When I was three years old, I had my very first, first day of school. I don’t recall a thing about it, not even a vague recollection of an old photograph but I do know it was the first of a very long series of first days of school.
After I graduated from college in December of 2002, I spent 2 months as a substitute teacher and had yet another first day right there in the middle of February 2003. By August of that year I was working in the Kindergarten room of the daycare on the Air Force base where we were stationed. And there I experienced yet another first day. By 2004 I had my very own classroom and so began my career—the only career I’ve really had and with that came 8 more first days of school. I missed the one in 2008, having given birth a mere 14 hours before. I missed the one in 2011 as well—if memory serves, Allison was born on the 2nd day of school that year. And last year I didn’t teach but was hugely pregnant on that first day. And this year I am none of those things, neither classroom teacher nor pregnant. And so I believe this is either the end of one era or the beginning of a new one because next week school will start and my role will be as parent and nothing else.
Not that being a parent of school children doesn’t have it’s own host of responsibilities. But this isn’t about that.
There were a lot of things about teaching that I don’t miss one bit and I’ll get to that because it’s worth discussing. But first I want to share what I DO miss about teaching and what comes to mind during this time of year when it feels very very strange to walk through the aisles at Target and purchase supplies for only two children and not 10 or 20 or 30.
Things I miss about Teaching
- I miss the anticipation of the first day back, not the first day with kids but the first day you walk into your classroom after a summer off. It’s quiet, and empty and bare. Mine always had this musty stale air smell and was usually terribly hot inside after not having conditioned air circulate through it all summer. I was lucky enough to be in the same classroom all 8 years. I left my personal items locked in a closet. Opening my door to my classroom was like greeting an old familiar friend.
- I miss the sense of purpose and direction the first few weeks of school brings. I always had my goals lined up and ready and with a fresh 180 days I was always optimistic about what we could accomplish. I looked forward to putting into action all my ideas from the summer.
- New stuff!! Ah, nothing feels quite like a brand new notebook, or freshly sharpened pencils, or dry erase markers fresh out of the package. There were boxes of crayons with all their tips perfectly sharp. There were new backpacks not yet frayed or dirty (or peed on by cats—one student had a cat who regularly peed on his backpack!) Everything was new and clean and ready!
- Meeting the new students and seeing the old ones. I loved this part. I loved trying to figure out the dynamic that particular arrangement of children would bring to the classroom. And also, being in special ed, I started every year reading the files of the new students so I knew why they were at my school and I saw it as a great challenge. My favorite kids were the ones who didn’t like school. My first goal was to change that and help them like school again (or for the first time).
- You always know the day of the week and the date on the calendar. Always. As the bell ringer in my school—yes we did it by hand—I always knew what time it was too. It was several months after I left that I stopped feeling my body remind me it was time to do something at 45 minute intervals through out the day.
- Learning new things. This should speak for itself right? You have to stay on top of world events, latest advances in science, pop culture news, latest trends for whatever age group you work with, and then of course academic things. It was never ending and it was wonderful.
- The last thing I can think of right now (and know there are so many more little things but these are the big ones) I am having a hard time putting to words. Yes I’m mom now but I enjoyed being a teacher too. I don’t want this to sound egotistical which it will even though I don’t mean it that way, but being a teacher means having kids look up to you. Kids think their teachers know everything (I always assured them I didn’t) and that gave me a sense of duty to them. It gave me a sense of purpose. I didn’t want to let them down. I guess what I’m saying is that I liked the responsibility.
In fairness, there are things I don’t miss.
- There is never ever enough time. All those goals you start off with he first day of school? Well I never finished them all. I got very close a couple of times but that was only after I’d been teaching long enough to know better how to set them. I’m one of those teachers who start on the first day and keeps teaching until the second to last day (come one, no one teaches on the last day of school). There are never enough resources either. I think teachers in general excel at making do with what they have but in an ideal world there would always be more access to things that would make teaching better/more efficient/more exciting.
By the same token- it’s a career that is highly politicized and not well respected by some government officials. School districts frequently have to justify why they shouldn’t have to make certain cuts, which inevitably happen anyway.
- Disicplining was my least favorite thing to do. I was either too strict or not strict enough and my downfall was that I didn’t find that sweet spot in the middle often enough. If I ever go back to teaching this will be what I work on the most.
- Patience. Teaching takes a lot of patience and sometimes, oftentimes, I used all mine up by the time I got home. My kids never saw the best of me because I’d used it all up on my students. My kids got to see grumpy, tired, snappy mommy.
- Parents can be hard to deal with. I will leave it pretty much at that. No I’ll say just a bit more. If anyone reading this has school-aged children but has never been a teacher I ask this of you—trust your child’s teacher more. Trust that they have your child’s best interest at heart. Trust that they are doing the best they can, and trust—this one is tough I know—that your child is different with them than they are with you. That last one is so hard. It’s not an us vs. them situation. Parents should be on the same team as the teachers and I feel like these days it’s so adversarial and it shouldn’t be. Teachers put everything into their jobs and sometimes it feels that teachers are not under appreciated, they are not appreciated at all. This is by no means all parents or all students or all situations but it wears you down and it makes it hard to give your very best every single day when you know someone is just waiting for you to slip.
- The expectation of perfection. I’m human. You’re human. Enough said.
- Few opportunities to work from home. These days more and more companies allow their employees have more flexible hours or the chance to work from home all or some of the days of the week. I’d love to teach for Virtual School but it’s incredibly hard to get a job. Some people will probably point to having summers off and yes, that’s wonderful, but you are still pretty locked into the school schedule and working from home isn’t an option.
- I’m not going to say a 7. I want there to be more good things than bad things even though really, neither list is complete. I can’t imagine going back right now and being a mom of three and a wife and a teacher. I can’t imagine how I would get my kids to two different schools and myself to a third and still take care of all the shopping and cooking and day-to-day living. I know people do this every single day and I think I would make it work but I also think I’d also be a zombie and not good enough for either my students or my children. But I hope someday I will find my way back into a classroom. I’ve had a lot of jobs over the years and I’ve enjoyed some and hated some but my heart is in a classroom and I think it always will be.