“What would you know, Sir? You were only a few grades above me when you graduated!” This very disheartening line was said to me by a very unimpressed grade 12 student after receiving a very curt instruction to stop mucking about in my class. As frustrating as it was, he was completely correct. As a teacher, very early in their career, I looked more like I should don a school uniform with a daggy bucket hat, than my daily teacher uniform of a suit and tie. I relate more with the spotty teens in my classroom than the respectful grown-ups in the staffroom. This is just one problem that faces many teachers in the first five years of their careers.
This apparent lack of identity makes it virtually impossible to properly find your own teaching style, at least for a good chunk of your formative classroom experiences. I personally tried to model myself after my teaching superheroes, but that usually resulted in an unpredictable hodge-podge of pedagogical identities that left my students more confused than inspired to learn. One day I was Mr. Mean and wanted ‘no messin’, and then the next I was Mr. Relatable that “just wanted to have a down to earth chat”. The students did not know whether I am coming or going, which makes it little wonder why they did not respond to my lessons.
As hard as University tries, a lot of idealistic things they preached to me were simply not applicable to a real-world classroom. Certain problem classes left me scratching the bottom of my Uni tool bag, desperate for just one more education philosophy that I could churn out for some sort of result, always to no avail. As a first-year teacher you have days where you want to tear your hair out in frustration and scream into the void. You want to down a bottle of wine in one go and throw your profession and your degree into the garbage.
It’s funny though. Whenever I have these moments, the teaching gods reach out to me and offer me moments of clarity. The next school day after these nights of self-doubt always offer me moments that remind me why I decided to venture into education, an unappreciated, hard-working job with long hours and little pay. One of the children will go out their way to tell me how much they enjoyed my lesson, a kid with learning difficulties will read out a beautiful poem they’ve created all by themselves or one of my students with no social skills whatsoever will make a new friend.
The honest truth is that no matter how often teachers are the butt of jokes at BBQs, education is one of the most rewarding professions I have ever been a part of. You can be battered from pillar to post, but teachers are a resilient bunch that will always pick themselves up and get back in the game with a bloody smile. By having an unshakeable resilience, the empty tool bag that was draped across your shoulder at the start of term is now full of tips and tricks that you have picked up along the way. As doom and gloom as some of your first-year classes may seem, you WILL have that one day where everything clicks and suddenly are the educational superhero to someone else. The pain that young teachers feel at the start of their careers is only temporary and those that don’t give it up or take their frustrations out on the students are the ones that have the most magical classroom moments. That is why I am a teacher and why I believe every single teacher needs the support they deserve to achieve at the highest level.