Sometimes, teaching flat out sucks.
I woke up in a miserable freakin’ mood this morning. I mean, really, really mad. There wasn’t any real trigger. I’m just tired from only getting six hours of sleep each night this week, hungry from dieting, and absolutely dreading having to work three hours at my second job after I finish a long Friday at my teaching job.
I wish I had some happy-go-lucky “Here’s What I Do When I’m Stressed Out” listicle for you. Maybe some trick for exactly how much lavender oil you need to diffuse in your classroom to make these emotions go away. But I don’t. That’s not really how life works, anyway, right? What happens when you wake up, feeling awful, knowing full well you’ll be going to bed late (again), tired (some more), and broke (like always)? You do what you have to do, and you get shit done anyway.
Teachers don’t get enough credit for showing up and doing the work, even when it’s hard.
Showing Up is Sometimes the Hardest Part of Teaching
If I worked in an office of adults, I could go to work looking bedraggled. I could hover around the coffee machine and bitch to my coworkers. I could explain to my office mates about the lack of sleep, being behind on Netflix, and apologize self-righteously for not looking as *fabulous* as I normally do.
The griping would be normal. My coworkers and I might even bond as we do it.
But when you’re a teacher, those aren’t options. Even the best lesson plans, most organized classrooms, and all the color-coded binders in the world (*note, you’ll see none of the above in my classroom), can’t shake a bad mood.
All you can do is grit your teeth, smile, and fake it for your students. And you have to fake it for your students.
My kids walk, sometimes a mile through cold weather to get to school. They come from abusive households, poverty, and downright crummy parenting. They have boyfriend/girlfriend issues. Some are in the closet, worried about their peers or their parents’ judgments. Some are facing drug or gang issues–addiction, being worried about being jumped on their way to school, or even stressing that someone will discover the drugs in their backpacks.
The last thing these kids need is my stress or my crappy attitude polluting the one place that’s supposed to be healthy and safe.
So We Show Up Anyway
When my alarm went off, and rage filled me, I got up anyway.
Perhaps the only tip I can give you when you’re having an off day is to stick to routines.
I could have skipped the gym this morning in favor of an extra half hour of sleep, but then instead of being mad at the world, I would have been mad at myself, which feels infinitely worse.
I texted my best friend and ranted, and halfway through my squats the edge of my anger had subsided a little. At least I’m not angry that I missed a workout, too.
I got to work, stole an extra cup of coffee from the guidance office, and put on my teaching mask.
(Ok, the second tip for when you’re having a bad teaching day? Coffee. Always more coffee.)
Did I do a great job of teaching today? Absolutely not.
After poking one student three times, I gave up and let him sleep through his quiz. Two of my ELL students may have been cheating in the back corner, but if they’re helping each other puzzle through foreign texts and bridging the language gap between their native tongue and the snaking metaphors of Ray Bradbury, aren’t they still learning?
My teaching was not exemplary; on Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching, I am a solid 2: Basic. Thank goodness there were no surprise observations.
But when it came to the important things–building my students’ confidence, creating relationships, not being one more crappy adult in a world full of crappy adults–I did my best.
Students Don’t Need Perfection
I stood outside and greeted my students by name and with a smile.
When a student proudly showed off the food he made in Culinary Skills, I admired his presentation and complimented his choice of tripling the recommended amount of hot sauce. I listened to long-winded stories about last night’s dreams and last night’s basketball game.
And when my student, who I berate for her foul language everyday, yelled, “Go suck a big, black sock!” and looked at me proudly for her self-censorship… well, it was progress.
By the time third block came in and two students were “sick dancing”–dancing and grooving in class and bonding because they both happened to come to school ill which was apparently was worth dancing for–I was laughing with the kids.
Am I looking forward to Friday afternoon’s meetings? Not at all.
Do I wish I could go home and snuggle with my dog before falling asleep at 7 pm? Absolutely. I mean, teaching still kind of sucks sometimes.
But I will go to the meeting and try to look attentive. I will race home to feed and walk my dog before then racing to clock in at job #2. I will do my best to keep my sass in check… at least around the customers.
The worse of my attitude has ebbed away, but I can’t say that my students or teaching have completely turned it around.
So, What Do We Do When Teaching Sucks?
As teachers, we are given the unfair task of being forced to put our own bullshit to the side and raise children that are not ours. It is emotionally draining, putting our own needs, thoughts, and feeling to the side, for at least 40 hours a week. (Heaven help those of you that then must go home and tend to the needs of your own offspring.)
I should probably end with something inspirational–how teaching is a noble calling, how we are molding the next generation, how decades from now adults will owe their success to us–but that kind of self-serving fluff isn’t really my point.
My point is that teachers are damn strong people. In order to survive this profession (success is never the goal–it’s really only ever survival), you have to be emotionally resilient.
You need to have the strength to compartmentalize pain, anger, and heartbreak, while also allowing yourself to be emotionally vulnerable to the needs of your students–these adolescents you don’t know or choose, yet have been entrusted in your care.
Teachers are the strongest people I know. If you’re doing your job right, your students will never know how much of a badass you are, for them, each and every day.
Need more inspiration? Read The Hate U Give: The Most Important Book I Ever Taught.
Burned on the terrible hours and crummy pay of teaching? Try How I Made $1000 in my Sixth Month Selling on Teachers Pay Teachers.
Just need some lesson plans to get through the week? Try my Teachers Pay Teachers store.