Education Opinion

Darker days, bright lights

By Jessica Shyu — November 16, 2007 3 min read
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In New Mexico, we called it the “Long Night.” In Texas, it’s “Dark October” (which apparently stretches through November...). Whatever its name, it refers to the same thing that creeps up around this time of year for new teachers. It’s that time to wonder: Who am I, what am I doing here, and why is that child throwing his chair into the wall?

For all you veteran teachers out there, whether you’re in your second year or second decade, you know what I’m talking about. It’s comes awhile after the August honeymoon. It’s been a good couple months of trying new strategies and not yet seeing enough results. It’s that growing pile of papers. It’s not getting enough sleep. And it’s missing Mom 2,000 miles away.

We spend a lot of time talking about retaining teachers year after year of teaching. But for the folks following blogs of new teachers out there, we must remember that there is also the darker side of after we get teachers into the classroom and half a year goes by. In my two short years-as a teacher and my few months as a program director working with first-year teachers, I’ve noticed two common reasons making teacher want to quit mid-year:

1) Not feeling effective in the classroom. Surely by quitting someone else would do a better job.
2) Teaching isn’t exactly how you pictured it... Practice teaching doesn’t compare with 150 kids of your own for 180 days with 1 computer and lots of paperwork.

Yes it’s hard. Really, really hard. Some ideas I share with my teachers and friends entering the profession:

Remember why you are where you are! You’re in the classroom not because you couldn’t get another job. You’re in there because there’s an achievement gap in this country and our nation’s children deserve to learn. Your kiddos aren’t just a statistic; they need you.

You’re awesome Recognize your daily, weekly, monthly, yearly successes. You are making a difference, but you’re responsible for finding it. Look at what you’re doing for your children. There ARE positives. You NEED to find and hang on to them.

Practice what you preach Work hard, keep trying, and don’t give up, just like what you tell your students. And learn to backwards plan. I’m serious.

Use your personal days There is no shame in taking a day to rejuvenate when you’re feeling scorched. “Relentless pursuit” doesn’t mean nonstop work; it means making work sustainable.

Ask for help Practice what you preach. Ask for help. Get resources. Observe top teachers. Make an appointment with a master teacher and have them review your plans and course layout. Let your manager know you’re struggling. Seek mental health if you think you need it.

Be yourself Being a teacher doesn’t mean you’re only a teacher. Maintain your hobbies. Take up a class of your own. Go to the gym. Force yourself to prioritize non-teaching things so you don’t lose yourself come Dark October.

Keep it real Laugh and write it down for your memories, because, c’mon, there is something mildly hilarious about a kid who randomly gets out of his seat and throws his chair over his head and against the wall. And, yes, when your entire 9th grade class starts whistling in unison during your lesson on symbolism, you should definitely laugh when you’re alone.

It gets better It shouldn’t ever get easy, but yes, it does get easier.

For all the new teachers out there struggling through the “Long Night” or “Dark(er) November,” hang in there. Keep up your inspiring work. Your students need you and so do we.

And for the rest, let’s take a moment to give a new teacher a hug, a thank you, a specific success you’ve seen, and a reminder that you’ve been there and are here to help.

The opinions expressed in New Terrain are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.