Cope or quit?

Discussion in 'General Education' started by reg, Nov 17, 2018.

  1. reg

    reg Rookie

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    Nov 17, 2018

    I'm almost halfway through my third year teaching, it's my worst year yet, and I would love your insights. I've gone from teaching 11th grade chemistry to 9th grade environmental science and people warned me I was in for a hard year but I had no idea how bad it would be. Nearly all of my students either were socially promoted from middle school so aren't actually 9th graders or are repeating the class. They've had academic and/or behavioral struggles for years and it shows. I've always struggled with classroom management because I find crowd control really challenging and though I've come a long way in terms of being able to confront students and contact their parents, my classes are still wildly out of control. I teach at a high poverty, high trauma school and my students bring so much baggage that they're always on edge and picking fights with each other (in addition to just pretending but I never know how serious they are). They refuse to stop talking and literally run around the classroom and tackle each other to get chips and scream at me on a daily basis, in addition to lower volume disrespect (them telling me what I'd better do, how horrible I am, that they're going to report me, etc).

    I have learned not to take any of this personally but I'm worried because my body is reacting badly to all this stress. I spend a few hours a day feeling like I'm buzzing because there's so much chaos, my heart rate goes way up, I can't think clearly, I trip over my words, etc. It's at a point where it takes very little for me to react this way and it's really hard for me to shut it off. Additionally, in the past week, I've realized that I'm starting to get depressed. It's getting so much harder for me to force myself to do work prepping after hours when none of it seems to make a difference. This past week, I ended up taking a sick day because I couldn't handle the thought of going in and being so disrespected all day (and simultaneously having the kids blame me for their poor grades). In just the past couple days, I'm realizing that my motivation to engage in hobbies is declining and that really concerns me. I had a horrible experience in grad school previously that left me anxious and depressed and it took me months to recover and I'm terrified of going through that again.

    There's no way I'll make it to summer at this rate. I saw a therapist for the first time yesterday and she's going to help me find some coping strategies to try (as well as explore other careers) but I wanted your help exploring my options if I just CAN'T stay. FWIW, I wasn't very happy at this school last year (it's not a good fit for me philosophically, racist co-workers that I don't feel comfortable voicing my disagreement to, overall very low morale) and I tried to transfer out but I was unsuccessful.

    There are a couple of issues with outright quitting. One, I'm worried I'd never get a teaching job again. I really want to try teaching somewhere else before I give up entirely. I think working somewhere where I clicked with my colleagues could make a huge difference. At the same time, I think classroom teaching might just be too much being "on" at 110% for an introvert like myself; honestly I see classroom teaching as my springboard to a different job in education, such as curriculum development or helping kids get into college. I'd love to spend more of my day at a desk and work with people in smaller groups or one on one. Do you think medical leave might be an option? The therapist sounded pretty concerned when I told her how this job was affecting me.

    The second hurdle is that after this semester finishes, I'm a single semester of teaching internship away from having my MAT. I've worked my TAIL off for this degree and I really want to complete the program. I haven't talked to them but maybe I'd be able to take next semester off and then do my final internship in the fall or even do traditional student teaching instead. I think I might really benefit from working so closely with a mentor. At the same time, I don't want to stick out the year in order to finish my degree and be SO traumatized and burned out by teaching that I run far from education (which is what happened after I finished my previous masters in a different field).

    I have some days where things go well and it's so wonderful and then the next day will be awful. What do you think? I really don't want to quit midyear but at the rate I'm going mentally, I will reach a point where I'm no longer functional. I'm thinking of setting myself a firm deadline (like maybe January) to evaluate if things have gotten any better and to leave if they haven't. It doesn't help that the school year started the first week of August and we've only had 4 days off since then.

    So many thanks for reading!! I really appreciate it!
     
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  3. rpan

    rpan Cohort

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    Nov 18, 2018

    I’m so sorry things haven’t turned out well for you this year. I want to say that your health comes first no matter what, no job is worth your health. If your therapist can arrange for you to have some medical leave to give you a break and give you coping mechanisms then that’s dandy and it can help you see out the year till you find another job in a school that’s a better fit. It’s always twice as hard when colleagues and admin don’t give you support.
    As to the question cope or quit, I think if you want to have a long term career in teaching you must improve your classroom management, perhaps take some courses over summer, read some books, arrange to observe some best practice, watch videos etc. Classroom management is the cornerstone for pedagogy. No amount of engaging curriculum or lesson is going to have an impact if the kids are not under control. You need to improve those skills so that when you move to a different school there’s a chance you can make it work long term. Classroom management is a skill and like any skill, the more you consciously work on it, the better you will become at it.
    Failing that, you may need to work in a non classroom setting in education, if that suits you better.
     
  4. akconnel

    akconnel Rookie

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    Nov 18, 2018

    I may not be the best person to answer this because I just quit my job and feel great about it. However I’ll answer anyway.

    The situation you describe sounds like something in which no human could possibly be successful. Unfortunately there are a lot of those situations in teaching. It doesn’t help that your classroom management is bad, but it’s a huge step that you admit that you need help in that area. Most people would just stay in denial and never learn.

    Don’t ask yourself whether or not you CAN continue in this situation. Instead ask “What personal cost will I pay if I choose to continue?” Then reflect on whether staying all year is worth that cost. I know that’s what helped me decide.

    In the event you do decide to leave, do not worry (like I did) of how everyone around you will react. For one, you’ll probably be surprised how many people support your decision (I know I was), and two, the reality is administration does not care about you personally. I know that sounds harsh but I have seen enough people get screwed over to know this is true. You are a personnel unit to them. Nothing more.

    I don’t know if this helps or not but I’ll say a prayer for you. Good luck!
     
  5. corunnermom

    corunnermom Rookie

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    Nov 18, 2018

    I think the questions to ask yourself are these...

    Do I enjoy coming to work most of the time?
    Do I still have my passion for teaching?
    Can I envision my career getting better with training?
    Can I see myself teaching in five years?
    Would going to another school make a difference?

    You and I seem to have a lot of similarities and I just quit my job. I hit a rock bottom place where I was NOT functional at all. Though my divorce was the trigger for most of this, my teaching job made things 100 times worse. I cry every morning before coming to work and dread it. In fact, I still I have 20 days left and I'm wondering if I can make it through those! I'm an introvert like you and though I work well with others, I prefer to work alone. When I started teaching, that was the case. We worked with a team occasionally, but we mostly worked on our own and were trusted to make good decisions for our kids. Not anymore...meeting, team planning, PLCs, committees...I get anxiety just thinking about it. It sounds like you have some wonderful ideas for some next steps and, honestly, I wouldn't worry about your future career in teaching. People quit for various reasons all the time...I know two teachers in my school who quit in March at other schools and one of them is my assistant principal. If it helps you, just Google "Why teachers quit" and you'll find you're not alone! Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith and do what's right for you and trust that things will work out okay!

    This may give you a little glimmer of hope...for a summer I was a program coordinator for an at-risk youth program. It was a great experience...I was basically my own boss, but I still was able to work with kids and make a difference! I worked with staff, but I was in charge and could be creative. That is the route I'm pursuing now.

    Best of luck to you. Life is sooooo short and money, pride and prestige truly aren't what it's all about. Do what fills your soul and what gives you contentment, purpose, and peace.
     
    Backroads likes this.
  6. Always__Learning

    Always__Learning Comrade

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    Nov 18, 2018

    My question would be about your comment that you left your last field after you finished your degree.

    If you read on this board, you will see some threads about anxiety. Posters provide great advice about how to find balance but some other posters talked about the idea that they will always have anxiety and that they have learned to work through it.

    This reminds me of the idea that no matter where we go, there we are.

    So my question is what happened in your last career? How is it similar/ different from this time? Is this a case where it makes more sense to walk away or to sit in that discomfort for awhile?
     
  7. readingrules12

    readingrules12 Aficionado

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    Nov 18, 2018

    Before you make that important decision, maybe you could take a personal day to observe some of the other 9th grade teachers classrooms with P permission and the teacher's permission as well. This might give you some ideas on classroom management and how to deal with the incredible challenging situation you have.

    After trying out a few new strategies for a few days, you might better know if you should stay or go. If you choose to stay, for your own benefit, find a good classroom management system or teacher that can help improve classroom management leading to a less stressful situation.
     
    creativemonster likes this.
  8. reg

    reg Rookie

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    Nov 18, 2018

    Thanks for your reply. It hadn't occurred to me that I might be able to take a short amount of time off under medical leave; I'll definitely explore that option.

    I have spent SO MUCH TIME reading up on classroom management techniques and talking to colleagues for advice. I've been doing things quite differently this year such as contacting parents right from the beginning of the year (rather than waiting), having parents come in for conferences, sending kids outside at the first sign of trouble and talking with them one-on-one (which one of my very successful colleagues SWEARS by), switching from handwritten notes that forced me to stay at my document cam to Powerpoints so I can be up and moving around the room at all times, using proximity control to the point of standing right next to students or even sitting atop their desks, calling the office when things are truly out of hand, writing referrals, implementing a classroom reward system, showering rewards upon the students who are doing what they're supposed to do in hopes that the others will catch on...

    Quite honestly, I think that if I were still teaching the juniors, I would have seen big improvements in student behavior this year. In the past, I never wrote students up, called the office when things were out of control, sent students to the hall, or really confronted them about their misbehavior. Sadly I learned more than a month into the school year that I wasn't checking the box on the referrals that emailed them to administration so I was writing all these kids up at the beginning of the year and nothing was happening because admin wasn't aware of it! I was always super hesitant to contact parents as well. I've gotten over all of that and taken a much harder stance and theoretically all of this should have made a difference. I would LOVE to at least have one class of less troubled students so I could see if I've actually gotten better at classroom management. I had an issue with students talking on tests so a colleague suggested picking up the test and giving the student a zero and telling them they'd have to take a free response version the next day. You'd think that after I picked up one or two papers kids would get the picture and stop talking. Nope!! I picked up half the class's papers and have had to do that on multiple occasions.

    The classroom management books I've read estimate that what, like 10-15% of students are tier 3 behavior-wise? My school has shunted all of the lowest performing students into the same classes so the figure is much, MUCH higher (plus over half of my students have learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD, and other disabilities that make school extra challenging for them).

    Edited to add: I should mention that the principal's philosophy in all of this is to document everything and keep writing referrals and eventually the problem children will be expelled. I write referrals in the hopes that students will act differently in the future and am discouraged when I don't see any changes. I need to remember that that's not how things work around here; admin has already written these kids off and I'm just supposed to outlast them. How freaking demoralizing and sad.
     
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2018
  9. reg

    reg Rookie

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    Nov 18, 2018

    I forgot to mention this in my initial post: 2 of my students' other teachers have already quit this year! It's definitely NOT me (not that I'm not trying my hardest to do better). Admin has told me that their other teachers are having similar problems. Half of my students are failing and when I check their grades in other classes, they're failing multiple other classes as well (in spite of all the vitriol they spew at me about wanting them to fail, being a horrible teacher, etc).

    I've spent a lot of time talking to the teachers who've taught this demographic (the not-actually 9th graders) in previous years. One said she'd go home every day crying and constantly had to call security to her class (but she eventually found some strategies that worked). Another said it was his hardest year teaching and he almost retired at the end of it (and he's a veteran teacher!). One coworker is impressed every morning that I showed up yet again.

    The personal cost is really what I'm weighing. My colleagues may have been able to hold it together for an entire year being miserable but I'm not sure that I can. Everyone is wired differently. My brain tends to make it abundantly clear when I'm in a situation that's unhealthy for me.
     
  10. reg

    reg Rookie

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    Nov 18, 2018

    First of all, wishing you all the best getting through this last stretch and finding your way towards a much healthier place.

    To answer your questions, I do think that a different school could make a big difference. I think I'd be much happier somewhere that uses restorative justice and trauma informed methods because I believe that's what my students desperately need. I think I'd need a ton of training to feel competent working with a similar demographic of students again. Honestly, I'd love to try teaching gifted. I was in gifted and I think I could really connect with those students (and I got to observe gifted classes at another school last year). I've had multiple teachers disparage those students to me (they think they're too weird) but I'm weird and maybe not entirely neurotypical so I think I'd click really well with those students. I also have to wonder if I'd click better with students of a more similar cultural background to me (I'm from California and I teach in the Deep South).

    And yeah, I just feel so out of place at my school and feeling like I have to put on a mask when I show up to work really doesn't help things. I identify as a liberal, progressive, non-religious feminist with a strong interest in social justice and that puts me so far at odds with so many of the people I work with. I hate hearing colleagues make racist remarks, use "retarded" as a slur, say that global warming is a myth (this is from science teachers!), say that we need to bring back corporal punishment etc. etc. I feel like I only get along with my coworkers because I keep my mouth shut. It doesn't help that people talk behind each other's backs.

    I'd REALLY love to teach somewhere where administrators reply to calls for backup rather than uniformed police officers. I am FIRMLY of the belief that police officers shouldn't be addressing discipline issues unless they truly warrant a police response. Having them show up only escalates things. Earlier this year, I had an officer use what I considered to be excessive force physically removing a student from my class and I was so traumatized by that I didn't teach for two days; I showed animated videos because that was the only way I could drag myself to work at all. I wanted to quit on the spot.
     
  11. reg

    reg Rookie

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    Nov 18, 2018

    I'm happy to explain.
    Previous situation: I was doing a thesis masters even though I knew I didn't want to go into research. I'd never had to come up with my own research project before and I had a very,very hands-off advisor that was regularly out of town/out of the country and we'd go weeks/months without talking and I couldn't really get excited about my project. Apart from one close friend I made, I didn't make friends and was super socially isolated. I'd come into lab and my labmate wouldn't notice/acknowledge me (and often the techs wouldn't either). I know of 3 or 4 other people from my department at the time (out of only about 30) who ended up having to get therapy for mental health issues because of how miserable they were in the program. In the background of all of this, I was going through major interpersonal problems that I didn't realize the full extent of yet.

    This is my 4th year at this school now (I was a para the first year) and while I haven't exactly been happy working there, things have gone through the roof this year. In previous years, students would have behavior outbursts such as shouting matches with each other in front of the whole class once or twice a year. Now that sort of thing happens all the time, sometimes multiple times in one day on really bad days. I've never had students literally screaming at me before like this. Even if it's just because they want help, it's still not appropriate to yell at me like that. I cannot handle having so much commotion at such a high volume. That's the biggest problem. I'd describe teaching this year as playing whack-a-mole for hours at a time every day; I'm on constant alert scanning and intervening trying to head things off before fists start flying (which did actually happen a few days into the school year and was a bit traumatic for me to say the least).

    On top of all of this, my boyfriend's mom is dying of cancer and the treatment by uncle received for his brain tumor has left him partially paralyzed and in really bad shape and both of those things are wearing on me, too.

    I accept that I'm more prone to anxiety and depression than other people might be but it's crystal clear to me that the problems I'm having right now are a direct result of how badly my students are treating me on a daily basis. A few years ago, I moved back home for a while and was verbally abused and gaslight by one of my parents and my mental health suffered then, too. I don't respond well to verbal/emotional abuse and that seems to describe how my students are treating me fairly accurately.
     
  12. reg

    reg Rookie

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    Nov 26, 2018

    It dawned on me that it would probably be REALLY hard to get hired at a different school in the fall having broken a contract given that I'm still working on getting my teaching certification. For that matter, I don't know if the state would even renew my practitioner's license. I'm going to do EVERYTHING I can to make it to the end of the year, or at the very least to early May when I'll complete my degree. I really, really want the degree/my certification!
     
  13. akconnel

    akconnel Rookie

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    Nov 26, 2018

    I wish you well then. You CAN do this. But you need to take care of yourself.

    Think of yourself as a balloon and the air in the balloon is stress. You need to find ways to let the air out of the balloon regularly so you don’t pop. I read that analogy recently and I thought it was a good one. You can come to these forums and vent, exercise, go for a walk, watch a funny movie. Whatever works.

    Then as you go on to a better job you will sometimes find yourself saying “I made it through the 2018-19 school year so I know I can get through this.”
     
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  14. YoungTeacherGuy

    YoungTeacherGuy Phenom

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    Nov 26, 2018

    I mean no disrespect, but I truly believe that if you don't get some of your underlying issues worked out, you won't find happiness in any job.
     
  15. reg

    reg Rookie

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    Nov 26, 2018

    Interesting. I'm curious as to what you'd say those are.
     
  16. reg

    reg Rookie

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    Jan 15, 2019

    Well forget coping. I'm leaving my grad program and my job to do something that's better suited to my strengths.
     
  17. swansong1

    swansong1 Virtuoso

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    Jan 15, 2019

    Good luck with whatever you choose. Please keep us posted. You may be a good resource for others in your situation.
     
  18. akconnel

    akconnel Rookie

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    Jan 15, 2019

    If it makes you feel better, I left my teaching job at the semester. It was really scary not having a job lined up, but I went to my local temp agency (I used them back in college) and they quickly got me a long-term temp position at an accounting firm. It only lasts through April and it doesn’t pay much or offer benefits, but I have NO WORDS for gow much HAPPIER I am!!!!!

    Some of my favorite things:
    1. Starting the day quietly with a cup of tea 2. Being able to go to the bathroom any time 3. Having adult conversation during the day
    4. Not bringing any work home
    5. Having enough energy at the end of the day to go to the gym
    6. No longer having any Sunday night anxiety

    The grass IS greener on the other side!!!
     
    MathGuy31 likes this.
  19. Kippers

    Kippers Companion

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    Jan 19, 2019

    I've been off this page for a long time and just read your post this evening. I don't know if you have already left your position, but my heart reaches out to you! I read your post and kept saying "she needs support" after every other line. It sounds like coaching from a caring teacher who has literally been in the trenches could make a world of difference. I will confess I worked at the high school level for only one year and I struggled terribly. I flew back down to elementary and I don't think I will ever leave. I work with special education students in a Title 1 school. My first year I felt totally overwhelmed and completely unsupported. Does your program, district or union offer mentor programs? Erin Gruwell's Freedom Writers teacher guide could also be helpful in making connections with kids in what feels like an impossible situation. Sending you support.
     
    readingrules12 likes this.

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