The Best Moment of my Teaching Career
Since I am now one full month into teaching in this new blended learning style, I have taken some time to reflect on how far I have come as a teacher. If you don’t know anyone in the teaching profession, you may not know that about 40-50% of teachers quit within the first five years of teaching. I had heard this statistic often while going through college, but I never fully understood it until I began teaching myself. In this post, I will share with you the most impactful moment of my teaching career.
To set up how the most impactful moment of my teaching career came to be, we need some background information. Like I said in the intro, first-year teaching is insane. It’s like, trying to keep your head above water in the ocean with 40-foot waves, sharks surrounding you at all times, the water is on fire, and you need to do laundry in order to have anything to wear tomorrow. It is a constant state of stress, anxiety, and elation.
I took my first teaching job right out of college. I graduated in 2015 and that summer I applied for 29 jobs and only got two interviews. It was the second school that I interviewed for that gave me a position. I actually had to interview for the job over Skype because I was in training to become a director of a summer camp across the state. Now that was an interesting experience. Anyway, I got the job in July and I honestly had to Google where this town was!
In just a month’s time, I had to find a place to live and figure out what I was going to teach. This job was on the other side of the state of Wisconsin. Just to add to the stress of the experience, I ended up buying my first house within that month. But, I could not actually move into my home until I received my first paycheck. That way the bank knew I could make the payments. So here I was, first year teaching, coaching middle school volleyball, fur hours away from all friends and family, and living out of a hotel for two weeks. I feel like this really encompasses the first year teaching experience. Que the stress!
My Stress Level Builds
One aspect of my first year teaching that I am immensely thankful for was my mentor. One of my classes she taught as well, so she gave me all of her materials. She also helped me create my new curriculum. I will forever be in her debt for the way she befriended me and became my rock during my first year of teaching.
I made it through the first semester alright. Coaching middle school volleyball went well, and in the winter I decided to start a powerlifting program at the high school. (Still going strong today by the way!). I also attempted to help out with the school play in the spring. So not only was I overloading myself with in-school experiences, but I was also overwhelmed in my personal life. Come spring, shit hit the fan.
Within about a two-week period three major life events happened. I ended a four-year relationship with my boyfriend and it did not end particularly well. My parents were in process of selling my childhood home. And finally, my grandmother was in the final stages of dying from cancer. The amount of emotional stress that was going on at that particular moment was, astronomical.
I could tell that I was really beginning to feel the effects of this stress. I remember taking an online stress test, specifically The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, and I scored over 300. Which is not good! I was very likely to become ill in the near future.
The Build Up
I had one class in particular that I really struggled with. These were sophomores taking World History and boy, were they a handful. They were so unbelievably chatty that it was a daily struggle just to get through a lesson. Because this was a larger school, we had split lunches. This class happened to be the kind where I would see them for about 25 minutes, they would leave to get lunch, and then I would get them back for another 25 minutes. Now, not only did I have to settle them down at the beginning of class, but I also had to deal with them wanting to go to lunch and coming back all fired up after lunch. I would then have to try and settle them down again!
This particular day I was not in the mental compacity to handle the rambunctiousness of this class. I remember I was just trying to get them to work quietly on a worksheet, but they continued to talk with their neighbors. So I devised a system where every time anyone talked I would put a tally mark on the board and that is how long I would keep them in from lunch. They still refused to work quietly, and I lost it.
I remember slamming my classroom door and yelling at them. Not just raising my voice, I straight up YELLED at them. Told them that I should keep the whole class back from lunch to make up all the time they wasted, etc. I told them to get out of my classroom and we would talk about it when they came back from lunch. I was devastated.
After the students left my room, I went into the neighboring classroom where my mentor and I would normally have lunch together. I broke down crying and told her what had happened. I could not believe that I lost it on these kids! That’s not the kind of person I am and it most certainly is not the kind of teacher I want to be. The amount of stress and anxiety I was feeling had reached such a high point that I began to doubt everything. Was I really cut out to be a teacher? Is this job right for me?
I also didn’t know where to go from here. Those kids would be returning from lunch soon and I had to face them. My mentor did a great job of calming me down and telling me it was going to be ok. I knew when my students came back from lunch I had to address what just happened.
My Apology to my Students
As my students came back from lunch, I was seated on a stool in from of the classroom. I was very quiet and so were they, assuming I’m sure that they were about to be yelled at again.
I sat there in front of them and began to apologize to them. They sat quietly as I told them that I was going through some very tough things in my personal life. I was honest with them about feeling like I was losing pieces of myself with my relationship ending. That I felt like I had no home to go back to. And that someone who was a very big presence in my life was slowly losing theirs.
I told them how sorry I was that my personal life was affecting how I treated them. I was just not able to handle what was happening in that class at that moment. That being said, I should never take out my anger and frustration on them. It was at this time that one of my students piped up saying that well, they were being obnoxious so they probably deserved to be yelled at.
What? No! They absolutely did NOT deserve to be talked to in that way for just talking to each other! Now, I did appreciate that they took some of the blame for causing chaos that day, but I continued to reiterate that it is never ok for me to speak to them that way. I don’t ever want to yell at them that way.
My Student’s Reaction
I was then asked to leave the room so my students could talk amongst themselves. So I went back to my mentor’s room and waited. A student came to get me a short while later. Upon returning, the students had some things to say back to me.
First of all, they thanked me.
They told me that no teacher had ever apologized to them. They had never had a teacher that sat down, explained what happened, and said sorry. No teacher had ever just been human to them.
This broke my heart. We as teacher are human. We will have bad days and sometimes those bad days will show in our work. Just like our students have bad days and great days. For these students not to have experienced a teacher apologize over their entire school career is just mind boggling. As a new teacher I did understand the idea of trying to save face, trying to be in control. I never wanted my students to think that I didn’t know the answer or didn’t know what I was doing. But, you can’t dig in so hard that you refuse to admit you are wrong.
Second of all, they showed me compassion.
They told me they wanted to be better in class to try and make things easier on me. A few days later they gave me a gift! Apparently, when I was out of the room they took up a small collection of money. They made me a tie blanket (that I still have in my classroom), bought me some candy, and all signed a sympathy card for my grandma. That was so unbelievably sweet. These kids that I just yelled at for something that was no fault of their own took the time and money to do this for me. I could not believe it.
I’m not going to say that the students were now perfect, but the class was different. My relationship with them had changed. I felt like a switch had flipped. They were human and I was human and we are able to understand each other. That idea has carried through the rest of my teaching career.
What made this Moment of my Teaching Career so Impactful
This small moment in my first year of teaching would become the most impactful moment of my teaching career.
The Flip of a Switch
Probably my biggest take away from this moment is the idea that a switched can be flipped for each student. There is at some point in time going to be some moment between me and a student that the switched is flipped. Where I see them as a person instead of just another student. And where they see me as a human instead of just a teacher.
I cannot think of a better way to say this other than a switched being flipped. I know that all of my students are individuals with their own thoughts and feelings. But there is a change that happens. It’s like the change that happens when a person you kind of know becomes a good friend. You just see them differently, you know how they work.
So I have kept this idea that I am going to try and flip that switch with as many students as I can. Because, if I am able to build that kind of relationship with them where I understand how they tick, I can help them. Over my five plus years teaching I have built some amazing relationships with my students. They can be open with me and tell me about things they are struggling with. In return, I can be honest with them when I am having a bad day, because that happens and will always happen.
I do not have to be Perfect
Another big takeaway from this most impactful moment of my teaching career is the idea that I do not have to be perfect. Perfection doesn’t exist in teaching, or in any profession for that matter. I will never be perfect, but and I will always try to improve. It is ok to be wrong but it’s not ok to refuse to admit being wrong.
Be Honest with Students
In that moment, the only way I could regain the trust I had lost with those students was to apologize. If I had continued to back myself up and scold them for being in the wrong, the rest of the year would have been horrible.
I have continued being honest with my students. As teachers, we are human! We have emotions and lives outside of the classroom. We don’t have to lie and save face. Students are smart and they will see through that! They will respect you more if you are honest with them.
Model Healthy Relationships
Building healthy relationships around honest communication is so important. In my opinion, this is the biggest thing that can be taught to students. Do I care if they can remember the dates of the French Revolution, or the names of Henry VIII’s wives, of course not. They can Google that information. But if students know how to build a relationship with someone and how to work through their own personal struggles, then I know I have made an impact. The best way to teach that is by openly practicing in front of them. Building relationships and modeling how to handle life can make a lifelong impact.
When I took my first teaching job I didn’t know if I was going to like teaching. I didn’t know if I would even be good at it! After this day, I knew that this is where I wanted to be. This is where I could make a difference. That is why this moment was the most impactful of my teaching career.
What has been the most impactful moment of your career so far?
Want to know more about my teaching career? See more on my teaching blog!