I was fresh out of college and had just completed my student teaching at an excellently rated suburban high school within a close-knit community. During my student teaching experience, I had technology and resources and administrative support! The kids thought I was cool (in a nerdy way)! They did their homework (most of the time)! I created these awesomely creative projects! I was officially the best English teacher ever (seriously a student gave me a mug on my last day to prove it). I was so ready to go out into the world and SAVE ALL THE CHILDREN BY FOSTERING IN THEM A LOVE FOR THE WRITTEN WORD!
Shortly after I finished my student teaching, I stumbled upon an English teaching position that was posted for a local charter school. I remember thinking, “Wow, there are a lot of charter school positions open! Whoever said that there were no teaching jobs out there was full of it.” I knew I was going to be “working with a different student population” than I had been during my student teaching experience. But, I mean, I’d watched Dangerous Minds and Freedom Writers. How hard could it be?
After my first day, I quickly realized why there were so many charter school job vacancies. To put it bluntly, it was rough. I could tell you story after story about the fights I witnessed and the verbal abuse I experienced and the lack of administrative support I was up against. Honestly, my skin simply wasn’t thick enough nor my heart hard enough. I had students from broken (more like shattered into oblivion) homes, students who were literally homeless, students who were fifteen and pregnant, students who came to school hungry.
Yet, I was supposed to make them give two shits about A Tale of Two Cities and proper MLA citation? I was supposed to prepare them for state testing? It all felt like some sort of cruel joke that I wasn’t in on. These kids needed so much more than I was capable of giving them. I drove home crying many days. Sometimes, I drove to school crying.
The day I decided I was going to finally give my two weeks notice, a particularly volatile young man in the 11th grade threatened me. “Man” is definitely the best way to describe him. He was at least two heads taller than me. He pushed a desk over and had to be escorted out of my classroom by school security. I was visibly shaken. This student had not liked me from the beginning. Maybe I reminded him of someone in his life who had hurt him. I had tried everything and failed to gain his trust. It destroyed me and I knew I couldn’t handle anymore of the stress or anxiety.
So, I gave up. I did. I quit mid-year and it was one of the most selfish things I have ever done. I left them. Because I couldn’t do it. I felt like I was doing them as well as myself a disservice by staying. But, honestly, I just couldn’t handle it. My heart hurt too much every day when I got home.
That is not to say that I didn’t experience moments of brightness. My students touched me in ways that I still am figuring out. They were so resilient. They opened me up to an entire world that I’d heard existed. However, to see it first hand is an entirely different story. Teaching also taught me a lot about myself as a person. It revealed both positive and negative qualities within myself.
I still stay in touch with some of my students. I had one of my seniors who is now attending college message me recently on Facebook to tell me that they were reading and discussing a book that we had read together in class. She told me she felt confident and thanked me for preparing her. I teared up.
Would I go back? I never say never. I could see myself— years down the road—- going back. Sometimes, I miss it so much. But, right now, I’m just thankful for the experience and all that it taught me about myself.