Why I Hated Teaching During My First Two Years

948631_portrait_4.jpgNewby writes:

I have noticed lately in a couple of your posts you mentioned how terrible your first couple of years of teaching were. As a new reader, I have gone back into your archived information to learn more about this blog but have not come across why you had such a hard time. What made your first years so difficult? As a teacher with more years under your belt, do you think those experiences helped make you a better teacher or would you just as well forget about them altogether?

What made my first years so difficult?
I think there were a few factors that made my first year difficult.

  1. I didn’t know how to control the class
    I am a firm believer that classroom management is your key to success in the classroom. I have since learned how to control my students very well. The knowledge that I would eventually learn it sure didn’t make the first couple of years any better, though.
  2. I didn’t generally misbehave when I was in school, so I couldn’t relate to misbehaviors well
    I can count on one hand the number of times I was tardy to class in my entire school career. I never got into fights. I never was assigned detention. My parents never had to be called about my actions. This made relating with these kinds of students a seemingly insurmountable task. Because I had such a great teacher to student teach with, I didn’t what kinds of consequences to assign either.
  3. I was too proud to ask for help
    I’m a guy, what can I say? :)
  4. When I finally realized I needed help, I didn’t know where to go for it
    I asked the head band director I worked with for help and he didn’t know what to tell me. I left it at that and just assumed I would learn it with time. I didn’t feel any more confident going into my second year than I did my first. In fact, I felt even less confident.

Do I think those experiences helped make me a better teacher?
Absolutely! If I didn’t royally mess up, I wouldn’t have known what I needed to fix. If I had been an average or adequate teacher, or if I had very low expectations for myself, I might still be floating along. I see many teachers like that all the time. It’s as if they have never had that wake-up call.

Mine came when a friend came to clinic my band. He got finished and pretty much laid into me without mercy. I felt defeated. I felt worthless. But then he encouraged me a few days later and inspired me to learn what in the world I was doing. I began to call him and some other friends all the time and ask them how they did this, what I should try with that, and on it went. I would call sometimes two or three times a day. “Hey, I did this, I said this, and they did this. What next?”

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The end of my second year of teaching was the most eye-opening two and a half months of my teaching career. I transformed my third-rate band into a group of kids who had a presentable spring concert in May. I then moved to another school district and started out my third year as the expert. I taught only sixth grade band, and they all came in not knowing what to expect. They tell me that I yelled at some of the classes on the first day. Never again. But I did explain and overexplain procedures to them. I spent the first week going over classroom procedures every single day. The first three days, that is ALL we did.

Would I just as well forget about them altogether?
No way! Do I want to forget about the pain? Sure, but not if it means losing the scars that the pain brought to me. Scars are a visual sign of points of pivotal change in our lives. Many teachers go around with tire treadmarks on their backside and think they are scars of growth. The difference is in our response to the pain. If we forget from whence we have come, we will be prone to repeating the same problems. We will be that one teacher who is in his 27th consecutive first year of teaching!

Now it’s your turn
What about you? How have you grown from your early experiences of teaching? Would you want to relive them? What have you learned? Share with us!

About Joel Wagner 522 Articles
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.

17 Comments on Why I Hated Teaching During My First Two Years

  1. I can definitely relate to the shock you seemed to have during your first year. I think I assumed that all my students were future music majors who were dying of thirst for the knowledge I was oh-so-well prepared to disseminate. As any second-year teacher can tell you, that’s rarely the case.

    I also underestimated the need to personally connect with my students. I treated the relationships as strictly professional, and did very little to show any interest in the lives of students outside of music class. (I’m of course talking about appropriate student/teacher relationships here!) As a result, they felt no connection to me or motivation to excel. Only by the end of the year, after I had already secretly decided not to continue at that school for a second year, did I make any effort to connect with my students. When I did, they responded wonderfully. Even some of my most venomous students and parents warmed up to me.

  2. Kyle: I didn’t really hate it that much, but I didn’t like it as I thought I was going to. The largest problem for me was classroom management. I know lots of information but wasn’t able to convey that because I was fighting kids!

  3. Yeah, I think I am a better teacher for how miserable I was at the beginning. I couldn’t control a class, and turned (largely) to the wrong people for advice.

    Also, my school system had a culture of letting newbies cope on their own at first… rotten, rotten way to handle people (it developed when the profession was more stable, and the discipline problems were not as large, but that’s hardly an excuse).

    Also, my school system had a culture of making newbies write brand new lessons, even though reasonable lessons were lying around. I was so busy writing (massive effort for, at best, mediocre results) that I denied myself time to adequately reflect on what were my real sets of problems.

    Anyhow, I did get better, and now I advocate quite strongly for better support, for real support, for new teachers. It’s 11 years ago, and I still remember how lousy it was.

  4. Jonathan: That’s really why I started this website. I remember how ineffective I was in my first two years and hope to be able to at least help provide an opportunity for young and prospective teachers to have a fighting chance at avoiding those kinds of problems! Keep fighting the fight, man. :)

  5. The only thing that kept me from quitting in my first few years of teaching was the thought that had I gone into any other business, I would forever think of myself as a failed teacher. I got my first job under an internship. I never had a day of student teaching. I was thrown in alone… the only music teacher in the entire school. I had never managed program finances before, never dealt with parents, never had to do the paperwork…. I felt like a complete failure 24/7. I let the band boosters push me around, and the school was not particularly supportive. I had a couple of families who had it in for me so bad, they were spreading rumors around the community…. that I was sexually involved with students, that I was stealing money from the program. By the time I left that school I was kind of a mess, spiritually. My next job went a lot better…. so much so that I’m still there.

    I’ve been doing this for fourteen years now, and I still think of myself as a screw-up half the time. But you know what, I wouldn’t do anything else.

  6. as a education major i found the you-tube clips very distressing but as a adult in an urban city i am well aware of the dangers and problems that teachers face every day while justing to education some of the countries most poverty stricken populations. the greatest problem that most of these children seem to have is low self-esteem. most of them problem assume that they are unable to acheive anything greater than what they see in there home enviroments. this being the case the only reason that most of them come to school in the frist place is so that the parents can avoid jail. But still, i know that there are still some children in these settings that are capable of acheiving great things if some capable adult is willing and able to help them find their path. but, just in case I am also doing another major. just in case i not the one.

  7. @Mr. Maestro

    I don’t think that most people have any clue all of the administrative work that goes into music programs. Even those who are in college studying to be music teachers! I was fortunate that I was able to build up a private lesson studio of over 40 students in seven different school districts by the time I got around to student teaching.

    I used the time that I was in schools to talk with band directors and got to see them planning trips, collecting fundraiser money, having parent meetings, organizing private lessons programs, scheduling concerts, putting together programs, etc. I even stayed after school one day (free pizza is a beautiful thing) and helped out with office work while a director was going over her budget proposal for the next year.

  8. @Venrice

    Welcome to SYWTT! I’m glad you’re here and I hope you find some useful stuff on here. You talk about a low self-esteem and kids having a sort of defeatist attitude. I recorded my band on Thursday and they sounded really good for where we are at this point.

    I played it yesterday and asked them what they thought. Some of them heard a few wrong notes so their first response was “we suck.” I had to correct them, remind them how much progress we have made since the beginning of this month, and try to encourage them. My district has a large number of people below the poverty line also.

    It’s amazing to see what these kids can do when they see a light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully they will really turn up the energy the next two weeks as we finalize our preparations for our competition!

  9. You know, there was another thing that was VERY distressing in my first year. Like a lot of people, I went to work right out of college. The transition from care-free college student to full time teacher was traumatic. Suddenly I had no “me” time… I was spending every waking hour preparing for the next day. It felt as if the job were swallowing my life. No time for friends, barely enough time to keep my relationship going. It scared the hell out of me. Also, I didn’t like the whole waking-up-at-6-a.m. thing (I was used to… well, you know a college kid… ) Then one day as I was lamenting my early morning commute, I looked around on the freeway and suddenly realized how many people there were on the road with me. That’s when I told myself to shut up and act like an adult.

    Well, here I am fourteen years later, and I guess the job DID become my life, and the students, staff and community became like family. I’m really comfortable with it now. I moved my wake-up time back to 5 a.m. to get another hour in before school (and became a regular at Starbucks) and pushed my go-home time to 5 or 6 p.m. (at least). Yeah, I’m a pretty happy workaholic these days.

  10. I hated teaching so much after 4 years that I went back to school for a second master and am now working in a completely different career. I found that I couldn’t stand 2 things: 1) the lack of accountability that seemed to abound among the parents of my students 2) Coming home exhausted every night – I hope to some day have my own children, and didn’t feel that I would be able to function as a parent if I kept teaching. After I decided I was done, and while I was in my second master’s program, I taught preschool (for 2 years), which I absolutely loved. I felt at that age the kids might actually appreciate me as an educator (and care-giver) – which they did! It was fun and rewarding, but again, very exhausting.

  11. I’m a first year teacher, and the only things keeping me going are: I need the money, and I have made friendships with fellow coworkers. What I hate the most is PARENTS. The parents who feel that their child does no wrong- that their child is not responsible for their actions. I would honestly quit because of them. Sorry, “servant” and “personal assistant” are NOT written on my forehead. Next year may/may not happen for me.

    • Katy:

      I’m sorry you’re in that situation. As hard as it is to remember, the parents really just want the best for their children. I would encourage you to get to a situation where you have a really supportive administration and read my article Questions That Will Save Your Career. I’m also posting this comment on the blog.

  12. My difficulties began when I started teaching CEGEP, the interim college that all students in Quebec attend before going on to university. I went into this job expecting students to be mature and motivated, and to have a certain basic level of language and cognitive skill. The wake-up call was gradual, but I eventually descended into such a pit of anxiety that I seriously considered quitting.

    I’m now writing a series about how I pulled myself out and learned to love my job again. It began yesterday, and will continue over the next few weeks. You’ll find the introductory post here:

    http://timesonline.typepad.com/schoolgate/2009/05/introducing-guest-blogger-and-teacher-siobhan-curious-and-her-first-post-how-she-saved-her-teaching-.html#comments

    I love your blog – my only complaint is that I can’t possibly find time to read all your useful posts…

  13. You’re first 2 years are a description of my past 8 years. I must be that teacher who starts his first year “27 times.” It makes me feel totally worthless, but for me, financially, I can’t quit this job. My only solution is to improve. I’ve tried many things, maybe this site will help…

  14. Hey, Carolyn,

    I feel your pain. I’ve taught high school English for ten years, mostly in the trenches. I don’t care how consistent a teacher’s routines are, how much the lesson plans are aligned with the state standards, how differentiated the curriculum is. Students care less and less about learning, unless it’s a “fun” class. Of course, we must always keep evaluating ourselves and looking for ways to keep excelling. But the best teacher in the world can’t stand up to a kid continually refusing to do homework and talking smack in class (and knowing s/he can get away with it because admins won’t appropriately punish). One of my favorite reasons for kids not doing any work? They’ve chosen to fail a semester – heck, the whole year – and re-take it in summer school so they don’t have to babysit their siblings. No joke.

    Hang in there!

  15. I am a struggling first – year. I left a lucrative career to go into the inner city schools and teach. I am miserable. I cry every day. I hate it. I am trying so hard to stick with the job because I know that I am a good teacher and these kids could use one. It feels good to get that out. The district lied to me about the requirements of the job and I haven't gotten paid in six weeks…I know a lot of people are going through the same…I don't know why anyone would stick with this job…thanks for your website…

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