“Did you hear the bell?” That’s what my officemate asked me right before I stepped into my first classroom as a high school teacher.
Let me set the scene. In my high school, the English teachers had shared offices and traveled to our shared classrooms to teach our classes. So there I was, with my red pushcart loaded with supplies for the day, ready to walk down the hall to face a classroom full of high school freshman, most of whom probably didn’t want to be in an English class at 8:00am.
“Yes, I heard the bell.” And with a quick prayer, I was on my way.
I prayed a lot that first year of teaching high school. And when I say a lot, I am not conveying the frequency or the intensity of my prayer life. I prayed minute by minute for guidance and strength. I prayed before I left my house and on the drive to work. I prayed before first period. I prayed during first period. And all the periods. I prayed during lunch and during my planning period. I prayed after school, often laying hands on every desk and chair in my classrooms asking God’s blessings on everyone who filled those seats. I prayed on the drive home from work. I prayed all evening long. I probably prayed in my sleep.
I didn’t just pray for myself, though. I prayed for my colleagues and administration. I prayed for the district. I prayed for safety and a good learning environment. And I prayed, of course, for my students – each one by name, every single day, including weekends.
I lasted a little over a year as a high school teacher. It was the most demanding, stressful, intense, and sadly, soul-crushing, job I’ve ever had.
I didn’t leave because of my students. I loved them. To be honest, I still do. They were smart and fun and funny and helped me see life in new ways and pushed my thinking and feeling and brought me joy. I think of them often and wonder how they’re doing, and I’ll send up some prayers for them still, even though I haven’t seen them in a few years.
I didn’t leave because of lack of resources. I taught in an affluent district, where the photocopiers were plentiful and rarely broken. In short, working in my district was most teachers’ dream job.
Ultimately I left because being a classroom teacher wasn’t for me. I love students and love to serve them and support my colleagues. I wasn’t born to live a life dictated by bells. Each bell jarred me from one task to another, from one train of thought to another, from one room to another. I hated grading. I spent all of my time away from work either grading or feeling guilty for not grading. Oh, and planning lessons. If I wasn’t grading or riddled with anxiety about not grading, I was planning lessons or worrying about planning lessons. I became so stressed that eventually I couldn’t eat or sleep. I was losing weight, losing hair, and, to be honest, losing my grip on reality.
Like I said, I don’t think being a classroom teacher was for me, but that may have been because I didn’t see myself achieving a path beyond it. It’s completely possible to work in a high school in a capacity that isn’t a classroom teacher, and quite frankly, those roles interested me and I think would have better suited me. But there was no way to get to them without being a successful classroom teacher. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. But it is a hard one.
Accordingly, I do think that if I had received more support before and during my first year as I high school teacher, I would have learned how to better deal with the daily pressures that plagued me.
St. Louis Public Schools (SLPS) is considering instituting a teacher residency program that is designed to do just that. In this program, new teachers would spend a full school year embedded in the classroom of a veteran teacher to shadow that teacher and learn about the daily realities of teaching.
The Teacher Residency program, if instituted, hopes to reduce teacher turnover through preparation and mentorship. After completing the residency year, new teachers would commit to teaching in the SLPS district for at least three years. For more information, check out St. Louis Public Radio’s article “St. Louis area schools look at new teacher residency program to reduce turnover.”
I don’t think this program will be a panacea. I also don’t think it should or would replace teacher preparation programs that include apprentice teaching. But I do think it’s a good idea.
And I believe that for a teacher like me, who followed an alternate route to certification, and who was too busy drowning to know what help to ask for, a program like this might have made the difference between a short-lived job as a teacher and a career in secondary education.