I read a cool article the other day called “The Life of a First Year Teacher, In Six Emotional Stages” that outlined six stages that first year teachers go through as they acclimatize to their practice. It included a cool graph kind of like the one above.
As I gave it some thought, I realized that not only does this science-tastic chart do a pretty good job of representing the emotional vicissitudes (thanks, Mr. Scott) of one’s first year in the classroom, it also kind of represents how more experienced teachers might feel as well, as if it’s just an emotional teaching cycle that repeats itself every year throughout a teacher’s career:
That was pretty satisfying until I thought back and realized that not only does this not represent how I’ve felt recently about my teaching, it also doesn’t represent my first year of teaching either.
My first year of teaching, if science-d into graph form, looked more like this:
Boomhower's Actual Experience as a First-Year Teacher
I was pretty pumped for the chance to be a teacher, and after getting over my stage fright and not crashing and burning, pretty much decided that I was the best teacher ever, forever.
After that good start, I moved more into the emotional roller coaster graph at the start of the article year in and year out for the next few years. The roller coaster continued after my move to Korea unabated, which might seem kind of terrible; being a helpless slave to the tempestuous whims of a teaching career, always riding wave after wave of success followed by barely-survivable near-defeat. But, no, if that was all there was to worry about, it would be a good career, dude. Unfortunately, sometimes this happens to break the cycle:
The Darkness . . . oh the Darkness
Sometimes, teachers get stuck in a rut and become increasingly disillusioned with the job for years on end. This is not a nice place to be. The disillusionment could be caused by administration, lack of funding, difficult working conditions, or just emotional exhaustion from all of that roller coaster-ing. Either way, it’s pretty terrible. And you should really do whatever you can to escape it…
Thankfully, there’s hope! Eventually, if you don’t give up, you might pull yourself out of the rut and get back into enthusiastic teaching again. Better still, you might gain some epic skills after thousands and thousands of classes and find that you’re not riding a roller coaster any more. The challenges get less horrifying and more fun, and you just keep on winning and improving and getting better and better. Like a boss.
The Sweet Veteran Awesomeness Experience
So, if you’re a new, first-year teacher, don’t give up! Enjoy your practice, and remember that it’s the same for all of us, new teachers and veterans alike! Battle disillusionment with the knowledge that the more you teach, the better you’ll get. Every day you teach a class, you get closer and closer to the 10,000 hour mark at which Malcolm Gladwell says you’ll master your craft and be an educational superstar, amiright?
Matthew Boomhower is a mid-career educator with 18 years of classroom teaching and educational leadership experience. He is Head of Innovation & Learning at an international school in Malaysia and is a proud husband and father.