The problem with teachers is that we are human. The problem with teachers is that we were young when we started. The problem with teachers is that, like parents (and other types of humans), we are good at some things, OK at some things and hopeless at some things. I have many regrets from my early years as a starting teacher. I screwed it up so many times in so many ways, I wish I could go back and fix the mistakes that I made. At least I can say I learned some lessons. Big ugly ones. And yet some days as a parent I wonder if I learned a single thing.
A big regret that I have carried for a long time is from the year that ended up being my last year teaching in Australia. I was directing the school musical. Teaching a full high school load. Organising my wedding. And having a burn out. I was holding myself together by a thread that year and was quietly seeing the department provided counsellor on the side. I would hold my breath all day and then cry in the car on the way home. Looking back, it was a red flag to my future bouts of PND. I walked away from teaching that year and at the time I thought I’d never be back.
I remember our musical rehearsals, which should have been the time of their lives, but which were probably miserable. I was a bitch. I yelled at students. My big, pet hate today, seeing teachers yell, is what I did many times myself during that year. I had colleagues telling me to praise the kids more, that they needed to hear it from me what a great job they were doing. I had to pry the words out of my mouth. That musical scarred me. It was well over a year before I could bring myself to watch the DVD we made of it. I was stunned at how good it was. I won’t take an ounce of credit for it though. The creative brilliance came from many others, not from me. I was a mere drill sergeant.
I think today it is probably worse. The pressure on teachers. It can be crippling and your students don’t get it. They just hate you for taking it out on them. And so they should. We have to contend with teacher bashing in the media; we are all under performing, overpaid whingers with 10 weeks holiday a year after all. But most of us have a love for it, and the call of the schoolyard has now pulled me back, although in a different role.
A former student once told me she was partly inspired to become a teacher because of me. I thought, dear God, don’t let her turn out like me. I know that I was not, and am not, good at thinking amid chaos. This is why I struggle so much with toddlers. This is why a noisy rehearsal room flipped me out. But there were some things I was, and am, good at. Occasional bitch I am, but good teacher I also am. I loved teaching. I loved my subjects. I loved my students, gold inside every one of them. Some of them buried it a little deeper than others though, but it was there.
I wasn’t good all the time at managing my emotional reaction to stress. I regret every single time I shouted. Every time. I could tell you so many more stories about my teaching failures. But I’ll finish instead with a story of a young heart that reached out and showed empathy beyond his years. I was sitting in the library with my class one day. I was exhausted, empty, sad. A boy I had taught handed me a note, somewhat sheepishly, as if he wasn’t sure if writing a note to a teacher was allowed. It read:
…today…you looked very sad…I hope you’re OK…when I saw your eyes they just seemed to be kinda hollow. I would like to thank you for paying attention to me as a person…you know me better than I gave you credit for…for that you have my loyalty and respect…I hope if you don’t feel good now that you will start to feel better VERY soon…
I still have that note. I carry it in my wallet. It reminds me of a lot of things, but the most important thing it reminds me of is to never underestimate the power of young people. That young person shifted me when I thought I was fully stuck. And I feel much, much better. You see, the problem with teachers, is that we are human.