[this is the long post i mentioned last week. it's not as long as i thought it would be because when i actually sat down to write it, the words just wouldn't come out. i have so much going on inside of me about this to this day, but i don't know if i'll ever be able to accurately express my feelings.]
as it says in my profile, my current occupation is "peggy hill" -- i'm a substitute teacher in the elementary grades. i enjoy it and i think i'm pretty good at it, too.
but before i became a sub, i worked in an elementary school for a couple of years. in the spring of 2004 i started to think about having a full-time career, and thought i would try my hand at being a teacher.
i applied to the credentialing/master's degree program at ucla. it's progressive, relatively close to my house, pretty cheap and a great program. well, i got wait-listed and then rejected. perhaps because my work experience hadn't been in urban education, which the program emphasizes greatly. who knows. so i was down for awhile, not knowing what i should do next.
then, lo and behold, i get a call from the university intern program at ucla asking me if i'd be interested in applying. i would start working immediately and take classes at night and on the weekend to get credentialed (the program takes about 2 years to complete). i jumped at the chance, thinking this would be the perfect way to get everything done at once while making a salary. so i interviewed, got accepted and started looking for a job at an urban elementary school. i called over 200 schools to see if they were hiring and faxed off dozens of resumes.
within a week or so i got an interview at two schools, one in watts (yes, the same watts that had the race riots in the '60s) and one in downtown los angeles. i don't want to mention the schools' names, so i'll just call the watts school, school X. the school X interview was first and it went really well. the principal was new, having just replaced the previous principal who retired. it was his first year as principal. he was enthusiastic about hiring me but told me to go home and think about it because the school's not in a good area. i left with a good impression of him and the school. as i was driving away i was already 85% decided that i was going to accept the position, even without interviewing at the other school. i honestly don't remember the discussion i had with JR that night about my decision. but i think my mind was already made up by that time, and i called the principal in the morning to accept the offer.
a few days of jumping through bureaucratic hoops at the district office followed, and then taking a week-long new teacher course before starting the extensive staff development they offer at school X. i was already very busy a month and a half before school was to start. there were about 12 other new teachers at school X that fall so we got to know each other pretty well as we tried to set up our classrooms, understand what it meant to teach at school X (there were some pretty stringent guidelines because school X is part of a special program run through the district), and running from staff development class to staff development class.
i was totally excited about this new step in my life. i was going to have my own classroom, my own "kids," i was going to make a difference.
then school started and everything fell apart. i was unprepared -- all that staff development hadn't done anything to truly prepare me for the reality of teaching in an urban school. i was used to something completely different and i panicked. but that's just an excuse. the bottom line is that i didn't prepare myself enough to handle the beginning of the school year in the proper way. i didn' t have a plan to set up routines and effective discipline, which these kids desperately needed. i totally started off on the wrong foot and it was extremely difficult for me to right that wrong.
goodness knows i tried to "start over." i tried so hard to find ways to get the kids to be successful. i sought help from my principal and instructional coach. i observed veteran teachers. i prepped at home from 4am until i left to go to work at 6:45 every morning, and stayed at school until 5. at that point i made myself go home to see my son. but the harder i tried, the more pressure i put on myself and the kids, and the more i felt like a failure. i was having anxiety attacks every morning, throwing up, not eating, and only being able to sleep when exhaustion took over. i was so frustrated and confused -- the more i tried the more i floundered.
and i was letting everybody down: my students, my principal, my family, myself. i wasn't able to give anything the proper amount of attention to do anything satisfactorily. at least, not to my standards. and that just added to the pressure.
and then i did the worst thing. i quit. i couldn't handle it well enough that i felt i would ever be successful. and i was truly neglecting my son and husband. JR knew it would be hard and he would have to pick up a lot of the slack around the house, but i just couldn't stand not being there for the boy. i didn't see him before leaving for work and when i picked him up from daycare at 5:30pm i was too tired to do anything fun with him. i fell on the couch and my mind was just mush, thinking about work, work, work -- how horrible the day was and the prep work i still had to do for the next day. the boy would ask me to play and i just couldn't. i was giving other peoples' children more attention than my own, and no job was worth that.
so i quit one month into school starting. i knew i disappointed a lot of people, and i felt horrible abandoning the students. but i also felt that, as first graders, they deserved a better teacher to get their elementary education started. it's the hugest failure of my life, but i don't regret the decision. i still believe i did the right thing in the long run, even though i quit so quickly. and, to be honest, i was kinda embarrassed that i couldn't cut it and quit like that. but i had my priorities and my reasons for doing so and i wasn't going to allow other people to make me feel bad about it.
i still think about the students (it's just recently that i've stopped thinking of them as "my kids") a lot, wondering how their year went. i still feel compelled to apologize to the principal repeatedly. i still think of how i could've done things differently. and i'm still afraid to commit to becoming a teacher. i still fear failure ... again.
in hindsight, i rushed into things without thinking through what it means to be an educator. i made a huge mistake by getting caught up in the excitement of having my own classroom, instead of focusing on what it means to be a truly good teacher. i've admired teachers always, but this experience has increased my admiration a hundred-fold. teachers aren't nearly respected enough, paid enough, or listened to enough.
and, one good thing has come of all of this: i was able to get pregnant with my second child because i wasn't working full-time. so maybe things work out the way they do for a reason ...