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.
Get Email Updates
Would you like more great teaching tips and to save time? Sign up and grab the FREE Classroom Games Cheat-Sheets. Enter your name and email and hit 'Sign Up.'