This is the hard one to write. Being honest with yourself is hard enough… being honest to the world is unnerving. Also I am reminding myself that once I get through this I can write about the GOOD.
What was the ugly part of this school year? First semester was the ugly part. I am not sure much of first semester was good for me other than I was going through something I had never gone through before and it was making me a better person and educator even though I had no idea at the time.
- The feeling of being alone. I was caught between a rock and a hard place. I was no longer a District Office employee and now a teacher not quite a part of the school family. As I mentioned in The Bad, there was a lot of speculation on why I left the big pay to go back to the trenches. Everyone was busy doing their own thing. I was not a first year teacher so there wasn’t this urge to check on me to make sure I was alright. Not many people even said hello when you walked by. That was disheartening to me. At first, no one even offered a sample syllabus to show me expectations of the school. I don’t fault anyone for things like this that happened but it helped me realize I need to make sure the next new person has the support he or she needs even if its just a hello as I walk by. I tried to make sure I always spoke to people or at least eye contact and a smile. We all have our quirks and come with baggage just like our students. I learned that it is just as important to make the environment as comfortable for the adults as the students. I think it was early November when I was on the elevator with another teacher. (I worked with her years ago at another school.) She asked me how I was doing, I said ok but sometimes I sat in my car and cried before work. She looked at me and said, “I have done the same thing in the last week.” The teacher continued to tell me how hard this year had been for her and not like any other. That moment made me feel a little stronger. I knew it wasn’t just me.
- Never being able to catch up. I had this fear that I was never going to have enough time to get ahead of my students. I will be quite honest, at the beginning of the year I spent an ungodly amount of time playing around and decorating my classroom when I needed to create lessons or at least be reading content. I didn’t know where to start. I was already feeling overwhelmed with what I had to learn that I just did what I knew how to do. I created pretty things for me classroom. All the while knowing this was going to put me in a bad spot once school started. Once school did start, I didn’t have time to learn content, grade, eat, take care of my family, or even spend time with my family. I found myself falling further behind and I didn’t know what to do. I broke down a number of times in my car, at the kitchen table, in bed, etc. I have always known what to do and how to do it. I didn’t know how to get out of this pattern.
- WTF moments. That moment on the first day of school when you thought you were ready for your block classes. I kept thinking I have 2 block classes that is 90 minute classes. NOPE. I realized on the first day of school block classes are 107 minutes (1 hour 46 minutes) long. I looked at the schedule a million times and never did the math. The first day makes or breaks a teacher and in my mind I completely #failed with not having enough planned for the entire time. I know this set my 1st semester block classes a little off kilter. I never gained the authority I needed in those classes. That was a shock to my core. I NEVER had classroom management issues in my previous teaching experience. Other WTF moments: When Student Learning Objectives (SLO) were introduced. My entire educational career I used an evaluation system called Goals Based Evaluation (GBE). It was relatively easy to follow but SLOs were enraging the faculty (me included) because it was just another hoop we had to jump through.
- The October Incident. Let’s see if I can explain this one in a few words. Student Resource Officer is filmed throwing a student across the classroom. I watched this event unfold WORLDWIDE within 6 hours of the occurrence. No one had the facts but it was being reported EVERYWHERE. This rocked our school to it’s core. I am not going to get in to what is right or wrong or the layers of the incident. What I am going to talk about is what the incident did to me as a teacher. It made me not only second guess but third guess myself as I disciplined students. I used cellphones in my classroom for educational purposes. I wondered, how many times have students used it to video me just in case anything crazy happened? I watched a young lady at a pep rally as a teacher demanded she give up her ID (because she was being disrespectful) pull out her phone and begin recording the interchange between her and the teacher. After the incident, no one came in to give us tools for our toolbox on how to react to situations like this. The hardest part about this was as a teacher, I felt alone and isolated. We were told don’t talk to anyone about this. It is under investigation. At the same time we see parents and students all over the news talking about it. Not that I wanted to talk to anyone in the media but I wanted someone above the school level to say,”I am sorry this happened. What do you need to help?” or “This is what you need to do.”
- The anxiety, stress, and prescription meds. The self-imposed expectations stress, the 1000 year flood (weather event in the area), the October Incident, and me questioning everything about who I was led me down a path I have never been before. I was so stressed and anxiety ridden that I couldn’t breathe at times. When asked about school I would have to hold back the tears. I kept thinking, “it’s not supposed to be this way.” “Why is this happening to me?” “This used to be a job that I loved.” “What am I going to do now?” I lost 23 lbs in 8 weeks. I wasn’t eating. Then one night, I broke. I literally broke.
My husband wanted to take me out to dinner. We left the house around 6pm. The restaurant we decided to go to was packed and I didn’t want to wait to eat. I wanted to eat quickly because I had work to do at home. As we walked down Main Street. I lost it. All I kept thinking about was how long we were going to be out and I was going to get my work done. I wanted to throw up. I wasn’t going to be ready for school the next day. As we walked to find another place to eat, I just started crying. I told my husband I couldn’t do this and needed to go home. It was the first time I saw fear and worry in my husband’s eyes. When we got home I curled up in a fetal position on the couch and wouldn’t talk. I just cried. He asked me to please talk to someone. In my mind, I didn’t want to talk to anyone because I would have to admit defeat. I wasn’t going to do that.
Before I talked to any of my friends, I went to the doctor and talked about my stress and anxiety. The doctor put me on Effexor. She didn’t want me making any decisions until the meds were in my system and I was moving out of the darkness. I was never going to be a teacher who had to take an anti-depressant/anti-anxiety medicine to be able to teach. Guess what? In December 2015, I became ‘one of those teachers.’ I felt this was a failure. The meds did help. I felt their relief within 7 days. The medicine helped me focus and remember why I was teaching. The medicine took away my fears. I was able to get my work done and focus on my family without feeling like I was not letting anyone down. I am proud to say, I am off the medicine and only used them for 3 months.
I made a lot of rookie mistakes this year. I beat myself up for a lot of them and that is what led me down the spiraling path of anxiety and stress. My expectations for myself were much higher than others for me. A big learning moment for me is to roll with the punches. Know that I am going to make mistakes but know that is ok. I know I am a great teacher. I just had to find her again.
One thing I found out as I was going through all of this is … this story is not just mine. A lot of teachers go through similar fears/anxieties. A book that helped me was See Me After Class. I will talk more about the book and other good things in my next post, #Year17Year1: The Good.