Zug Zug

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.



  1. Hi – I came back so I could read this post! Well I have so many thoughts running through my head – so many – because as I read this I was moved in my heart – and let’s see – where do I begin?

    First of all, over the summer I heard a bunch of people talk about the few “special teachers they had” – but we all had at least one – and it was a reminder to how much teachers can shape and impact the lives of a child. we also talked about how we NEVER had the chance to verbalize it to those folks – which is a reminder to how you may never truly see the impact or the ripping effect you have in such tender and precious lives – at any age – but especially this pivotal year… which leads to the second thing…

    Second, I tip my hat to you for taking this position. I am not sure as to your reasons – but all teaching comes from the heart (in our culture where it is grossly over paid) and having your PhD sometimes leads to the “lesser than” mentality – which I get in some cases – but you go! you make the most of this year – you stand tall with pride because you are actually using your skills in a way that is worth more than millions of dollars. The deep meaning is just one part – but it is huge and needs to be something that you write down and allow to motivate you – because as you know- with all the “more” stuff – you will need encouragement – sometimes on the hour.

    Third, you may know this = but try to be in the moment and don;t think of it long term. You likely will not do this forever – well you may – but things often change so much and who knows what “power” position will fall into your lap or what opportunity will open up. In the meantime, embrace where God has placed you (and not to throw spirituality in here – but I believe there are not mistakes in small of little things – but especial these large things- and so know that God has MANY reasons for leading you to this job at this time. Here are a few – like it can help you to appreciate other positions all the more. We think we would be grateful – but many times it takes gritty and shitty years to really cultivate long term contentment. Also, there may be support staff you work with that will shape you – or certain students who need exactly YOUR touch and input – or you need to be impacted by a student for some reason you cannot see yet. Further, you may just write another book later on that does more than win an award – it may just be a super useful tool that shapes and sculpts millions. So think of this as part of your life experience seasoning – even though you pretty peppered – there is more going on because we never stop growing.

    Fourth, a personal story I have comes from my days of subbing. Yeah, the good ol’ substitute teacher year – well I quit a decent paying job (for a good reason) and to bring in some needed moola, I subbed. I visited more than 50 schools in our county, got on a specula list at a cool school, and overall it was okay. But at one point I had this coming to grips with it all period -because talk about displaced – I truly was – and subs get no respect – not from kids, staff, or peers. and a short term sub does not have the time to bond and all that – so there was the new factor. anyhow, what helped me was first of all remembering that nothing is by chance – and I knew God had and has his hands all over my life. I also knew all the other things I noted above – and long story short, I decided to treat each day as if I was on assignment – assignment for growth. I also reminded myself that it was short term and to just enjoy the now – as much as possible. And this worked for me. On one break about learned about the awesome Ruby Payne as I skimmed a teacher’s book, I met students that I was able to encourage, and one time I subbed as a nurse and had a 3rd grader come down 4 times and later his teacher said he thinks he had a crush on the nurse so she had to come and see me.

    Fifth, be careful getting up at 4 a.m. to write. This may seem like a nice therapy for a writer like yourself – but loss of sleep will hurt you more. Also, with your writing skills, you won;t lose any edge – this may just be a time to not write tons and to instead soak up and get sculpted as you work a job that God has led you to. BUt seriously, your body cleans out gunk in the brain when you sleep and so cutting into that will only hurt you in the long run, it will pull from your ability to cope with the “more” and it will lead to irritability and can take away your reasoning. In fact, I heard that recent NBA team valued sleep so much that players were allowed to sleep in longer – just an hour – but it made a huge difference in morale and output. So while you likely mean well, this is not the time to see how much you can do – it may be time to cater to your physical body and find a new way to indulge your artsy writing side – like by letting it percolate. So hear me on this – get your sleep if you do nothing else – also – take some “CALM” magnesium and get enough good protein. Get 15 minutes of sun each day or take some cod liver oil – but don;t push yourself too much cause all humans can only be pushed so much… sleep is not just good – it is everything to health. Your body heals and repairs when you sleep too –

    Sixth, I know family areas are touchy – but tight family bonds CAN rebound and so even though you will miss your babes- think about some dads who work in China – or those who are gone all week and only around on a Sunday all the time. I am not saying this okay for decades – but I really think there is some buffer room for you to be gone here – as you do what you goat do right now!
    And be very careful as to how you camp on thoughts of missing them or not being with them enough – because you can make it bigger than it is and it can just add to the overwhelming state of this. Because this is a big deal and it is overwhelming, – but it is also life. And it is also manageable and I can think of a lot worse jobs – email me if you want that list! And everyone has things like this come up – Also, if your kids are old enough – this can also be a chance to talk with them about situations like this – I know this form experience. And hey, think of the great depression days when kids were shipped off to aunts and uncles just so they could get fed. It could be way worse – and it will not be this way for too long – 🙂

    Seventh – you may already know this – but the first 3 months are the worse and after the holidays it gets 90% better (or should). A new teacher bar chart they used to hand out showed that a lot of teachers always feel like quitting in October or November – and then after the holidays the bar graph shows more settledness – and by the end of the year they are signing up to come back. The point of that chart is to remind teachers that the first few months can be wayyyy hard – esp. for the newbies!

    Okay, one more final point (I could go on but I won’t- lol) but as you meet all the demands of grades and records and more of this and that – don’t forget the essence of you that you bring everywhere you go. First of all, you make the district look good to have a doctor on board – real good! So you are a blessing there. Also, those kids need you – and maybe you could find time to share with them about your love for writing, how you have grown or find things to do in class that recharge you too.
    Because when you give some of “you” to the students – it will improve the classroom vibe and can give you a few aha! moments that will carry you.

    It’ll be rewarding and refreshing and so learn more about your wiring and “find” what you enjoy in this role and with certain kids at this time – Be intentional to find a few things that you like to do as you interact with kids – and find a way to do that more. For me, I had one class of 8th grade boys and found that on some lessons I would let them come up to the board and they would take turns writing notes for the class to follow (on my lead). Everyone listened more (especially this one punk kid) and the other student’s enjoyed it – and so did I.
    It did not work for other classes – ever again like that – but we bonded when those chances came up with that class.

    And here is the thing – there is a lot of pressure to teach to standards these days – and 8th graders are sometimes a species from another planet – but they are reachable and even if they give you a hard exterior – this is one of the most impressionable times of their lives. So a deep bow of respect to you for taking this role at this time in your career. And while there are many things you are more qualified to do – and many jobs that would have less demands with bigger dollars – this is where you are right now and I know it is not by accident. It is for kids, the school, and for a paycheck, but it is also for you…. and you are strong and you can do this –
    have a nice rest of the week amigo!

  2. It will get easier, or at least more of a routine.

    Or as hilary says, buck up buttercup.

    Love ya


    Sent from my iPad

  3. Two words my friend: Charter Schools. I have taught in the public schools (high school English) for four years, a community college for five years (my high school students all grown up) and am now subbing in the 7th grade, short term, with hopes to get back into high school and become a school counselor. I can promise you something: public schools are nothing like this.

    While I think you got a good start by landing this gig, please don’t think all schools are like this. They aren’t. Charter schools are profit making entities so you really work for a company, rather than a school. I’m not saying charters don’t do any good. However, just keep in mind the work you are doing is not “true” education style work. At least not in the public system. We have testing pressures but nothing nowhere near what you have to do. It’s for profit and that changes everything.

    Your story affirms my belief to stick with the public schools, even if I have to do middle school for a while. Maybe make a goal to apply to public schools in early Spring for Fall jobs. Now you have experience and that is worth gold.

    Please don’t use this as your gauge of the entire profession. It’s not. Charter schools are a business and personally, I worked in business and I hated it. Public schools test but not every two weeks. And as far as a 9 hour day, in the public schools this only happens if you choose. Otherwise, you can just go home.

    You picked quite the bootcamp for your first teaching gig. Hang in there!

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