Feeling Old, not so useful

Lately, I’ve been feeling like I can’t do this job anymore. And maybe that would be OK. People get that 7-year itch and change jobs all the time. But it feels more tragic than that for me. For me, this isn’t just a job. It is my career. It’s the thing I’ve been doing for years and years…in fact, I’ll be completing my 25th year doing it come  June. It is also who I am. I am a teacher. It’s what I think about on the weekend. It’s why I buy and read so many kid books. It’s why I find myself crying at lunchtime as I reflect on what didn’t go well in the AM and how I still have 2 hours and 41 minutes more to go to get it right this afternoon. It is why I don’t think of myself as the perfectionist-type but as someone who cares.

As a human, I want to feel success. As a human who teaches small children, 23 to be exact at the moment, it never feels like all 23 are engaged and learning at the same time and that makes me feel unsuccessful. Maybe that shouldn’t be my measure of success. Maybe instead, it is that by June, all 23 have had moments of being engaged and learning. But that mindset feels like a lowering of expectations. It feels like a cop-out. And what about the ones in the class that are ready and willing at all moments. Do I meet their needs? Do they instead, intuitively read my body language and hear my sighs and wish they had a younger, more enthusiastic teacher?

I know I know so much about teaching and specifically about the teaching of reading and writing. I know I care. I know I want to keep doing this job for at least another 10-15 years. I know I can offer mentoring advise to those younger teachers with big ideas. I don’t know if I can keep spending my long day in the company of children who demand so much from me.

Currently,I feel overwhelmed by he demands of the children and the school system. In this 21st century world that these children live in, they are used to being entertained 24/7 and have short attention spans and higher and higher thresholds of engagement. I know teaching is a lot like being on stage. But somehow, this audience demands more from me than in past years. I try to find just the right video to get their attention, plan the hands-on game, checkout library books by the 100s so all can find one of their choice to get lost in, and continue to learn more ways to use their iPad as a tool to enhance their learning. Some days it works. Most days it never seems like enough.

The school has high demands, too. Because we can pre-assess and look at data and have meetings to discuss it all, we do. We meet three out of the five days during my 1-hour daily prep time. Which means I’m not able to spend any time prepping on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Fridays. During those meetings, our team is productive and gets lots done but that hour of collaborative work produces more things to add to the To Do List. Because time is a finite commodity, I never, ever seems to have enough of it. Plus, personally I don’t get a break on meeting days. I teach, meet, then teach again. No wonder on some days at lunchtime, I am ready to cry.

Typing all this now sounds like I am too rigid. I should just let it all be. Go with the flow. However, with 23 kids in my change, it instead is something I work hard at, both for safety reasons and engagement reasons so real learning can occur.

Ironically, I am sitting at Starbucks typing this right now on a Staurday and 3 very loud kids are at the table on the other side of the room. The girl in the middle begins to pound the table over and over again, trying to flatten the playdoh she is playing with. At the table beyond, are a group of adults but I’m not sure which of  them is with these kids. I walk over and ask the 4 yr old-looking girl who is pounding very loudly, “There are lots of people here trying to chat and read. Please don’t pound. It is too loud and hurts my ears.” Once back at my seat, the dad and mom come over and yell at me. “Do not talk to my child. Talk to me. She is crying know.” They walk away and I sat crying. It’s Saturday and I’m not even at school and I’m crying.

Thinking about my current tears and those that come mid-day at school, I wonder. Maybe it is our current society that allows kids to have no manners in public that is making my job harder and harder as a teacher. Maybe I’m old-fashioned but when my kids were young, I took them to the park and places where they could pound and shout and be a kid. Inside a crowded Starbucks on a Saturday, surrounded by adults reading and chatting is not where I brought my kids. Not until I was sure they had enough self-control. The mom and dad also shouted at me, “You can go to the library to work. This is a public place.” But don’t public places demand certain civil behaviors, too?

Currently, I work at a brand-new school that looks more like an airport or children’s museum and less like a school. The wide open corridors are bright and open and feel more like a playground. I notice that inside the kids will run and shout, more than any other space I’ve worked in before.

Is it the environment?
Is it the lack of self-control kids are following on the weekends?
Is it me just feeling old?

I wonder what I should be when I grow up.

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18 thoughts on “Feeling Old, not so useful

  1. paulabourque says:

    Your post today is so powerful! It speaks to the frustrations of so many teachers who care deeply, work passionately, and reflect constantly. I’ve consoled more crying teachers this year than ever before. The experience in Starbucks helps to explain so much. Sending you as much positive energy as I can muster-I think teaching takes more than talent these days, it takes courage. (((hug)))

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  2. dianeandlynne says:

    I started writing about the challenges of teaching today, but my post became so depressing that I abandoned it for a while. Your tears show that you care. Be sure to set some time, though, when you are not thinking about anything but your needs. It sounds selfish, but I do truly believe that if one takes care of oneself, taking care of others becomes more possible. I hope this makes sense.

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  3. johnrereads says:

    Honest and real – “As a human, I want to feel success”
    You are working more magic than you think you are!
    I hope you are feeling heard.

    Last year you had an amazing low stress bunch.
    This year you have a high stress group without the support you need.

    “Is it the environment?”
    Yes – the school is only 1.7 years old and we need more structure in how we do things. Everything from staffing support to how we walk through the building.

    “Is it the lack of self-control kids are following on the weekends?”
    Perhaps, even as an adult I find it hard to focus due to technology

    “Is it me just feeling old?”
    Why don’t you reframe this. You are feeling wiser. You know how it should be and it isn’t – yet. Funny how we all want growth, but when it comes – we don’t want THAT growth. The beauty of a school job is that there is an ending to every school year. With some jobs, there is no ending.

    “I wonder what I should be when I grow up.”
    I find these rare sort of people to be the most fascinating and inspiring people I know.
    Breathe and then breathe again : )

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  4. Maribeth Batcho says:

    You are going to hit a lot of nerves with your writing today. I ask myself these same questions almost daily. I am 46 years older than my students. Should I be doing this?
    Then I research and plan more ‘modern’ lessons, such as virtual field trip lessons, popcorn and poetry, and more creating. The pressures of school in the 21st century are great, and that is stressing our kids to the point of anxiety and behavior issues, even for our youngest. Somedays I do a good job, and some days I want to do better, but can’t, and that has to be good enough that day. Good luck taking a step back, breathing through it, teaching the kids how to breathe through it, and doing your job without striving. Best.

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  5. Adrienne says:

    When I landed in my school library job, I thought I;d found the job I’d retire from. When it was eliminated due to budget cuts, I was devastated and, at almost 50, had to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up. Again. I got to stay at my school as an ESL teacher, but I knew I didn’t really want to be that. I took my time and thought about it. It took two years for me to realize I wanted to go back and teach middle school Language arts. Since I;d last done that job, licensure had changed and I needed to pass two tests. I studied and passed them. The first year I applied I was not offered a middle school job, which was humiliating. The following year, i applied again and finally got hired into a position I really wanted. I’ve been there two years and I am incredibly happy. This is a long way of saying think about what you really want. Maybe a grade change in your current school, a new school climate, a different position altogether. Challenge yourself to do what it takes to get it, but be patient.

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  6. Tara Smith says:

    Shame on those parents – they do their children no favors by permitting this sort of inconsiderate behavior. You are right, Sally, teaching is hard enough without the kind of entitled behavior that parents permit from their children today. I’ve reached the age when I just speak my mind and tell these parents and kids off – they need to hear the truth from someone.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. msosterman49 says:

    I am glad to read you are taking a break on Friday. BUT- know this. You are an amazing teacher. I learned so much working with you. You reach kids in so many ways. You reach other teachers. People who have worked with you are given the joy of wanting to do better. I wanted to make the most challenging of kids smile and enjoy the learning experience because you showed me the way. I am so sorry the mom and dad were not given the knowledge of respect for others…. I am truly sorry for them. Their road ahead will be challenging.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. mgminer says:

    This post makes me love you even more. It is truly written from the heart. I’m so sad that those parents were unkind to you. They own their unkindness. It was not you.

    You are one of the great human beings, Sally. I know at times in our teaching careers we can feel beaten down and wonder if it is worth it. I think if we’re honest, we’ve all been at those low points. You are a light in the world, both personally and professionally. I hope our time in NYC this weekend will fill you back up. Blessings to you.

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    • sallydonnelly11 says:

      Thanks for your kind words. It feels better knowing I’m not in this alone. And it is all worth it. One reason is because I get to work with kind people like you! And a Sunday of reading and cooking knowing snow is on the way helped too!

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    • sallydonnelly11 says:

      I love that I will see YOU soon and we can talk! I also feel better today, having spent a relaxing Sunday cooking and reading and watching the snow report. I think a snow day is coming at just the right time for me!

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  9. quotesphotosandwonders says:

    first, You are amazing! and your students are so lucky to have someone with your knowledge, kindness, enthusiasm, and experience. You are apart of something new, something growing, and there are definite growing pains. Keep doing all the things you love, don’t give up, take a break when you need it, and know that you do make a difference, it just might not be as obvious this year as it has been in years before. I am so happy that I get to work with you every day!!!

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    • sallydonnelly11 says:

      Thanks. You named all the reasons why this year feels different making me realize it isn’t me. I also feel better after a night having you as my date and spending Sunday cooking and reading. And watching the snow report!! A perfect time for a snow day, I’d say! So glad we work together!

      Like

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