness to share your self-reflections with others in a public way. Hopefully, this is helping to create a forum that will support and sustain teachers who are wrestling with the same issues.

Submitted by Donna Sharer (not verified) on July 7, 2010 9:25 pm

Thanks for sharing your insights, Molly. I was impressed with you as a first year teacher so I'm not surprised you've completed 5 years! I'll be starting my 18th year and I'm often surprised ... I think it took me ten years to feel like I was a "not-too-crappy" teacher but I still have those feelings - which keep me going as much as the "good" days. Teaching requires constant stretching and searching; the "how can this be better" is a motivator.

Nevertheless, teaching does get more complicated with one's own kids - which is not always appreciated by the powers that be - but I've learned a lot from my kids which, I think, has made me a better teacher and more empathetic to parents. Believe it or not, for me parenting is harder than teaching!

Best to you, Molly, in year #6!

Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on July 7, 2010 10:09 pm

 Thanks for your inspiring post, Molly.   Your honesty and humility are huge assets.   In a long teaching career, while feeling like I grew in the role, I never reached a point where I was free from self doubt.   I drove home feeling like a crappy teacher on plenty of days after 20 years, let alone 5.   Part of this stems from the complexity of what we do.   There are all these competing narratives on how to teach that exist in our heads as well as in the our professional communities.  While some questions get settled (like the impossibility of winning fights with adolescents about pencils), others remain unresolved so that we constantly are second guessing what we do.   Not a bad thing maybe since it means we are still trying to learn and grow, but hard too.   The isolation of our work means that confirmation for what we do is elusive.   

Submitted by David Ginsburg (aka Coach G) (not verified) on July 7, 2010 11:49 pm

Molly, I too appreciate your self-reflection and openness. And as someone who has taught, trained, and coached new teachers for many years, I'm especially impressed by your confession #2 re: power struggles--such a critical awareness for teachers to have, and yet few of us gain it as early in our careers as you have.

Submitted by Angela Chan on July 8, 2010 12:29 am

Your words really resonate with me, Molly. Having completed seven years of teaching, I’ve also come to realize how hard it is to accept my own limitations while at the same time working to not be bound by them. It’s not easy to experience our own shortcomings when so much is at stake. Yet, it is a very humbling experience, especially when I see how resilient my students are even when I fall way short.

I’d also add that my students’ parents also inspire me to keep going. Although not a parent myself, I can see how much parents value their children’s education. Sometimes I’m simply amazed (and frightened!) that they are putting so much trust in me to do a good job with their child. That, too, is humbling, but encouraging.

I agree that it’s hard to make a resounding commitment to 20, 25 more years of teaching, and I agree that it’s not because of the children. There are so many moral dilemmas that come with being a part of this system of education. But, I’m still at a point where I feel this is too important to walk away from, and like you mentioned, having access to colleagues as resources has been key. Thanks for sharing your thoughts – your dedication and hopefulness really came through.

Submitted by Meg (not verified) on July 8, 2010 11:03 am

Thanks for sharing your honest reflections, Molly. They will help you and now others as we all grow as professionals. I think beck over those moments when I thought "professional, yeah right !" just as you have done. It doesnot matter what got us to that point...what matters is what got us to the next point - the reflections of that moment. Good for you !

Submitted by acm (not verified) on July 8, 2010 2:29 pm

A good portion of your remarks could be minimally retooled for the experience of most parents -- hard work, exhausted at the end of each day, full of mistakes and humility, wondering if you can keep it up. I hope that the rewards of shaping so many lives will keep you at it despite the sore feet, and that you will find ways to make your work more efficient without losing your connection to it. Will have to check back and compare notes when both of our endeavors are another decade old! :)

Submitted by Alex (not verified) on July 9, 2010 9:56 am

Thanks for your post Molly! Much of the experiences and feelings you have shared are very similar to my feelings and experiences. I just completed my second year and had quite a sophomore let down. Once I had finished my first year I thought I had it all figured out. My expectations were so high for my second year that I had quite a huge let down when I realized how much more I still have to learn. Despite that somewhat painful realization, I did have some great experiences during my second year and look forward to the crazy journey that will continue in a couple months. It is always helpful for me to hear other teachers speak honestly about their experiences, thank you!

Submitted by MOM (not verified) on July 9, 2010 4:01 pm

Dear Moll, I know I compare teaching and nursing quite a bitt, but every "new" nurse could identify with your words....You WILL make a dirrerence! Love, you

Submitted by Dina Portnoy (not verified) on July 22, 2010 4:01 pm

I want to echo all these thanks Molly for your honesty and reflection and wisdom! This teacher with 25 years in the classroom was having moments of deep recognition for each and every one of your "confessions." It gets both easier and harder all at the same time, and always more complex and interesting. Finding communities of other teachers always did sustain me, and now we have one on-line.

Dina

Submitted by shorter college (not verified) on August 5, 2010 10:56 pm

Its not only in the field of teaching do we get to hear echos of dissapointment and limitations. It holds true to whatever field you are in. I guess the best way to remedy this is acceptance of ones own limitation and striving to become better. Knowing you did your best makes it a little lighter.

Submitted by jeff smith (not verified) on October 19, 2011 7:42 am

amazing article i like the way you thoroughly wrote as confession wise.
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