This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
As I completed my fifth year of teaching, it occurred to me that I had survived the curse and beaten the statistic that half of all new teachers quit within their first five years.
Although I find it much more honorable to recognize teachers who have made education their life’s work, I breathed a sigh of relief at five years and reflected on what I have learned that will sustain me in the next 25.
Confession #1: I have sat at a blank computer screen after midnight searching for inspiration for lesson plans.
This is the kind of flashback from year one that turns my stomach. It is painful to recollect the anxiety and stress of that first year, but doing so also reminds me how far I’ve come.
I realize that I was creative and willing to take risks my first year, but I also had poor time management and basically worked around the clock. Quality lesson planning takes time, but it’s also a process that gets easier. Since that first year, I’ve learned the benefit of consulting other resources (primarily teachers with great ideas).
Confession #2: I have entered into power struggles with children – and lost.
Expect to be disappointed if you attempt to confront a student who is trying to save face, defend a friend, or exercise their right to be an angry teenager. The more I learn about the social, developmental, and emotional needs of adolescents, the less I find myself in absurd arguments over pencils.
Confession #3: I drive home most days feeling like a crappy teacher.
There is at least one thing each day that makes me think, “Well, I screwed that up big time” or “I could have handled that much better.” I say this because I believe it’s important to resist the teacher-hero archetype and realize that most good teachers fail.
The process of becoming a better teacher is sometimes painful. Still, it’s comforting to know that I don’t have all the answers yet, and there is time to become the teacher I want to be.
Confession #4: I have thought about quitting.
Teaching is an incredibly taxing job. Friends have taken higher-paying jobs with less stress and continued education required, and it can be discouraging. While others remind me of the perks of having summers off, there really has to be greater incentives.
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 keeps me coming back. Of everyone I know who has left teaching, not a single person attributes his decision to students. 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, but most days I get home physically and emotionally exhausted. I marvel at how teachers with families manage both full-time jobs. I’m worried that at a certain point, 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.