Saturday, April 30, 2016

My Twentieth Year of Teaching Has Been Hell

As I begin typing this post, it's 1:30 a.m. Saturday morning, meaning I can officially report that I survived Friday being one of the worst Mondays that I've had in a very long time. Teachers have our fair share of rough days and work related stress, but when I put my truck into park in my garage yesterday afternoon, turned off the ignition and began sobbing before even unfastening my seatbelt, it became very apparent that my limit, my breaking point, had been reached. Perhaps not so much met as exceeded. Yes... yes. That.

I faced the beginning of this, my twentieth year teaching, with curiosity, hope and energy. I had goals for myself and my students, planned engaging new lessons and activities, and put extra effort into creating an inclusive and appropriate learning, sharing, and growing space for my Super Stars. I took into consideration the traffic areas, work flow, and spaces needed for our daily rhythm and pace. I purchased new stuffed reading buddies, wonderful books, and freshened up classroom manipulatives, anchor charts, and organizational systems. I laid out our academic, thematic unit and special events calendar for August through May, making some tweaks here and there to accommodate changes in our report card and the possibility of having a practicum student in the spring. After determining that all of my school spirit shirts were still in great condition, I decided to set money aside for this year's Autism Awareness shirt instead. I made sure my students were flush with Play Doh, fun pencils, dramatic play essentials, and arranged our materials so that they were easily accessible. Accommodations were put into place, and intervention tools were ready.

August arrived. Introductions were made, relationships began to be built, needs were determined, and our trajectory was plotted with what I thought was only a hiccup involving a small group of students and their families. "Strong personalities" is how many teachers and parents characterize these friends, and there are many tried and true classroom management techniques and resources shared amongst us that consistently do the trick as we work to dismantle difficult combinations and create productive working partnerships for the benefit of all. With practice we become less me-me-me and more we, we, WE. We adopt rules and follow them. We aspire to be safe, kind, and helpful. We feel proud of ourselves and reap the benefits of growing together.  

But this year's small hiccup in August and September turned out to be a problem that didn't respond to the tricks of the trade nor the interjections of various school-provided and privately obtained services as the year wore on. Patience, practice and caring haven't helped, and neither have love and logic. There are only so many corners and activity areas in the room between which I have tried to separate the members of this crew, and the sheer number of them have made it difficult for any teacher or staff member to divide and conquer, be it in the classroom, on the playground, or in the cafeteria. Role playing, social stories, lessons in kindness, sympathy and manners and many opportunities to practice appropriate behaviors have gone unabsorbed. Worse, the headlamp on the train of tough consequences barreling toward this core group of students isn't motivating them to jump off of the tracks to try another path. Instead, they smile (yes, smile) and dig in their heels, despite the deafening sound of the wheels on the track and the whistle warning them that the train is approaching at top speed. 

Inappropriate behaviors haven't been grown out of, and they haven't faded away. They haven't been altered by praise, by teacher request, by the pleading of their other peers, nor the shunning by families who understandably have been very selective when planning play dates and get togethers. In fact, these students actually seem to enjoy inflicting themselves upon others, smiling as they damage, tease, defy, disturb, and cause injury. They bait one another, rise to the occasion, escalate situations, then smile, roll their eyes, and use other body language to communicate their intentions, much to the apprehension of their classmates. Even as young children, this group is nearly a gang, and they find it funny.  

Parent response has been disappointingly unhelpful:

"We have no words, but thanks for letting us know."

"Yeah, we see that at home, but she just won't stop. We'll talk to her again."

"Are you sure he did it on purpose?"

"Oh, I can buy you a new ____________. Sorry he broke/ripped/destroyed your _________. Where can I get it for a good price?"

"We just don't see this at home, so we're having a hard time believing that her behavior is really as inappropriate as you make it seem."

"Can't you just separate them? Give them assigned places to sit and line up and tell them to avoid each other on the playground for the remainder of the year."


There IS good happening in my class. A lot of it. But not as much as there could be... as there SHOULD be. Nearly two-thirds of my students have spent a considerable portion of their kindergarten year running the gauntlet created by the others. Worrying over all of my students, those who endure AND those who inflict, has burned through much of my professional energy and drained me personally. Parents too busy to help, too annoyed or tired by my communications to respond, or possibly too inconsiderate to entertain the thought that their child ISN'T entitled to run roughshod over others have me wondering if the partnerships I've been blessed with in the past are at an end. My sweet Super Stars have learned that while I will do my very best to protect and provide for them, it comes at a price: my time and attention are over allocated  to dealing with the demands of the others. The social/emotional needs of one group have robbed many of the resources that they too, need and deserve. 

For myself, surviving the year doesn't feel like success.  Plastering a smile on my face each day and chirping "good morning" in a cheerful voice can no longer hide the truth:

My twentieth year of teaching has been hell. 


  1. I hear and understand. Over these many years, I have watched and admired you for the energy and passion you have devoted to your practice. You are a wonderful educator, of course, but there is a current of disrespect for the profession that is overwhelming good teachers and sending us off into other work or retirement. I have never regretted my decision to retire last year. I just couldn't maintain that passion a moment longer. Let's hope this has been an unusual year and that next year will bring you a fresh start with clear possibilities for success and not so many frustrations. People, parents included, really have no idea how hard teaching is. The game changed several years ago; it is nothing like the classroom experience we had when we were students. Best wishes for a turn-around. You deserve all the best!

  2. Anonymous9:00 PM

    I totally understand. Several years ago my school changed focus and the first year was terrible. Parents had unreasonable requests, complained on social media, and I actually had a parent who observed me the whole day and I suspect she secretly recorded what I said during this visit. Actually what most of them wanted was an individual education for each student. I had taught for 25 years at this point and had one several awards. The teacher they had the year before was young and wore stilletos to school everyday and they weren't happy to have someone who wore sensible shoes that had a few years on her. It was a awful. The principal was of no help trying to bring a resolution to problems, she just pandered to them. I so wanted to quit but due to a husband that had lost his job and benefits, there was no way I could. Well, it did get better and I've had the best year ever! So keep the faith, relax this summer, and try to remain hopeful for a better year next year.

  3. I'm always deeply and personally saddened by this tale; it slams right into my heart for me. Some of us have lived it and found a way to survive the experience, but the toll it exacted from us was pretty high. The repercussions keep rippling out - some good, some not so much - and the year became one of those mile markers in life. Nothing was ever the same for me after that - personally or professionally. Now five years away from my experience, I can say that the wounds are now just scars, but those scars remind me daily of what I learned. You are an inspired and dedicated educator. It was my honor to work beside you. I know you will find a way to take your experience and share your insights and support with those who find themselves in that same dark pit - and shine a light on the way through it.

  4. I am very sorry that you had a so bad year! I hope that this year will be better!
    I must say that one year I had a very difficult group and in April, I really didn't know what to do with the students who gave me problems. I tried to spread them in other groups that were quieter, I tried to have them on a single desk, etc... And like you in April, I was very tired and I didn't know what to do for the last three months of school. I asked each of the students to write on a piece of paper 3 names of students with which they wanted to work and 3 names they didn't want to work with. I told the kids that I would ask my husband to write a program to choose the groups according to their they could blame the computer and not me ;-) What happened was very interesting... the good and quiet students were just tired of those who disturbed the classroom. But the one who disturbed wanted to be with the good students. But the computer program chose the strongest relations first so the kids who disturbed the class were left as a group :-) First I thought that I would have a nightmare in my hand but at the end it turned out that they really started to learn to listen to each other :-)


As always, thank you for your comments, tips, suggestions and questions!