Spring break is here (and has been). At one point I was certainly looking forward to the seven weeks of uninterrupted class time that ended last Friday, but recently added responsibilities and my desire to determine whether or not I can teach two extra classes during the school day took their toll. To say the least, I was tired and crabby going into the break- something that certainly was setting me, and my students, back in the classroom.
During my first year in the classroom I did plenty of unloading on others. Most "first-years" do. It's a coping mechanism a new teacher almost has to adopt in order to survive what is- to the majority of people- the most difficult year of their lives. The whole affair is terribly demeaning, feels impossible, and has little immediate redeeming value, though the long term benefits of surviving the year are substantial if you stick with teaching. One of the things I learned to do less of as my second year ended and my third year began was to complain about the job itself, recognizing first that I made the decision to take on this career, and second, that now is not the time to play into the stereotype being pumped across the airwaves by newscasters and politicians: that teachers have it easy and complain too much about their cushy, secure jobs. According to CNBC, for example, teaching isn't even one of the ten most stressful jobs in the U.S. (real estate agent, architect, advertising account executive, senior corporate executive, public relations executive and, of course, newscaster all made the list).
Two major rants happened over the break that helped me to reorganize and reorient my thoughts about the job.
The first rant was fired at Austin from Boston last Saturday, just as the break began. I was at a party in Williamsburg with a roomful of musicians and yoga instructors, most of whom I was meeting for the first (and most likely the last) time. A couple hours into the party- well after the happy birthday had happened- Austin from Boston struck up a conversation with me about teaching in the city, a fairly normal thing for people to do when they first meet someone who teaches here.
And then, to his surprise, I quickly and skillfully unloaded a freight train on top of him.
He was certainly a supportive type, but did not realize at all that he'd opened the flood gates of the combination between a grueling spring schedule at school and the recent attack on my profession by the media and politicians. What began as a two-person conversation quickly turned into a soapbox monologue to the nth degree. After what was probably an eternity for Austin from Boston, he ran away into the night/across the room to watch old home movies of the birthday girl.
And a lot was off my chest and in the open.
Several days later I got a second shot at discussing my job with someone in another line of work. This one was locked into a booth with me at a restaurant and was no mere stranger, but a good friend's new girlfriend- Erica the Architect. In order to keep her from running away from the both of us, I decided to take a different tact with the description of what I do. First, it was made clear from the get-go that the job is one I want. As our conversation went forward I was able to better verbalize the frustration I demonstrated to Austin from Boston, but also talk about how I wanted to move my career forward in this profession. This conversation helped remind me why I spend so much of my time working to educate kids, rather than serving as a dumping ground for disgruntled ideas and misconceptions about the field.
In the end, I still talked a ton more than Erica the Architect, but she didn't seem to want to run away, which was nice.
There are a lot of professions out there that are extremely difficult, taxing and at times thankless. The recent attacks on my own job will hopefully subside at some point, but regardless of what happens, it's important to move forward with my students without getting caught up and frustrated with the misinformation permeating the populace. With three full weeks of state testing still to come, we have our work cut out for us as we head into the home stretch of the school year.