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Why I Cried Every Day For The First 3 Months Of My Teaching Career

teacher support | topnotchteaching.com

Well you may be thinking I’m over exaggerating or embellishing when I say I cried for 3 months, but I’ve gotta tell you…this is pretty damn accurate.

No one actually ever told me how hard, difficult and demoralising being a teacher could be.  I’ll be honest I started my teaching degree when I was a bit older (24) and really only decided to do it because a friend I went to school with was studying to be a teacher and he raved about how easy it was to study and how awesome the holidays were.  I know….pretty good reasons to become a teacher right?

Well let’s just say that when I actually started my course and went out on prac I realised that it wasn’t all roses and going to be a breeze, but guess what…I really liked it.  I really enjoyed being in the class, sharing my ideas with my students and learning with them.

I did quite well at Uni and loved studying, but oh my gosh I was so excited when I graduated and couldn’t wait until I had my very first classroom.  I was so looking forward to setting up my room and planning lessons.  I had so many great ideas and couldn’t wait to share them with my students.

In Australia we finish the school year in December and start up again in late January, or early February.  Usually teachers find out if they have a teaching job the year before, but sometimes it’s not until just before the new school year starts.

Well, my big entrance to the teaching profession went downhill from here, and by the time I got into my classroom, it was the longest 10 weeks of my life.

I found out that I had a job on the Thursday before school was supposed to begin on Monday.  Talk about stressful and a great way to make me feel sick, and to top it off I had to move from Perth all the way to South Hedland, about 1600km north of Perth.  I don’t understand why they do this to teachers and especially put this pressure on a graduate teacher.  Not only was I expected to pack up my life and move to a completely new location, all within 4 days, but I also had to plan and decide what I would teach.  Well that was the start of the crying.  I think lack of sleep was probably the main contributing factor for so many tears for the ensuing 3 months.

There are many teachers out there that say they work hard and other people don’t know what it’s like to be a teacher.  Before I became a teacher I had many careers, I was a telemarketer, owned my own lunchbar/deli, was a manager at Dick Smith Electronics and started an auto electrical apprenticeship.  Owning your own business at 18…now that is bloody hard.  Often I was left wondering if I’d have enough money to pay the bills and I worked 7 days a week for 12 hours a day for months to get the business up and going, definitely hard work.

But teaching…..that’s an altogether different kind of hard.  It’s emotionally draining, when you start it’s all you can think about, it’s all consuming, so much thought and effort is put in to all parts of the lesson, that when it doesn’t go to plan….it’s absolutely devastating.  I had this for 3 months, mixed with the lack of sleep…the only way I coped was to cry.

I think my boyfriend thought I was having a nervous breakdown.  He was often telling me to just stop and take some time out.  He couldn’t understand why I stayed at school till 5pm after getting there at 6:30am, and then worked until bed time when I got home.  He just didn’t understand.

One of the other big factors that contributed to the crying was the isolation I felt during that first term at school.  It really is quite disgusting what they do to graduate teachers.  These are teachers who have just finished 4 years at university learning how to be the best that they can be to educate the future generations.  But, guess what, they don’t know it all; study can only prepare you for so much.  And yet when they are given their first class it is usually the toughest class with the most problems, and the students that none of the other teachers wanted to take on.  Well you may think that it’s better to sink or swim, but this is where we’re going wrong.

It’s definitely not better to sink or swim and as recent reports show more than 40% of teachers leave within the first 5 years of becoming a teacher.  And it’s usually due to lack of support, such as placing new teachers in tough situations with little to no support.  Maybe this is telling us that how we treat our graduate teachers is not really working.  To this day….I’m still surprised that I stayed past that first term.

Boy did I have one tough class.  I’ve written about some of this in my Tales From a First Year Teacher series, but even now so many years on I still cringe at that first experience of being a teacher.

I was out in a fibro shack totally detached from the main school buildings, with one of the toughest kids in the school.  Behaviours from this kid ranged from running across the top of the desks, climbing the cupboards to sit on the top, catching cockroaches and cutting their heads off with scissors, using headphones to place around other student’s necks and try to strangle them, some of the most colourful language I’ve ever heard, running away from school most days, sniffing petrol in the toilets, smoking and I could probably keep going on and on.

It was so bloody hard to like this kid.  And being all bright eyed and bushy tailed, I pulled out all the tricks in the book that I had learnt at Uni to try and help him with his learning.  I had the best behaviour and educational plans, I used all the low key responses and went through the various stages.  We used different contracts and had reward systems that he chose, but all to no avail.  I would send him to the office, so that the students and I could have a break, but 5 minutes in the office for a talk and he was back again.  It was relentless and f@#ing gruelling!

I tried so hard to make the first few weeks of school fun and engaging and I acted like I was totally together and had it completely under control.  But you know what, I was only fooling myself.  It got to about Week 5 when I finally got up the courage to approach my principal to ask for help.  I didn’t think I could go on anymore.  This was a big step for me asking for help…I didn’t want to admit that I couldn’t do it or that I couldn’t cope.  So when I finally made the decision to go and see him, I felt relieved…but you know what, the response was totally demoralising.

I was told, with a pat on the shoulder, “don’t worry about it, you’re doing a great job!”  I think I was in shock and stunned and didn’t really understand.  I was on the verge of tears telling him about how I needed more support and I wasn’t coping and I was told I was doing fine.  Well by the time I got home I was a bit hysterical and it took quite some time for my boyfriend to understand what was wrong.  I think he did the best thing ever, and told me to have a sick day the next day and just take some time to myself.  I argued till I was blue in the face with him, that I couldn’t let my kids down and I’d only just started, I couldn’t possibly have a sick day this early in the term.  But that’s just what I did.  And boy did that make me feel better.

At about this same time we were still living in the temporary accommodation (motel) because there were no houses available.  I finally got the phone call I had been waiting for to tell me there was a house available.  Both my boyfriend and I were pretty excited, so we trotted off to check it out.

Well, talk about another kick in the guts, you should have seen the house that they wanted to put us in.  I thought it was strange when the person on the phone told me that the teacher who left said it was okay and to not worry about the look of the street, as generally the neighbours were pretty good.

I think it was probably the worst street in the whole of South Hedland.  When we first turned onto the street my boyfriend and I looked at each other, and by the time we got to the house….well let’s just say I was in tears again.  It was like my fibro shack classroom, placed on stilts in a dirt paddock, with the old noisy air conditioners.

There was no way I was going to be living in this dump.  When I rang to tell them I wasn’t going to be living there I was quite surprised at the pressure they put on me to take it.  They implied there was nothing else and that this was quite acceptable.  They kept harping on at me that the other teacher that was there said it was fine! Well if that’s the case then why did she leave? So I managed to get her phone number from them to talk to her about it.  Mmmm let’s just say that her version of living there was not great.  Apparently new neighbours had moved in and there were parties, fights and noise at all hours of the night and she’s had to call the police on many occasions.  Once I relayed this it didn’t take long for them to happen to find something else, amazing considering nothing was available the day before.

Things pretty much continued on the same way for the remainder of the term, with some ups but many downs.  The one shining light in the disastrous entrance to teaching was the friends that I made in that first year.  There were some other new teachers there that became close friends and we helped support each other through that first experience of being a teacher.

But guess what?  The tears did eventually get better…. It was getting towards the end of the term and the other new teacher that I started with decided that he couldn’t hack being a teacher and quit at the end of the first term.  I took this opportunity and decided I wanted his classroom.  It was in the main part of the school and right next door to one of the other teachers I had become really good friends with.  That’s when things started to turn around.  My principal actually agreed to the move so during the school holidays my boyfriend and teaching neighbour helped me move my class ready for a new beginning in Term 2.

So did the tears stop in Term 2…. Well not completely.  I still had a total lack of support from the administration, but having my teaching buddy next door definitely made it manageable.

 

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23 Responses to Why I Cried Every Day For The First 3 Months Of My Teaching Career

  1. Hi Mel
    I have been teaching for over 40 years and sadly can relate to everything you and other teachers have said. I have many stories just like yours and I guess I kept going because I always thought I would ‘get on top of things’ and next time I would deal with ‘things’ better. In some ways this was true as I developed new skills and strategies which work very well in the classroom. The really sad thing is that in the interests of self preservation [and rightfully so] some wonderful teachers have been lost to Education and the students.
    You are continuing to make a wonderful contribution and difference to teachers and students through your blog and I have found your posts to be very helpful.
    Thanks for your efforts!
    Margaret

    • Hey Margaret,

      Thank you so much for your comment and sharing some of your experience with us. Wow 40 years as an educator is outstanding, and it’s so nice to hear how you developed your skills over that time. Although, it is such a shame that there are stories like ours….many good teachers have left because of it!

      I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying my posts and that they are helpful 🙂
      Cheers
      Mel

  2. Hi Melinda, I just discovered your blog, what a fabulous resource! I’m a new homeschooling mum and am always looking for lots of new ideas and resources, so glad I found yours :-).

    I really enjoyed this post and really felt for you. I cannot understand the lack of support for new teachers. I completed a dip ed in secondary education back in 1999. The school I did my prac at was so difficult and really sapped all my enthusiasm for teaching high school students. Then upon graduating the department offered me one of the most difficult schools in the state – teacher stabbings, violence, gangs, zero respect from the students for women. I knew what I was capable of…and I knew I could not survive teaching at such a school, so that was it for me. I went back to a career in finance once again. I know I’m not alone – so many potentially good teachers are lost because of similar circumstances, it is quite ridiculous.

    • Hey Lynda,

      Welcome and thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment 😀

      Oh dear, sounds like you also had a pretty shocking start to your teaching career. It is such a shame that they do this to new teachers, and I know many a teacher who has left because of similar stories.

      I had a little peek at your blog, and noticed you’re also a fellow Aussie. It sounds like you’ve now got your hands full blogging, being a Mummy and homeschooling as well.
      I hope you enjoy the tips and resources I share.

      Cheers
      Mel

  3. […] “These kids were operating at the edge of what was humanly bearable and brought it all into the classroom. It was hell. I went to admin to get advice and it was as if I had hit a brick wall….. I was confused and wondered whether I should be able to cope without assistance after I had taught for a year, I started to feel inadequate and stressed. When I made another attempt to ask for help I was told to be more consistent with my behavior management.”  – from Why I Cried Every Day For The First 3 Months Of My Teaching Career. […]

  4. Do you think I should be a teacher if I like teaching, but I don´t like little kids (7 to 12)? I mean, I don´t like to be like a nanny. I mean, I already had some experiences in my 1st semester of education and I found it very hard because they are very undisciplined. What´s your advice?

  5. Hi Melinda,

    I took over a class 7 weeks ago and since then parents of my Y7&8 students have regularly phoned and emailed the D.P. to make complaints about me. These same parents email me 2+ times a week complaining about myself and also write me notes in their kids diaries.
    Last week one of my parents, the 3rd set of parents in 2 weeks, requested that the D.P & I met with them to discuss their child. Now this particular child has lied to my face, doesn’t bother to complete her/his work, has glued in 2, yes 2 maths worksheets in 7 weeks, talks whenever she/he likes and has even left the school property without permission. These parents informed the D.P. that I hate their child, don’t trust her/him, that the child now dreads coming to school (and I don’t?), is slipping back in maths and her/his spelling is worst too. Thankfully the D.P. had seen the child’s attitude towards me and backed me up but revoked all my consequences that I was using on the advice of my tutor teacher and syndicate leader. I was unable to explain that this particular child simply couldn’t ‘be bothered’ to complete the work which is why she is falling behind. So frustrating!

    On Saturday night I checked my school email and cried for about an hour after reading a very nasty email from a parent. I don’t understand how it is possible for someone to judge a stranger so quickly!

    The parental lack of trust is affecting my students and now I’ve had to get the D.P. to make regular visits to my classroom in an effort to get the class on my side again.
    The other two teachers in my syndicate are fantastic but it would be lovely to wake up and actually get through a whole day without a headache or sore neck from stress. Its horrid. I’m making some headway – one student has gone from 78 callouts (and I overlooked the rest) in one day to an average of 15 in a day but I’m counting down to the school holidays – hopefully the rest of my year will be better.

    Thanks for your blog,
    Helen

    • Hi Helen,

      Thanks for sharing your story and I’m sorry to hear that you’re having such a hard time.

      The one thing that jumps out at me that is in your control and that you can change…is to try and switch off from it all on the weekends. Do not check your school email; you need to give yourself some away time. Whatever is sent by a parent to you over the weekend will still be there on Monday, so there’s no point in worrying about it until then.

      I’m glad to hear that you have the support of two other teachers; I think this is really important. Remember to ask them for help!

      Also the smallest achievement with some kids is huge, so that is definitely a success.

      I hope you enjoy your well-deserved holidays and the rest of the year improves for you!
      Good luck
      Mel

  6. Re: above post

    By the way, neither the principal nor the deputy principal said a word during that meeting, they just sat there and watched how the parent abused me. I walked out of there beaten and very upset. Later on the principal came to my classrom and asked whether I was ok, I said no I wasn’t. I was given a business card with a phone number for a psych service which depressed teachers can ring to get support!

    Yvonne

    • Hi Yvonne,

      Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment and share your story so candidly. I am sorry that you went through the experience of an unsupportive administration when meeting with a parent. This is exactly the time that you need the support of your Principal and Deputy. But unfortunately this is all too common for teachers.

      I think you have fully highlighted the importance of having a supportive administration. When there is a lack of support coping with challenging situations and behaviours can become unbearable and this is one of the main reasons that teachers leave the profession.

      I was also the same as you, after that first year I managed to do the first term the following year and then I also needed to take a break and couldn’t stand the thought of going back into the classroom. But, eventually the ‘fear’ did go away and I ventured back in the classroom for Term 4 as a specialist teacher for music and literacy. It was an extremely positive experience and great not to have the total responsibility of my own classroom. I’m sure with time your fear will become less severe and you will want to venture back in the class.

      Hedland is an interesting place to teach, you have both Port Hedland and South Hedland. I taught at 2 of the schools in South Hedland. I’ve also taught in Karratha and by far Hedland was much harder (but not necessarily harder than where you have already been). In saying that though, the teachers and moral of staff in Hedland is very positive. Some of my closest friends are the teachers that I taught with in Hedland. Hedland is the place to meet some fantastic people and it’s very social. If you’d like some more specific information on the schools, then I’m more than happy for you to email me at: melinda@topnotchteaching.com.

      Good luck Yvonne and thanks so much for sharing your story.

      Cheers
      Mel

  7. Sorry everyone, I hit the wrong key and the post was sent before I had finished editing it. Can I still edit it now?

    Anyhow, in the end it was parents of other students in the class who went to the principal and demanded that I get some support. The parents knew those difficult kids for years and they saw how hard I tried to get some sort of order in the classroom so I could teach. In the end I got another teacher to help me in the class for the last 4 weeks of the term, she was an experienced teacher and she thought I deserved a medal for turning up each day. I prided myself for not having taken any sick days, but I realise in retrospect maybe that was the wrong thing to do.

    Before the end of term I told the deputy that I was not continuing on, and she seemed surprised!! It was purely self-preservation, I’m not a quitter, but I have a family to look after and this was completely swallowing me up. The next term I was so sick I was unable to work, so I had no income. That was last year and since then I have been doing relief work, I’m simply too scared to get myself into another horrible situation. I’m still getting over all this.

    Now it looks like my husband is getting a job in Port Headland and we might be moving up there. What is it like to do relief up in Port Headland? We are flying up there on the 5th of June to have look. I wonder is it worse than anywhere else?

    Yvonne

  8. Hi Melinda,

    your experience mirrors mine in so many ways! I’m a ‘mature age’ new Primary teacher and I live 1 hours drive north of Perth with my husband and 2 teenage daughters. In my first year I didn’t get a job until term 3 teaching Italian in a Perth northern suburb to Year 7 and 8s. I was the fourth teacher for the year, all the others had left because it was so awful, but I didn’t know that then. Lucky it was only two days per week and I stuck it out till the end of the year, but it was pretty awful in terms of student behaviour.

    In my next year I taught a year 7 class in a wheat belt town, I got the job in the afternoon before term started and I had 2 hours to organise the classroom and no teaching preparation whatsoever. I had the most challenging kid in the school in my class and later another child who assaulted other kids in class. During this year though I had great support from admin and although it was very hard, I felt I could do it since I had the support.

    The year after that I was given a Year 6 class in the same school for the first term with the view of possibly having them all year (a teacher was having a knee operation). I thought I was prepared for anything after my experiences so far, but I was wrong. I had 5 kids in my class who came from very broken homes, some had the DCP involved and some should have. One kid was literally starving. These kids were operating at the edge of what was humanly bearable and brought it all into the classroom. It was hell. I went to admin to get advice and it was as if I had hit a brickwall. We got a new principal at the beginning of the year and everything had changed. I was confused and wondered whether I should be able to cope without assistance after I had taught for a year, I started to feel inadeaquate and stressed. When I made anothr attempt to ask for help I was told to be more consistent with my behaviour management. I did that and the result was that one parent, a drug addicted single mother complained to the school thaI was picking on her son, a kid that was known in the school for years for being upside down under his desk, refusing to do any work or following any instructions. A meeting was lined up between this parent, the principal, the deputy and myself and I was promised that once the mother starts hurling abusive language at me, the meeting will be terminated. I had no idea what to expect, but I somehow thought that the principal would somehow support me. During the meeting the parent let loose a hateful tirade against me, complete with the ‘bitchy’ staredown attempt, what a horrible teacher I was and that her sone doesn’t want to go to scholl be

    In One difference is that I didn’t cry, instead I got sick. Among many other healthsues I would wake up 3-4 times each night unable to breathe, I had ongoing night mares, I dropped two dress sizes and ground my teeth so hard when sleeping that I cracked a root of one of my teeth.

  9. OMG i feel for u so much i lived in hedland for three years i went to primary school in port but i went to high school in south and i feel for you, your amazing

    • Hey Jodie,

      Haha I’m sure you can completely relate to ‘how it is’ up in Hedland then 😉 I often wondered how it was for the other students in the class when the teacher was distracted with coping/dealing with so many behavioural problems…

  10. Hi Melinda, thanks for sharing. I’m a new teacher in Australia and can relate to how you felt at the time. New teachers are definitely not prepared for the work load of teaching, and society does not understand the pressure. Luckily I love my job!

    • Hi Katie,

      To be honest, I don’t know what became of him. I only stayed at the school for 1 year then had to move schools, and then I left the town so lost touch. But after that first term his attendance at school slowly dwindled and I think he was rarely attending towards the end of the year. Very sad really, often when he did come to school I just let him sleep on the cushions in our reading corner, as he was so tired….

      Thanks for your question
      Mel

        • Hi Katie,

          Well where I am now is much harder…..I’m a Mum to a Little Miss Three. I do this full time at the moment and work part time on my blog and at a University. So yes I have support with being a Mum and yes I like where I am now 😉

          But over the years, after that first year, I have had various levels of support from the different schools. But, I would say it has never been as bad as it was in that first year. Maybe that’s also because I knew more and persisted with asking for help when I needed it.

          Thanks for asking!
          Mel

  11. Melinda, I absolutely love your raw honesty in this post. Being honest myself, I didn’t even finish my Dip Ed, due to the lack of support I saw during my prac (I ended up in adult education)!

    So much is demanded of graduate teachers and little support provided. A timely quote shared with me this morning makes a good point about the lack of value placed in teachers in Australia –

    “Professional development is strongly emphasized in Finland and teachers are viewed as respected professionals.

    Fact. This is a two-fold question. Professional growth is viewed necessary for teachers, but usually they have much independence in deciding about their PD. Elementary teachers must have a M.Ed. with major in education and a minor in multi-disciplinary school subjects and another minor in a chosen subject. Teachers are part of the academia, and their professional opinion about learning is respected. Usually teaching is the chosen career, not a stepping stone to something else.”

    Loved your post and can’t wait to read more!

    Kate

    • Thanks for stopping by Kate and sharing your experience of teaching with us. It’s such a shame to hear when teachers don’t get through their studies and the first few years of teaching due to lack of support. This to me is fundamental and a necessity; we need to look after the well-being of our teachers and keep the great ones, and something that needs to change in Australia if we want our students to flourish.

      Thanks for sharing the quote, I also read an article on Finland’s education system today and the value by society placed on teachers is a breath of fresh air. Find the article here: http://www.weareteachers.com/hot-topics/special-reports/teaching-around-the-world/finlands-a-plus-schools

      Cheers
      Mel

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