My teaching career has been far from easy. Teaching itself isn’t an easy job, but if you add in all of the job changes and unforeseen troubles in each position, I completely understand why so many teachers burn out by year five.
My first year of teaching was in Georgia, and I was hired as a kindergarten teacher before being moved to third grade just before school started. Then Jeremy and I decided to move to Columbus, Ohio, to go to graduate school at Ohio State University. Moving to Ohio as a teacher isn’t easy. Once I found a job that I was excited about, I only had about a month of summer left.
You can read all about those stories in other posts. For this post, I wanted to reflect on what I believe was the hardest year of teaching that I’ve had. I want to add that I am including this year–which I am teaching virtually all year. I’ve also had 5 different titles between May and September, yet this wasn’t as hard as the year I’m going to talk about.
I was excited to have the same position for two years in a row. I honestly was hoping to keep the same position for the time that Jeremy was in grad school, so I didn’t have to keep interviewing. I was a special education teacher for an inclusion program for students transitioning from a self-contained classroom to a general education classroom or for students who needed extra support in the general education classroom.
Basically, all of my kids were students in general education classrooms, and my job was to support them. I helped them with academic goals and gave them extra time to work on assignments if they needed it. I created visuals to help them with transitions, time management, and following directions. I helped de-escalate when they got aggressive. I followed students who eloped (ran away) and brought them back, and I restrained kids who were putting themselves or others in danger.
The caseload maximum was twelve kids, but I had seven in my first year with the program. It was doable, and for the most part, my kids could handle being in a classroom with over twenty kids. For my second year, I had twelve on my caseload. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but when those kids are spread between three different classrooms on two different floors of a building, it gets overwhelming.
Parents were being told all of the supports that we could offer to their kids with the program. Some of my kids needed all of those supports and more. I had multiple kids who could get aggressive, who eloped, who were multiple grade levels behind academically, and some who were extremely disruptive in the classroom. Between two classroom aides (split between three rooms) and myself, we felt like we ran a marathon at the end of every day.
Some students were in the right placement. They either needed help with certain behaviors or needed a little extra prompting to stay on track. Those students struggled this year because I had a few students who took up all of my time.
Because I worked with older elementary kids, it’s not uncommon for one of my students to outweigh me. I had a student fall on me and threw my back out. I got punched, kicked, bit, licked, and pushed. The worst injury occurred just before Thanksgiving.
One of my bigger students lost control in his classroom, and he put a lot of people in danger, including his pregnant classroom teacher. We got him out of the classroom and into my room, but this particular student would self-injure until someone restrained him. He was hitting his head off the wall, so I attempted to put him in a hold. He flung his body into mine, pushing me into the lockers neck-first. I blacked out for a few seconds.
Later, I went to an Urgent Care to check to make sure I didn’t hurt my back again. After a few questions, they told me to go to the emergency room to check for a concussion. On my way to the E.R., I got lost. The area I was in was extremely familiar to me, so getting lost was a little traumatic.
Long story short, I had a concussion for the holidays that year. It was a great time for music and bright lights.
Everything we were dealing with every day would be worth it if I felt like we were making a difference. Like we were helping kids and getting them help if we couldn’t help them ourselves. This was impossible with the little support we got from our administration.
After my concussion, I went back to school for a few days. I couldn’t remember basic daily routines. I couldn’t use my computer for longer than ten minutes at a time. I couldn’t handle loud noises–and with kids, there are ALWAYS loud noises. The worst part was being afraid I couldn’t help keep people safe if we had another situation.
I talked to my administration about what happened and was pulled into a meeting with two of my bosses. With little effort, they made me feel like my getting hurt was my fault. That I had made a mistake somewhere. Meanwhile, I had spent months trying to convince them that this particular student needed more help than I could give him. I ended up taking FMLA for a couple of weeks to try and heal before going back.
Ending the Year
It took four months of being physically attacked almost daily for me to collect what my administration would consider “enough data” to move this student to a new placement where he could get help.
Just after that situation calmed down, I had another student start acting out in his place. It was almost as if he needed help but wasn’t getting it because our attention was focused on a more difficult situation. Like I had been telling my bosses for months. We had other situations that we were dealing with too–students eloping out of the building, students destroying classrooms, other staff members getting injured. Because we were stretched so thin, we couldn’t help all of the kids the way we should have.
When everything shut down in March, I was almost relieved. I could stop being physically hurt for a little bit and allow my body to heal. I said this before, but COVID shutting down the schools last year was my saving grace.
I’m skipping past a lot of what I dealt with last year because it’s pretty unbelievable. If I wrote about what the day-to-day looked like, you would think I wrote you a fictional story. I mainly want to remember the reasons why I decided to leave.
Before Christmas break, I started talking to educators in the district about how to get hired, so I didn’t have to work for this third party company anymore. I started the application process in January. Just as interviews were supposed to start, everything shut down due to COVID.
It was a long road to get from my teaching position last year to where I am today. I am currently a second-grade virtual teacher for this year, and I am significantly happier than I was last year–even though teaching from home sucks.
The other annoying part of all of the changes is that I have to interview again this year to find out which building I will be teaching in next year. Fingers crossed, I can find something that I can be excited about. At this point, I would love to teach like “normal” next year. Whatever “normal” might look like.
I’ll write an update as things start to unfold. Until then, happy learning!