Why I Didn’t Quit My First Year of Teaching

The first year of teaching is notoriously horrible.

stressed teacher_0
source: takepart.com

Mine was.

In fact, I came VERY close to leaving ACE around October and November of my first year. I had never worked so hard or felt so overwhelmed or under-qualified. I had never felt so lonely or inept in my life. I was far away from friends, family, security… sanity. I was mired in papers and students whom I cared about but did not know how to help.

I had pretty much made the decision to leave after my first semester of teaching. This just wasn’t for me. So many of my friends were getting married, meeting people, loving their jobs, living healthy, fulfilling lives… and here I was, in the middle of nowhere, far away from everything and everyone I loved, and not making one whit of difference no matter how hard I tried.

Project1I remember sitting at my desk, exhausted, too tired to stand and walk around the room monitoring my students as they labored over their exam.

It was December. Christmas break was in sight. I wondered what I would do when I left Louisiana, or how I could begin to explain my decision to my principal or ACE housemates.

I had never really failed at anything before. I had never tried something, given it all I had, and watched as my efforts crumbled into humiliations, day after day.

I didn’t like failing.

I had never failed a subject in school, and here I was, feeling like a failure as a teacher.

I kind of knew what some of my students must feel like. You try and try and nothing ever seems to get better.

As I sat at my desk, chin on my hand, I began to look at each of my students*. There was Kelly with a frown on her face as she scribbled down the first few sentences of her essay. She had scared me to death when I first met her, because I knew she was exactly the sort of person who would have really intimidated me when I was in high school. She wasn’t afraid to speak her mind or let you know if she thought you were complete incompetent. And yet we had developed a mutual, if guarded, respect.

And then there was Jeffery, gazing off into space as he absent-mindedly chewed the end of his pen. He was always too “cool” to care about school, or most anything else for that matter. But we got along. He smiled sometimes when I forced him to write an answer down.

Then there was Peter, dark-eyed and kind of scary. The other teachers had warned me about him. But I had always given him things to do from day one. “Hey, Peter, could you please take this to the office for me?” “Peter, would you go and tell Mr. Benoit that…” “Peter, I’m going to trust you with this: please…” And I think he was so surprised I entrusted him with anything that he never acted up in my class. Not once.

I looked at smug Mike, the one who always annoyingly tried to compliment me. “Hey, Ms. Shea, I like that dress.” “Do your bell work, Mike.” “Hey, Ms. Shea, you look beautiful today.” “Irrelevant, Mike. Sit down.” “But Ms. Shea, I’m just trying’ to…” “I don’t care, Mike.” “Hey, Ms. Shea…” “I’m happy to see you too, Mike. Do your work.”

I smiled in spite of myself.

I kept looking around the room at all the faces bent down over my exam, the pens and pencils scratching, heads leaning heavily on hands that occasionally were waved vigorously to get the blood circulating again after so much writing.

And I realized something strange.

So many of my college friends were finding love in so many beautiful ways (okay, mostly via marriage and children), and yet I suddenly saw that I had found love too.

I loved my students.

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but that December I realized that somewhere along the way, it had.

God may not have given me the kind of love I was looking for or hoping for, but He had given me these kids.

And I knew I couldn’t leave.

I had to stay.

And that’s why I didn’t quit my first year of teaching.

source: theteachergarden.blogspot.com



*All names have been changed.

6 thoughts on “Why I Didn’t Quit My First Year of Teaching

  1. Glad you stayed! We need good teachers. I taught ccd to 7th grade and thought it was the hardest thing. And I know that probably doesn’t even compare.

  2. I’m also glad you stayed but know exactly how you felt as those thoughts were going through my mind too. Your presence would have been sorely missed in the ACE 18 cohort and you are an exceptional teacher. Keep up the great work!

  3. Maura,

    I read your post before school this morning, and now that I have a little time to sit down and put my thoughts together, I wanted to share my reactions with you (and with anyone else who happens to read this, because they deserve to know as you do) and let you take them for what they’re worth.
    It wasn’t long after I arrived at Notre Dame that I first met you. In fact, you and Mary Kate were the first two people I met on campus after Luke, my host for that weekend, drove me to the apartment complex where we were first introduced. It wasn’t a long meeting, but I remember it well. We shared a few more encounters as the weekend progressed, most notably the time spent savoring our boxed lunches while waiting to be fingerprinted in the lobby of Hammes-Mowbray, the walk to Notre Dame Stadium to catch the Blue-Gold Game, and our premature departure and subsequent stroll to LaFortune, where we stood staring at a world map teeming with pinpoints that depicted each ND student’s place of origin. Somewhere along the continuum of time and conversation—I don’t know exactly where—you made an impression upon me I wouldn’t forget, one that would help propel me through my first year of ACE and beyond. I don’t think I really knew how to put it into words at the time, but since then I’ve reflected often on how you have always emanated this sense of confidence and humility through your words and actions. You’ve always shown yourself to be a talented and gifted person—writer, poet, musician, thinker, and of course, teacher—but it’s that rare combination of two seemingly paradoxical qualities you possess that, I feel, makes you so special and so remarkable as an individual. And I think it’s in the rarity of that occurrence—that phenomenon if you will—that you inspired me the most, because we human beings might, at best, demonstrate strength in one of those areas but not the other.

    I, too, struggled mightily my first year, and it was just before Advent Retreat that I hit my low point. I was about as close to quitting as I had ever been, and though I didn’t quite have my finger on the “eject” button just yet, the idea crossed my mind several times a day. I don’t want what I say to put you off, but for the sake of being honest, I wasn’t looking forward to very much on that retreat other than getting the chance to see and speak to you. I knew if anyone could put me back into the right frame of mind, and maybe instill in me the confidence and humility I had found so elusive that first semester, it was you. I was equal parts thrilled and relieved when I learned you and I were in the same small group with Sarah Greene. It wasn’t a terribly long meeting, and I still felt pretty down afterward, but simply hearing how things were going on your end was enough to reassure me that things would be okay.

    Returning to ACE Richmond wasn’t easy, but I managed through the rest of the year and made it back to ACE Second Summer in one piece. I’m grateful I stayed with it, because I never would have discovered the depth of the joys teaching can bring otherwise, and I probably would have regretted the decision to quit for the rest of my life. Instead, my big regret lies in my failure to thank you until now. What’s worse, perhaps I never would have said anything if you had kept quiet about your own experiences. So thank you. Thank you for your courage, for your example, for your perseverance, and for everything else I should have thanked you for long ago. Because who knows where I’d be without you.

    – Stephen

    P.S. The ones you teach aren’t always on the other side of the desk…

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Stephen! (Or Ferg, as I should say…) They mean a lot to me. It’s really cool to see how God’s grace reaches all of us in the most unexpected ways. I’m happy I could be a vehicle for that grace for you just as you (and so many wonderful ACErs) have been for me.

      I remember our first meeting very well! You were one of the few people I talked to that weekend that made me feel like maybe I would like ACE after all… haha Everyone was kind, but I was super nervous and felt really out of place.

      It’s so hard to explain ACE to anyone who has never done it, but when one is with another ACEr, you don’t really have to explain anything. Yet I think a lot of young first year teachers can relate.

      I think it’s important for us to remember that teaching is a pretty unique calling and isn’t for everybody. I am so blessed that I am called to it right now, and hopefully will be for the foreseeable future. I’m so glad you are too. But even in ACE there are wonderful people who realize that they are being called to something else.

      I guess my post was primarily directed to other teachers, perhaps especially first year teachers— but I think people in most service professions can relate. It’s love that keeps you going. Not so much your own love really, but God’s love pulling you in over and over again.

  4. “Hey Ms. Shea, that was a beautiful reflection right there.”

    What a great blessing that you stayed with it. I have no doubt the ones that appreciated it the most were those very ones who were the reason you didn’t quit, even if at times all they could appreciate was your dress. I mean, what can I say, it is good ‘ol Louisiana.

    Forwarded this to my faculty. Thanks for the great reminder and hope you’re doing well!

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