The Learning Curve

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Nov 13 2012

On Sustainability.

It’s been so long since I’ve written, but that actually underscores the point of why I’m writing now: because, in terms of how busy I am from hour to hour and day to day, my responsibilities as a teacher have increased significantly! I barely have a free minute to myself anymore. Because I can’t really process long-form right now, let’s list it out.

This isn’t where I thought I’d be as a second year teacher, for many reasons.

1) After a full year of doggy paddling and, at times, drowning, I assumed that a second year in elementary school teaching would provide at least a sense of continuity and consistency. This is not true for me this year because I have changed schools and grade levels, and anyone who has ever taught at the ECE or elementary level knows the huge differences between each year of school from K-4.

2) My new school is a part of a nationally successful and high-performing charter school network, which is at once very enlightening (so many opportunities to develop professionally) and incredibly taxing (so many responsibilities to own, some of which are very unfamiliar given my background at a very dysfunctional school environment last year).

3) I taught for two years prior to joining TFA. I was in a variety of classrooms teaching a LifeSkills program to a variety of ages (most often grades 3-5, 7, and 9). I learned a world of things about classroom management and teaching each lesson with momentum. Still, teaching 1st grade this year is like being the only senior citizen running a college cross country meet. I lose my energy at about 11 am every day and my caffeine intake is reaching downright disgusting levels. I also might die from kidney failure soon.

4) My new school has made me about a billion times more organized and efficient. But it’s also made me feel about a trillion times crazier. If I don’t schedule every minute of my weekdays, I forget something significant. I do not have a phone relationship with most of my friends anymore; I do not blame this on my job but on my constant need to tend to my own skillset, at home, at school, after school, etc. It feels like I have very little room to be a social being.

5) Relentless pursuit is just a lot more dogged and exhausting than it sounds.

So lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the sustainability of my job. I have been trying to discern whether the difficulties I am experiencing this year are because of a lower time management capability than my coworkers, a steep learning curve going from one grade level to another with very little experience, the expectations of my school’s principal and charter network, the need for my kids to get an extremely talented, organized and efficient educator in order to be on the path for college, the desire to make some real decisions about where my life is going, or some strange, vacuous amalgam of all of those things. Truthfully, it’s probably all of those things, plus some other things thrown on top. But I don’t know what to do with what’s in front of me. Do I consider a 3rd year despite how I feel right now? Do I move into another phase of my life, with the knowledge that I’d like to stay in education and, if we’re being honest, will probably come right back to the classroom sooner rather than later anyway? I don’t know. Some of my issues arise specifically from the system I work in – my school requires A LOT of time in a day and the weekend, and to adjust to that change from last year, I’m running myself ragged. But some of these issues would be the same no matter where I taught. The grass is hardly ever greener, people. There will always be a pro-con list for anything else I could be doing. The hard part is parsing out which side is longer and to which I’m most committed.

Alas. A truth will come. My liver, kidneys and bloodshot eyes beg it to be soon.

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