Why I'm Not Another Burned Out Teacher.
Having Realistic Expectations
I was looking at a blog a while back that was apparently a site set up for teachers to vent their frustrations, and the person who wrote the latest post had done some serious venting. He was talking about frustrating things that every teacher deals with, particularly apathetic, whining, excuse making students. This poor individual was cursing his fate, wondering why he had ever made this career choice in the first place. Hopefully, this was just venting. I suspect, however, that there are many teachers out there who should have moved on to a different career some time ago.
There was a time in my teaching career when I could relate even more to what this person was feeling. During my years as a secondary level teacher, especially when I was masochistic enough to teach junior high, there were many days when I dreaded going to work or found myself counting down the hours until lunch or the days until the next vacation. Those days, however, have long since passed. And yet, at the community college level, I have large numbers of students who fit the descriptions found in that man’s angry blog post just mentioned. So why am I not venting my frustrations more often in the hubs that I write, at the angry teachers site, or in some little diary hidden beneath my bed?
Let me state very clearly that my sense of contentment with my job is not the result of an extremely calm and noble personality. As family and friends can attest, I often get annoyed at little things: the Lakers taking an inferior team lightly, anything (especially my computer) not working as it should, or my kids resisting my repeated attempts to get them to brush their teeth. When I was younger, I was legendary for my bad sportsmanship when playing sports or games. I remember when my high school tennis coach told us one day that he would fine us in the future for the use of bad language on the court. I quickly accumulated a hell of a tab, a sum so high that he gave up the hope of ever collecting. I still have my moments on the racquetball court or during Scrabble games today, but they are nothing like the outbursts of the past. As a young teacher, I would often commit the cardinal sin of losing my temper in the classroom (much to the delight of many of the students). Even during my early years as a college teacher, I would occasionally experience a flashback and let my temper (and mouth) get the better of me.
Today, however, performing and thinking about my job does not produce very much anger. It all seems a bit backwards. Instead of becoming burned out and frustrated over the years due to unmotivated, occasionally annoying students, I actually have more enthusiasm for my job than ever before. So what happened? Part of this may be due to my increasing age. As I have gotten older, I have grown a bit calmer. In my non-working life, however, I still lose it from time to time. So why am I rarely yelling at students these days?
After pondering these questions for a few days, I have concluded that it comes down to a couple of things. First of all, the daily annoyances that I might face today are nothing like they were at the secondary level. I have had people ask me several times how I deal with discipline problems in my current job. I always look at them kind of funny and say, “What discipline problems?” Students in my class may talk a little when they are not supposed to, nod off from time to time, or focus mostly on the text messages that they are secretly (they think) composing. But compared to junior high, this is paradise. I think that every college teacher should spend a few years teaching younger kids. Only then can they fully appreciate what they have at the college level. I can generally talk without major distractions in a college class, which is something I could rarely do in the eighth grade for more than thirty seconds at a time. In college, the annoying little behaviors of students do not generally get in the way of my teaching or students’ learning. Anyone likely to cause bigger problems in class generally stops showing up after a short time. (I encourage them to stay away.). In college, learning is not mandatory. If people want to screw around, it’s their life. As long as they do not disrupt the class for the people who want to learn something, it’s fine with me.
The second reason for my general contentment relates to a simple observation of some wise man – in fact, it may have been me - or woman: an optimist is never pleasantly surprised. I know going into a class that a certain percentage of students are not going to try particularly hard and will end up either failing or dropping my class. Because I expect this to happen, flaky, disappearing students do not generate a lot of anger or discouragement. Does this mean that I am an emotionally calloused person, hardened by years of student failure, who stays calm because he has learned to stop caring? I don’t think so. I want students to be successful, and I will do whatever I can to help a student who really wants to learn. I can also sincerely say that I begin each class under the assumption that everyone there can potentially learn some history (and most of them do). However, I also know that certain factors will inevitably get in the way of success. It may be a student’s lack of self-discipline or necessary academic skills. Often, the student’s personal life gets in the way. There are going to be students at times who should make something else in their lives a higher priority than my history class. Given these undeniable facts, there is no reason for me to get all bent out of shape when things do not go perfectly. And if more students do well than I may have originally expected, I get to be pleasantly surprised. It’s all about expectations.
Summing everything up, the simple fact is that I have found the right job for me. This is why it would be a tragedy (for me anyway) if, due to continuing budget cuts, I soon lose the opportunity to keep doing it. I should go out and find a site where I can vent about my fear of losing the opportunity to teach. (Or I can just get rich writing hubs and selling books.)
Speaking of which . . . .