I’ve been struggling to figure out how to write about my experiences with my new teaching job. Last week—my first week—I did a lot of smiling and shrugging and saying “eighth graders are eighth graders,” as if I were some street corner philosopher channeling Gertrude Stein. This week? This week the same shoulders that I shrugged last week are so knotted with tension that my range of motion is limited.
The biggest stressor has been catching up with and catching onto my new workplace bureaucracy. There’s a lot of it. I have to document just about everything I do during the day, from lesson plans to grades to whom I work with during tutorials. I have to enter student behaviour—good and bad—into a point-based monitoring system. I’m required to deliver school and district-mandated assessments every two or three weeks. They cut into my teaching time. They require more grading. I also have mandates about how many grades I am supposed to take each week. If I don’t hit that target, I get automated e-mails reminding me I need to remedy the situation. There are also meetings that invariably happen in my prep periods.
Starting four weeks into the school year has exacerbated the problem. Too often, I find out about things after they were supposed to be done. My administrators and instructional lead are supportive, but the stuff still has to get done sooner or later. (And it is always preferably sooner.) I have parent-teacher conferences after eight instructional days with my students. I’m still learning names. I also won’t get paid for another 30 days.
The solution to every problem seems to involve more. More time. More photocopies. More visuals. More choice for the students in what they read and what they write about. Most of all more time, when I’m already hauling my whole show from room to room, the photocopiers do not reliably work (and even small copy jobs become big ones for 85 students across three sections), and the projectors I’m supposed to use for those visuals do not work in some of the rooms I teach in. I’m on campus at least 9 hours a day, and even when I’m caught up I expect to have at least another 10 hours of work to do at home.
Eventually, I know, I will get caught up. Eventually, I will be faster at all the stupid little jobs that are part of the package. But like “eventually, I’ll get a job,” these eventuallys are small consolation in the moment. I think I am doing a reasonably good job given the circumstances. I feel like I was an idiot to decide on this career, that there’s no way to make this transition happen without my shoulders knotting hard enough to literally twist me in two.
But I have good people around me at home and at work. If I could finish a dissertation to spite my institution, I can damn well adapt my teaching to 13-year olds to give them the education they deserve. I will force vigorous exercise and writing into my schedule to help cope with the stress. My awesome spouse will get to cook dinner once in a while. Because I won’t see my kids as much, I will make them hug me every time I do. I will somehow learn to get up at 4 a.m. so I can write, and I will appreciate how quiet the world is when most people are sleeping.
I will remember that when I was 17 I went down to the jousting field on moonless nights and walked on ledges. And that I did it because they were there and because even then I understood we’re made more by our trials than our victories.