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The Honeymoon Is Over: What Killed My First Teaching Job And 7 Tips For Getting Your Next Job

As I have written before, I was terrible at classroom management. My first two years were miserable. I hated teaching. Then it happened. I absolutely believe that I would be the same teacher today that I was then if it had not happened! You see, I wasn’t fired but in a moment I lost my first teaching job.


What happened?

We had a friend of mine come in to work with the high school band and the two junior high bands. He is a retired band director and is an outstanding clinician.

He came and worked with all three bands. My band (the second junior high band) was bad. I knew that. I had kids who would talk back to me and just wouldn’t participate and everything else. I figured it was because of the city I lived in. It wasn’t as affluent as the school where I student taught, or any of the other schools I had taught private lessons in when I was in college. It was more rural. So I blamed the kids.

After my class, he pulled me into my office and basically ripped me a new one. He asked what in the world I was doing. He asked me if any of our mutual friends would be proud of the work I was doing there. He told me he was disappointed.

Later that week, the high school director said that the clinician had recommended that they not renew my contract. He told me that the next school board meeting was when they would vote to approve contract extensions and they weren’t going to vote to extend mine.

I was devastated

After all of the work that I had put into rebuilding the program and the morale of the students at the high school and elementary, I was going to have to find a new job. And what stung the most to me was that it was a friend who had made the recommendation. What if I had never invited him to come over? What if I had only told him to work with the high school and the top group at the junior high? Why did I have to do that to myself anyway?

Decision determines destiny

I had a choice. I could finish out the year sour and bitter over the whole issue, or I could learn from the experience. I made a choice. I got on the phone almost every day from then on and was calling up other teachers. I visited other teachers in my class. My new mission in life was to find out how to not lose my next job.

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A Burden lifted

I turned in my resignation (so I could check the box that says I have never been nonrenewed) the day before the board meeting. Spring break was the following week. I sacrificed my spring break and spent four days in classrooms in other band programs. I asked the directors tons of questions. How do you do this? How do you do that? For a list of some of those questions (and soem of the answers I got), go read Questions That Will Save Your Career.

I came back from spring break a new man. The kids didn’t know what hit me. I became a benevolent dictator. I was in charge of the classroom (instead of letting the kids take over as I had previously done). I explained the new rules on Monday. By Tuesday, I was dishing out detentions left and right. it took a lot of work, but I finally started to see the ship turn.

How I did it

I already told you about the questions I asked. I also changed my entire frame of mind. I didn’t formally announce it to the students until the last two or three weeks of the year. But a lot of them knew because I had told a few parents and rumors started spreading. What I noticed was that I wasn’t all that concerned any more. If the kids dropped out of band because I was making them follow rules, well maybe they didn’t need to stay in the program after all. I was not being mean, but I was being strict. I basically used the remainder of the year as a classroom management lab session for myself.

And it worked. The spring concert in May was the best concert I had in the district the entire time I was there.

The change in mindset was exemplified to me one day when I was at the high school. The restroom next to the band hall had been a student restroom, but was recently had a lock added and was converted to a faculty restroom because of some concerns they had with student usage. I honestly don’t know why.

One of the students came up to me and asked if she could use it. I told her, “well it’s a faculty restroom and you’re not supposed to, but what are they going to do, fire me?” I said it with a laugh, and she got sad, but it’s true. Sometimes administrators like to major in minors and focus on minutiae rather than the really important things. Before I resigned, I wouldn’t have let her go. I’m a rule-follower generally.

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What else changed?

I took things less seriously. I enjoyed spending time with the kids while I was still there. I continued talking with friends and asking more classroom management questions. I have come full circle now and have almost become a classroom management evangelist. Why? Because I know firsthand both sides of the coin. On one side, you have a room full of clowns trying to take advantage of everyone. On the other side, you have the same group of kids behaving well because they know there are consequences to their actions.

Great story, but I just got fired! Now what?

One of my new blogging friends, Keri, has recently lost her job. So what practical advice can I offer her (or you if you fall in the same category)?

  1. I used all of my local sick leave days
    In Texas, we have state sick days which transfer from district to district. We also have local sick days, which do not transfer. For the last 9 weeks of the school year, I used a sick day a week. I made some four day weekends, I had a job interview one or two days. I just sat at home and slept in some. Heck, if you don’t have local days, just take some YOU time anyway. The kids don’t need you. The administrators don’t need you.
  2. Don’t burn any bridges
    Get a letter of recommendation from as many people as you can find who will recommend you. Have them on file. These will help tremendously with your interviews. I didn’t get any because I left on positive terms with everyone involved. My situation was unique in some ways.
  3. Deepen the friendships you have built
    It always pays off to have other friends in other districts who will be there to help you out. Need the name of that one book that the kids enjoyed last year but you didn’t write it down, but it had a girl in a pink dress on the cover? Maybe one of the teachers there still can help you out! Or maybe the librarian can check and see what books you checked out. Whatever the case, it always helps to cement those relationships while you can.
  4. Update your resume now!
    Need some help? Go here.
  5. Get as many interviews as you can
    The worst thing you can do is limit your options because you want a specific area of the state. I say that and I live in Texas. I had interviews 500 miles apart in two days at one point. If nothing else, you can some great interviewing experience through the process. The best jobs are available in May and June. Don’t wait until August before you widen your range of acceptable jobs! Take interviews on school days. You’ll be able to see the school in action, and it will give you a productive use of a day off.
  6. Rekindle old friendships
    Some of the best jobs are never advertised. Most of the best jobs are filled by people who know people who know people hiring people. Brush up on your social skills.
  7. Pray
    This was a period that found me seeking the Lord more than I ever have. It was August and I still didn’t have a job lined up. Summer band had already begun for most high schools around the state. I was falling behind. But God was in control. I had to submit to Him. I had to tell myself that everything would work out. And it did. I love my job now. I am in a place I wouldn’t have dreamed of wanting to go, but it works!
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I know, lots of information to digest here. Have you ever been fired? What did you do that worked well for you? What did you do after losing your job that you wish you hadn’t done?

Joel Wagner (@sywtt) began teaching band in 2002. Though he had a lot of information, his classes were out of control. He found himself tired, frustrated, disrespected by students, lonely, and on the brink of quitting. He had had enough. He resigned from his school district right before spring break of his second year and made it his personal mission to learn to be a great teacher. So You Want To Teach? is the ongoing story of that quest for educational excellence.

Joel Wagner
Joel Wagner (<strong><a href="">@sywtt</a></strong>) began teaching band in 2002. Though he had a lot of information, his classes were out of control. He found himself tired, frustrated, disrespected by students, lonely, and on the brink of quitting. He had had enough. He resigned from his school district right before spring break of his second year and made it his personal mission to learn to be a great teacher. <strong><a href="">So You Want To Teach?</a></strong> is the ongoing story of that quest for educational excellence.

11 thoughts on “The Honeymoon Is Over: What Killed My First Teaching Job And 7 Tips For Getting Your Next Job

  1. This is a great article. I write on psychology and particularly on becoming a Self Defined Person, the first step being, of course, taking responsibility for changing experience.

    I wrote a book, The Special Educator: Stress and Survival which is still meandering in the caverns of Amazon and am working on another. Can I pull out parts of what you wrote–giving you credit, of course.

    I’ll check back for more.

  2. It would have been good for me if something like this had happened early in my career. Instead, I had to discover through trial and error over many years what did and didn’t work.

    Worse, I head to learn not to accept poor behavior. As you noted, it is easy to allow misbehavior and blame it on the kids.

    There is something to having outside observers. The principal could do this and perhaps it should be part of the career path for teachers. After one semester of student teaching, the teacher may be ready to step into a classroom, but that teacher still requires a lot of guidance and advice. Too many leave the field because they are not getting this support.

  3. @Waski_the_Squirrel – You are totally on target there. What are some proactive solutions that districts could come up with that realistically address this situation?

    My district had a mentoring program this year (presumably provided by grant money) that paired newer teachers with more experienced ones. They had regular meetings and some staff development days. Additionally, they had a few days where they would walk into various classrooms with administrators to see what was going on.

    Wouldn’t it be great if ever district had initiatives similar to that?

  4. How about this? After teaching for almost 18 years…I am LEAVING! First, I am accused of feeding students the answers to a test….the principal accused me this and never checked it out! I believe that two students stole a copy of the test out of my desk. Instead…I was written up! I had never had any negative written in my reviews at all!
    Next, I am being harassed by not only this jerk, but also his assistant and the dean of students. Anything and everything they can think up…they do. I am stopped at least 3 times a week to “speak” to them about something. Silly things such as a kid who had a scratch that is two days old…but wanted a bandaid. ( go to the nurse…and get out of class. yes, I do let kids leave for real reasons. Again and again this happens! I feel like this is discrimination…but the union thinks that is just a clash of personalities. With three people? I have never had a problem with any administrator! Why now? I am at a different school in our district and all these individuals are new to the district!
    Yes, I know it sounds insane…but its true! I have made out a report to EEOC…but it takes forever for them to get anything done…so I am getting panic attacks everytime one of them comes near my room and am nerve medicene. Its a nightmare! Previous to this…I loved teaching and have received “Excellents” on my reviews!

  5. At a training yesterday, I learned that there is a manual you are supposed to give to people new to the district so they can easily figure out where online to go to learn about things like how to use the gradebook, how to use the online TAKS score evaluation system, and how to reserve books from the district library online (and much more).
    I laughed quietly to myself because I was new to the district last year, (and new to teaching in public schools full time) and no one showed me or told me about this book at the beginning of the year. It was near the end of the year when I had an elementary support specialist working with me that I finally learned how to use all of those district computer programs.

    I am supposed to start back to work to this same place in two days.

  6. I really feel bad when old fart teachers rip on new teachers. I truly feel they don’t understand the ADD population we now serve.

    I quit the teaching profession because of these “know it alls” that have an answer for everything. If you have a degree and a teaching credential, other teachers should shut their annoying traps.

  7. OK, so I quit my teaching job of 10 years to go into sales and marketing. Well, Sept 3rd, I was laid off of my Marketing Director position. Now where do I go? What are alternative jobs for people with a teaching degree but very little experience in other areas?

  8. I find myself in a similar situation. I am entering my second year of teaching, and sill do not have a handle on managing my classroom. There is a big push for my school to achieve a certain standard on the state test, and my students have not been performing well. I have been placed on an intervention plan, and my contract is not likely to be renewed next year. I loved my student teaching, and want to be able to make it in this profession. This article really helped!

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