The first year of teaching is notoriously horrible.
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.
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.
*All names have been changed.