I had some really interesting classes in college -- and I still remember some of the important things my professors told me along the way. The importance of the first week of the year (teachers... remember that book?!) - how to set up classroom routines - planning with objectives - reading standards - making modifications and accommodations. The list goes on. No matter where you went to school, and no matter what you teach, somewhere along your preparation path, you heard these same things.
But, there are things they don't tell you.
I'm not sure if it's unintentional (it just never fits into a syllabus) or completely intentional (so that you aren't scared away from the job!) But, there are many things you will never know until you start teaching. To be honest, even if a peer or teacher told you these things along the way, you wouldn't believe them... until you lived them. And you WILL live every single one of them sometime.
This week for me has been a week full of the things they don't tell you. Yes, after teaching for 5 years, I have seen them all already. But, they still have a way of sneaking up on you and reminding you of the unexpected and utterly unpredictable nature of this job.
- You're going to get your heart broken. This was by far the hardest one for me to swallow. And, no, I'm not "hardened" to it yet. I still get my heart broken -- every year. In fact - I never will be, and I know that's part of what makes up the kind of teacher I am. It doesn't matter if you teach in the inner-city or out in the 'burbs... kids and their sad, sad, uncontrollable lives are going to break your heart. Maybe teachers who head into inner-city schools are more prepared for the heart break. I doubt it, but maybe. But, I can tell you that when I started teaching in a middle-class neighborhood in the best district in Omaha, I was not prepared for the heartache I would drag home with me. It follows me around like a shadow every year. You're going to get your heart broken.
- A kid is going to throw up on you. Yep. It's going to happen. Even if you don't have your own children, you will end up rubbing the back of a tiny little guy holding a trash can during the Valentine's Day party. If you teach at my school, this happened to nearly everyone yesterday (and if not on you, dangerously close to you). A kid is going to throw up on (or by) you.
- You went into this job to work with kids. Surprise: you get to deal with parents an equal (if not more) amount of time. Find the joy in it and build relationships. This is my biggest regret from my first year or two of teaching -- I didn't engage the parents and build relationships like I do now. No, not everyone is going to love you. And, no, not every teacher is going to like working with parents. But, it's something you have to embrace or it will drag you down. It's an inevitable and integral part of the job (that no one prepares you for). You are going to deal with parents.
- Said parents are going to attack you. That might sound harsh, but there's no way to sugar-coat it. You are going to encounter parents that are going to attack, insult, and criticize you in every way they can. Nothing is safe -- your wardrobe, your intelligence, your style of teaching -- they will attack anything they can to get to you. NOW, I have had the pleasure of working with some of the most amazing families over the last 5 years. Parents I still e-mail with, hug after school, receive Christmas cards from, and remember drying their tears on the last day of kindergarten. But, in the same breath, I have had parents make accusations, criticize how I do things, and worst of all, flat-out lie. However, in my experiences, the successful and lasting relationships I have built with families have far out-weighed the negative ones. Even the e-mails I've received that keep me up at night steaming mad are soon forgotten. Do yourself a favor and surround yourself with other teachers and co-workers that believe in you, support you, and lend an ear when needed. They will help you survive. Because parents are going to attack you.
- And, last, but not least -- most of the time, this is a thankless job. Painfully thankless some times. Don't get me wrong, the heart-felt thank-you cards, the hand-drawn pictures, and the sweetest compliments I receive from parents all make a huge difference. So, parents out there, please know you are making a difference in your child's teacher's life! However, the pure nature of this job prevents those things from overshadowing the thanklessness you will frequently experience. Your first year or two, the thanklessness will hit you like a wave and catch you completely off guard. As the years go on, you will sadly start to anticipate it. Yes, it still hurts, but you learn to expect it. When you bust your tail and never miss a day of work, no one pats you on the back for it. Most people will never know of or acknowledge the hours you spend vamping up lessons to be high-interest, engaging, and fun. And those many, many dollars you spend on your classroom to make it a welcoming home? No, you won't see those coming back in your bank account. But, the secret is not to ignore or shut-out the thanklessness.... learn to embrace it. Find the thank-yous in the smiles of your students. Find the thank-yous in the "I did it!" look on a kid's face after the weeks you have spent with him/her on a certain skill. Remember to have pride in what you do -- even if no one around you seems to notice how hard you work -- notice it yourself. Take a moment to look around your classroom and at your students and know this was all possible because of what you put into it. Even when the words aren't there, find the thank-yous in what you do. And most importantly, you'd better LOVE this job or it's not worth doing. Plain and simple. If you don't LOVE it, don't do it. Because, most of the time, this is a thankless job.
With all that being said, I feel privileged to do the job I do. I love what I do, regardless of all the things they don't tell you. In fact, I'm pretty sure I love it even more because of them.