My worst year of teaching...And how I survived... - The Classroom Nook


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My worst year of teaching...And how I survived...

It was the first day of school. 

I had *some* idea about the kinds of students that would enter in my classroom that year, but I had NO idea that the struggle would begin day 1.

Let me paint you a picture.  I was in an integrated 4th grade classroom with 23 students and 4 adults.  I was working along side a special ed teacher (who was actually just a long term sub for the teacher on maternity leave - she was amazing though!) and 2 of my students had one-on-one aids.  Our classroom was small and the kids were active...very active.  MANY of the students had emotional behavior disorders and were truly not in the right place for success.  They needed way more support than what could be provided in an integrated classroom.  Of students that did not have emotional behavioral disorders, most of the rest were reading at about a 2nd grade reading level or lower.  Yes- I said lower. 

Then there were the handful of well-behaved, grade level-appropriate learners that got caught in the cross fire - more than once.

Pretty grim picture, huh?  It doesn't get better, I'm afraid to say.  By the end of the first day of school, one kid had punched another and three others were in the principal's office.

It was the worst school year ever.

Now before you click away and say "why would I want to read about this?" - there is good new.  I survived. 

I survived and lived to tell about it.

Does this sound like your year?  Have you been in the same situation before?  If you haven' will.  We all have "that year."

And you know what else?  You will survive it, too.  Here's how I made it through the tunnel and out the other side. 

Yup.  Simple, but necessary.  And it wasn't my home-brewed drip coffee.  You see, I dreaded getting out of bed every. single. morning.  So, I gave myself something to look forward to.  Whether it was Dunkin Donuts coffee or the upgraded Starbucks - I treated myself to the happiness that is coffee.  You know what else I did?  I would often grab a second cup for my co-teacher.  We both needed it.  And sometime she would do the same.  It was our way of saying "yup, this sucks, but here's some coffee."

I was extra prepared
I could pretty much guarantee that my day would NOT go according to plan.  I knew that somewhere along the way each day, a lesson would be sabotaged and the learning would go right out the window.  I would have to stop and deal with a behavior issue, make a phone call, or chase a student down the hallway.  When this happens, what do you do with the other students?  Well, you always have a plan B.  Have an extra activity tucked away on your desk that students can work on if something else suddenly takes your attention away.

I used my resources
When I first started teaching, I always felt like it was a sign of weakness to go and ask for help from the principal, the behavior specialist, or any other support staff.  I thought they would view me as not knowing what to do (which I didn't) or think I didn't have control of my class (didn't have that either). But, I knew that if I was gonna make it, I needed help.  If things got bad, I called for back-up.  Sometimes two, three times a day.  I had a "buddy teacher" that I could send a student to if they needed to cool off and step away.

I worked out...a lot
At the end of the day, the LAST thing I wanted to do was go to the gym.  All I wanted was a glass of wine and a box of tissues.  But, on the days that I went to the gym, I felt better.  There's just something about "working it off."  Our bodies need that release of endorphins to recharge and reset.

And some days, I needed wine.

I packed an AWESOME lunch
OK - this is silly, but come on!  You know when you have a fabulous lunch to look forward to - even if you are eating it at the copy machine during your break- your smile is a little wider.

I met the students where they were
This was sometimes a struggle.  In my perfect world, I wanted to hold each of my students to the same standards.  But it my real world, all students aren't the same.  A student that comes from an abusive home (as many of my students did) can not reach the same standards as a student coming from a happy home...yet.  So I had to meet some of my students where they were.  Sometimes this meant having a behavior plan that was unique to them.  Sometimes it was letting something slide because calling them out on every little thing wasn't going to make either of us feel better. 

I took it one day at a time
At the beginning of the school year all I could think about was "How am I going to make it till June?"  But you know what?  That wasn't helpful.  I WAS going to make it till June because the alternative was to quit (and that wasn't an option at that point).  So I started thinking about what I needed to do that day to make it through.  What was I going to focus on in that moment. And sometime I focused on the fact that lunch was just a mere 30 minutes away - and that was just enough to pull me through. #reallife

The truth is - every year is not going to be sunshine and cupcakes (wait, did someone just say there's cake in the teacher's lounge???).

But on the flip slide - every year isn't going to be one of "those years" either. So when you have one, you can proceed with (caution and) confidence.  See that light at the end of the tunnel?  That's the sunshine from the beach that you'll be sitting on once summer vacay rolls around. 

How do YOU make it through one of "those years?"


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  2. Thank you so much for sharing this. Sometimes we see teachers like you who have a blog, have wonderful things created to share and to sell, and we think, "I can never accomplish all those things!" It is refreshing to hear that someone else has been there, and has made it through. In November I left my perfect class, the one who's challenging students I had just gotten through with, the one that had wonderful supportive parents, and a new principal that sided with teachers not always parents. I moved across the country for my husband's job, and inherited a challenging class with a reputation. I was their 3rd teacher this year. It's been rough, but there's 25 days left and I know if I survive this I can surely manage anything!
    Thanks again for sharing your experiences! Susanne

    1. Oh Susanne! How difficult it must have been to transition from a dream class to a challenging one.

      Also, don't think for a second that those "picture perfect bloggers" have it all together. No one takes pictures and posts about the chaos in their room, right? :)

      And full disclosure - I actually left the classroom because I was so miserable with all the politics, behavior issues, and overwhelm. So, for SURE I've been there!

      Hang tight you can TOTALLY do 25 days! You got this, girl!


  3. Dear Rachel,

    Thank you for your post. The year you described was eerily similar to my third year of teaching last year. Add to it being in a new district/school/grade level and you can imagine every day felt like climbing a mountain. I almost quit, but with support from my family and my grade level team I made it through and bawled on the last day of school because it was finally over! This year I am in a way better school and district and have a class I adore and parents who are so supportive! Even though it was REALLY TOUGH I know have the confidence to know that I am not a quitter, and that has made it worth it
    I wanted to chime in because one thing I did to keep my morale up was make a paper chain for every day of school that was left. I started it in February, so that thing was long! Every day I would tear off a new link and on Fridays I wrote little surprises or rewards I would get for making it another week. This helped me feel like time was passing more quickly and gave me something to motivate me and to look forward to. I would recommend this strategy to any new teacher or teacher going through one of "those years".

    Best, Lauren Lusk

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Lauren!

      I love the paper chain idea! That would have definitely made it a little easier to make it through each week!

      Thanks again for sharing! Hope you're having a great year!

  4. I am currently having the worst school year. I've been teaching for 6.5 years and always in middle school, but this is the first year where I am this distraught, disheartened, disturbed, disgruntled, and even disorganized. My students talk openly about the abuse they get at home, and I report this with seemingly nothing happening. I have students who steal from me (including my chocolate stash at school). I have students who actively hate me. I'm incredibly depressed and my principal, who would love to help, can't because the superintendent and administration above him treats our school like a pariah, which means that any difficulties we have ARE seen as weaknesses. I go home and cry nearly every night. I moved to this district just this year, and I'm leaving next year, and it can't come soon enough. That's where I'm at right now. It sounds really depressing.

    1. Oh Nyssa! I'm so sorry to hear about your terrible year. I know exactly where you're at, and it's so hard! Focus on one day, one hour, one lesson at a time. Thinking about how much time is left in the year will only make it seem unbearable. At least, that's what worked for me.

      Try to find one thing that you can do daily that you'll look forward to. For me it was getting Starbucks coffee in the morning. Even the little things like that can make each day go by a little faster.

      May the rest of the year be swift!

    2. I don't know if you want an update, but it's been a year since I typed that, and since then, I've moved to a new school, in a different state. Everything is better. My hardest students this year are NOT as difficult as my students last year. I am in a much better place now. Last year, you gave me peace and hope when none came from my workplace. Thank you so much.

  5. Thank you, so much for this. I'm a teacher with almost 30 years of experience and I have a 4th grade class which sounds very similar to the one you described. The worst part is that I was told I was "needed back the classroom" after 2 years of having a very cushy AIS position which I had waited years to obtain. New principal decided he didn't want to fight parents who wanted the other 4th grade teacher out. I have two years until I retire and I am, literally, counting days. I really do have to focus on one day at a time. Great coworkers, wine, and yoga help! I also thought about making a paper chain (as one of the comments suggested). I was searching survival tips and happened upon your blog. Thanks for this! It helps to know I'm not alone.


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