a year ago

[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 ...


New Teach said...

The type of program you describe is just setting new teachers - and students - up for failure. I had an incredibly difficult time my first few months of teaching, and I'd already completed a masters degree in education - and had no kids, so I could work around the clock without guilt. It sounds like you just need a program that prepares you BEFORE you go into the classroom. Why do we think that any smart person can go into a classroom and teach with no preparation, and they'll just pick it up? Would we do that with doctors or lawyers? Especially when we're working with kids from very different backgrounds from our own - our training should address that and prepare us to work with them in a way that will help them learn best.

Anyway, I understand why you feel guilty, but it sounds like you made the right decision for your former students and for your family.

hobokener said...

Totally agree with new teach. you shouldn't feel bad just because a near-impossible situation didn't work out. maybe sometime after the girl is born you can find a way to give teaching a second shot, but do it on your terms in a way that you're setting yourself up for success!

grudge girl said...

Yucaree, this is sooo strange. Again, you and I have something major in common. We both know what it's like to quit on something BIG, something we went into with the best of intentions and high hopes. Something we were very excited about. Something which ended up making us sick and neglectful towards our families. (It was grad school for me.)

I understand exactly the huge RELIEF you must have felt, and the guilt you probably felt about that sense of relief. And the embarrassment. And what it's like having a new baby relatively soon after. And everything you describe.

It took GUTS to write that out, and release it into the ether.

I hope you feel better. I know every time I write out something difficult or embarrassing or painful, a rather large portion of its power in my psyche just melts away. It helps with the perspective, I guess.

New teach's comments are incredibly helpful. I hope you take those into account.

Above all, thank you for sharing this.

yucaree said...

thank you for your words. after this all happened last fall, i avoided talking about it as much as possible except to a few people because i was so ashamed and embarrassed about failing. even though i knew my decision was right for me, i wasn't proud of the outcome.

hobokener, i hope that one day i can return to the classroom. when i volunteer at the boy's school, i feel like i'm in the right place, and that teaching is something i will eventually learn to do even better.

new teach, you're right about me getting my training and credential BEFORE i start working. i know that i can't juggle too many things at once very well. i don't know why i thought i would be able to juggle the stresses of my family, the credentialing program, AND the first year of teaching without falling apart.

grudge girl, when i read your post about grad school, that kind of inspired me to write about this. i'd been thinking about it for so long and i did need an outlet for my feelings, that after i read what you went through, i started formulating this entry. and i do feel better about writing it out. i know that time will work its magic and my feelings will sort themselves out eventually. btw, i quit grad school, too. but i quit because i got pregnant and the program just wasn't doing it for me. i didn't feel the spark i was hoping to feel about the field and getting an advanced degree. i feel it much more with education, and i guess that's why when i quit teaching the impact was far greater than when i quit grad school.

yucaree said...

can i just add a p.s. to this post 'cause it's kinda crazy?

my friend's sister is a friend of the girl who replaced me in the classroom at school X. i just saw this friend's sister recently and she updated me on some happenings with the new teacher. apparently, she had an affair with the principal and another teacher (presumably not at the same time). and one of the parents in the class slapped her in front of all the kids. it took all she had not to slap this mom back. sadly, i kind of have an idea of who this mom might be.

i know for sure that the first thing wouldn't have happened if i stayed in the job (although i did have a funny feeling about this principal as i watched him interact with certain female teachers). but i wonder if the second thing would've ... gosh, i hope not!

grudge girl said...

Oh my gosh! DRA! MA!

That is some GOOD dish, lady.

Also: I *HEART* me some "King of the Hill." A lot.

So does Andy. Often we lie in bed late at night and watch reruns together and laugh... and laugh...

Just in case I wasn't weirding you out enough already.

yucaree said...

we watch a lot of "king of the hill" and the "simpsons". i'm a fan of bobby hill (who wouldn't be?!) and maggie simpson. :)

yes, the school X gossip is good! after he heard about the affair, JR said the principal was probably glad i left. after all, the principal is in his 40s and the teacher who took my place is a pretty young thing, probably only 23 years old! but creepy, huh?