I spend a considerable amount of my waking hours either at my job, commuting to my job, and/or doing something related to my job outside of my “regular business hours,” so it’s little wonder that it’s constantly on my mind (as can be observed just by casually skimming my blog). Most of the time, it doesn’t irk me (emphasis on most of the time). I call it a labor of love, a calling, a passion of sorts. On the flip side, without meaning to sound melodramatic, it can be a cross to bear as well.
Teaching is far more than just a job to me, more than a career, and more than a vocation. For me, it’s a partial form of self-identity, perhaps one that I take too seriously. But there are times when it’s so damn hard to just “leave it all at the office,” and when I schlep home not only a satchel full of papers to grade, but also a heavy head and heart.
Tuesday was a hard day at the middle school. Frankly, it was a downright shitty day, due mostly to one particular group that I have. My most difficult class is a class of rowdy, impulsive sixth graders. Yes, that class. The one where I had to bust the students for plagiarizing and stop a physical altercation before they bust each other’s heads open. Yeah.
Anyways, as much as I care about all my students (and I do), this is a class that has been more challenging to relate to and to simply enjoy. They are easily distracted and highly immature, even for a group of eleven year olds. They have the neediness and lack of basic skills of elementary schoolers, but typically act like pompous jackasses who are too big for their britches that is remnant of many high schoolers who I have encountered. They are flat-out disrespectful to me and more often to each other (typical plight of a middle school teacher, I know, I know).
In any case, to make a long story short, there is one particular girl in this class who is actually fairly calm, respectful, and timid (which sadly makes her a victim in this class). Throw in the physical awkwardness of any eleven year old plus the fact that this girl unfortunately has a Frida Kahloesque unibrow (and hint of the moustache), and this means that she is a sitting duck for bullying by her peers. When my back was turned and I was distracted on Tuesday, a note was passed that was unkind and unnecessary about this girl, who then started crying.
I know for a fact that I would rather eat cigarette butts than spend one more day of my life as a sixth grader. When I witness any student of mine, particularly one who I can relate to as being an underdog and an oddball, it especially gets to me. What can I say? I lost it- big time. I was almost in tears myself as I flipped out like I had never done before with this group. I immediately called the school counselor and asked her to come to my room ASAP. By the time she arrived, you could have heard a pin drop in the room.
She and I both had a very firm talk with this group that lasted about 10 minutes. The kids were almost at military-style attention throughout, as they saw the normally jovial and silly, smiling counselor and me giving the kids a stern look that could have split a rock in two as we let them have it.
“Who are you?” asked the counselor to the group of kids, “to judge someone else or to bully?” Of course, no one answered.
“Raise your hand if you have ever experienced bullying.” Every single hand in the room went up, including my own.
“Raise your hand if you think you are perfect.” Of course, not a single hand was in the air.
“When you are perfect,” the counselor went on, “then you have the right to tell other people how and what they should be.”
Sadly, even after the counselor had left after what I felt had been an effective talk and I had done what I could in my power to diffuse the situation, the girl promptly burst into tears again. Shit. What now? I threw a last-second busy-work task at the rest of the group in haste as I followed her out the door. When I had finally made sure that she had made it safely to the sanctuary of the counselor’s office, I collapsed on my chair at my desk, my head weighing about a ton, my eyes already starting to fight back tears. I made no eye contact with anyone for the rest of the class, I said nothing. The kids said nothing. For once they knew better than to mess around.
Minute after painfully slow minute went by before the bell rang. The students exited out the door, and I sat in my chair, slumped over like a corpse. When I could muster up the strength, I locked my classroom door and in the semi-privacy of my own classroom, had a good sob.
“What the hell am I doing here?” I thought to myself.
“Why the hell did I ever want to become a teacher?… and what the HELL is wrong with kids these days?”
So many rhetorical questions, so little time. Getting through the rest of the day seemed like an impossible task. I kept envisioning this poor girl and her reddening eyes filling up with tears, her voice cracking with stifled crying.
The next morning, I received an email from the principal of the high school in my school system. He had invited me for an interview for an English language support teacher position that I had previously applied for. I went with bells on.
So now I am awaiting his final decision, which will come before 3:30pm this very afternoon. There is a very good chance that I will get the job, though of course there is the possibility that I might not. I know that high school is not exactly theLand of Maturity, but I feel desperate for some sort of change. There is bullsh*t, and then there is middle school bullsh*t (one of the worst kinds of all).
I don’t want to be the type of person who runs away from his or her problems, but there have been many instances recently when I question my reasoning for teaching at the middle school level. I feel conflicted, guilty, anxious, and about ten kinds of uncertainty. I still do care after all about the kids. My kids. But maybe now is not the right time for me. Maybe when I grow up, I can be a middle school teacher.