…for the second time. The first experience was as a kid, moving from the relatively safety of a single teacher in one room to the middle school where I had a locker and various teachers. Some of my worst memories of school come between 6th and 8th grade, as I’m sure is the case for a lot of folks.
This time, I’ve survived middle school as a teacher, and I won’t be returning. Not that the school would have me–I didn’t score especially high on my evaluations, which didn’t suprise me in the least. Practically from the beginning of the school year in 2016, I was in survival mode. Once the students got a feel for me and realized that A) I’m not an intractable, unfeeling automaton who only understands screaming and writing discipline referrals, and B) I’m fairly easily distracted and often get lost in what I’m teaching to the point that I tune out other things, it was pretty much over. It isn’t that I lost control of my classes (except one over which I never had control to begin with, and that particular mix of students was so bad that it prompted the first panic I’ve had in years), it’s that I have no idea how to relate to middle school students as a whole. I’m also not spectacular at setting up and following routines day after day without fail, which is what administration wanted me to do. I see the benefit of doing just that; the kids I taught needed routines and clear directions, and I’m more of the type to walk in the room, chat for a bit, and then launch into a lesson which might look completely different from the day before and will certainly be different the next day. When I tried to put in routines and rituals, it didn’t work. I went back to my default setting, and my personality and perferences rocketed back as if nothing had changed.
I became worried about half-way through the year that I wouldn’t be able to continue. I would shake while driving into work; on more than one occasion, I pulled into the parking lot, opened my van door, and threw up. Good lord, I remember thinking, this is what would happen when I drank, and I’m doing it because of nerves? This was right before the panic attack that sent me back to my psychiatrist to talk about medication to keep me calm for the remainder of the year.
My other option was finding another job and convincing the county I didn’t have to pay the $2,000 penalty for breaking my contract due to my mental distress. Both my primary care physician and psychiatrist said they would sign off on a document declaring that the work environment had a deleterious effect on my mental health to such a point that I couldn’t perform my job.
How did it come to this? I thought more than once. I’ve been teaching for nearly eighteen years in various capacties (private schools, colleges, alternative schools) and middle school is what breaks me? Correction: it didn’t break me, but it came damn close. Now I have four days of so-called “post-planning,” all of which could be done in two days, but I digress. I’m not exactly proud of myself for sticking it out, though perhaps I should be. I’m just relieved and faintly surprised.
My experience here wasn’t entirely bleak. I met some wonderful people, as well, both teachers and students. Last Friday, which was students’ last day, one of my kids walked up to me and gave me a long hug. I hugged her back and told her I enjoyed getting to know her this year, and I wished her well in high school. One of my guys came up to me and blinked back tears, “I’m really going to miss you,” he said. I hugged him, too.
Those moments are what I choose to dwell on going forward, as well as the various lessons about life I learned while helming middle school classes. It isn’t the right fit for me…or at least, this school and county isn’t the right fit. I suspect I won’t find myself back in a middle school classroom, but I’ve learned to never say never when it comes to teaching jobs.
I did it. And I didn’t drink, by golly. I was tempted, of course, but the thoughts were mostly fleeting. I got through the year with the help of coffee and herbal tea, and those were the strongest things that passed my lips.
Now it’s time, once more, to look for a job. I’m not terribly worried about it…the sense of relief is powerful and touches other aspects of my life. I’ll find a job and move on to another experience.
That’s all for now. Happy sober Monday, people.