On How Teaching Has Corrupted Me

Shutterstock / Everett Collection
Shutterstock / Everett Collection

I’ve been teaching for five months and I hate it. I hate it more than anything I’ve ever done before. This isn’t the dull hatred where you drag your feet and sigh at the grey day. This is raw and vicious; the kind of hatred where losing isn’t an option so you stand up and fight with everything you have. This is hatred laced with so much passion, that if you squint hard it looks an awful lot like love.

But love doesn’t eat away at you. Teaching is devouring me. Literally. Since I’ve started, I’ve lost 14 pounds living on a diet of grease, sugar and caffeine. Every morning, I wake up two hours before my alarm, heart pounding because what if? What if the lesson plan falls through? What if the boys in the back fall asleep again? What if I run out of material and I’m left with twenty empty minutes? Every month or so I wake up in tears, because I can’t. I just can’t.

But there are 30 students waiting for me in a classroom. So I get up and I go.

And then somehow I am in front of the class room and the kids are looking at me. Their heads are tilted and they are waiting. For wisdom, for knowledge, for something to put in their pockets and keep as a touchstone. In short: an education.

If it’s a really bad day, the silence grows longer and they’re just waiting for me to say something.

To cope, I’ve taken to drinking. Caffeine, but if I drank, I’d enter class tipsy. As it is, I enter class caffeinated out of my mind, floating somewhere around the thin cirrus clouds of Everest, and there, head full of sunbeams and soaring eagles, I am able to open my mouth and pour out streams of something. Mostly bullshit.

And the kids?

They sit up and pay attention.

Then they ask questions. Teacher, how do I write a good essay? Teacher how do I improve my speech? Teacher, what does it mean to be a good person? Teacher, I fought with my girlfriend, what should I do?

If I had the answers I’d be writing self help books and giving motivational speeches across the world. I wouldn’t be an utterly clueless 20-something. I would be someone else, somewhere else. Somewhere that wasn’t a classroom.

But the kids are waiting. So I do my best.

It’s never very good.

Still, wide eyed, the students soak up whatever I come up with. During moments when my friends would say that’s shit, and my parents would say, stop this nonsense, my students nod and cling to my words like they are buoys.

And I?

I suck it up like the caffeine I’m always nursing. Solely for the sake of their attention and adulteration I will work myself to the bone preparing lesson plans that will get them up and out of their chairs shouting and laughing until class ends in a mad frenzy.

There are teachers who are motivated by what is best for their students, teachers driven by a passion to help others. I’m not one of them. Every class is a performance, and I do my work because I’m afraid of getting booed off of the stage.

I’ve had classes where the kids have picked up pieces of their desks and thrown them at each other. I’ve had classes where the kids cheer as soon as I enter. Sometimes these are the same class.

What I don’t think about is that at school, the standards for entertainment are low. Any joke is funny. Anything different is worth paying attention to, and fundamentally, no matter what I say or do, the students still have to pay attention. If they don’t, I can tell them they are bad students, a disappointment, I can even howl: I need you to pay attention. Need, not want. Need, like I have a right to it, like whatever I am going to say is more important that the smooth pebbles of thought tumbling through their minds.

If I do this long enough, I’m going to start believing I’m funny, that I’ve got answers, and what I have to say is so important it’s worth demanding 30 people shut up and listen to me so I can say it.

Yesterday night, at 11:00 p.m. a student called me. I was to talking to my boyfriend after a ten hour day at school, but I took the call because. Because I wanted to be there for my student. Because I was too tired to consider ignoring her.

Teacher. Teacher can you help me?

I’m 24. I can barely cook pasta. I wear slip on shoes because most days shoe laces confuse me. I have absolutely no answers except ‘I don’t know’ and sometimes I’m not even smart enough to say that. I wanted to say, Kid, don’t waste your time asking me for help.

Who says that to a student?

Instead, I lied through my teeth, as I do every day:

Of course, I can help you, darling. What do you need? TC mark

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  • Peter

    Get out of teaching. Fast. Before your teaching corrupts someone other than yourself.

    • D. P.

      I agree.

      • KI

        i wholeheartedly third.

      • A.

        Actually PLEASE don’t quit.
        You sound like a great teacher. An HONEST teacher.
        AND you do A LOT for your students, you acknowledge them as whole people and as far as I can tell you understand and respect the nature of a GOOD education.
        From my interpretation of your essay, I’d guess you know all this, but keep it up (for as long as you possibly can).
        And thank you.

  • http://www.itmakesmestronger.com/2012/07/on-how-teaching-has-corrupted-me/ Only L<3Ve @ ItMakesMeStronger.com

    […] Thought Catalog » Life Add a comment […]

  • http://gravatar.com/acannon0 geotherapycarefest

    Please quit, you’re helping nobody but maybe your short essay writing career. I hope this is fiction?

  • Emma

    I’m confused…am I supposed to feel sorry for you here? As someone your age, trying desperately to get their first teaching job, it actually disgusts me when I hear statements like yours. I have spent the past 6 months (prior to the summer) since acquiring my MA subbing and working in New York City schools and I have met countless teachers who feel this way and, as someone who has dedicated their entire life to working with children, I find that attitude appalling. Teaching is one of the most important professions in the world and not one to be taken lightly. You should consider yourself lucky that your students still respect you enough to listen and ask you for help on a regular basis; I’ve been in classrooms where the students won’t even face forward and respond to their teachers with nothing but profanity. Also, consider yourself lucky that you’ve managed to get a steady job while so many others in your profession, who are just as qualified — if not more so, struggle just to get an interview. I don’t know what brought you to teaching, but my advice to you is to find a new career path, one more suited to the other talents and interests I’m sure you have, and let someone who won’t write self-pity pieces about their job have yours.

  • http://gravatar.com/rosiemccapp rosiemccapp

    As a teacher, this saddens me to read about your experiences. Where did you get your training? Your undergrad probably prepared you for working in ideal situations (as most of them do), not vastly diverse, urban environments. And that’s not your fault – it’s incredibly overwhelming. You should quit teaching if only to offer someone else a job in this limited field, someone who is passionate about teaching despite the rough times and who doesn’t get bogged down by insecurities. I hope you find relief with your next occupation.

  • Elisabeth

    Pathetic. I believe it is time for you to find a less demanding occupation. Teaching is a wonderful experience as you are directly facilitating the leaders of our future (corny as it sounds). You actually have the ability to influence a child’s desire for knowledge; something that should not be squandered especially at such a young age. Go in the classroom like an HBIC and get your students excited to learn! The great thing about young kids is they will generally mirror enthusiam. But if that gives you too much anxiety you should probably try a desk job. Accounting?

  • Jizzy

    You are disgusting. Stop teaching OR stop being a spoiled little bitch who thinks life is just going to be handed to you on a silver platter… and deal with it. There are plenty of people who would gladly take your job, and paycheck.

  • Lons

    Stop. Just stop. I just got rejected for the 4th time for political reasons from doing a job I love with every bone. I do not feel sorry for you. Stop teaching. It’s your own damn fault.

  • you got this

    my mouth is hanging open after reading this.
    I am almost speechless. I would have been completely speechless if my anger and common sense weren’t reacting through the roof. Why are you teaching? I am 24 also, received great training but cant get hired to teach because there are no positions available.
    Why are you doing something you are clearly not suited for? Leave it to someone who wants it.

    I dont get it. This would be like me working as a bank teller then bitching its the worst thing ever because money is hard to count. Why would I just not stop?!
    But you’re worse; you affect so many minds! It’s a respectable profession and you are spitting on it.

    • Tory

      totally agree, definitely a TFA or other alt-certification “teacher” writing this. taking jobs away from qualified candidates.

      • jm

        After a quick google search on her name, I found that she’s not a TFA teacher/alt certification (honestly, TFA teachers know better than to disrespect their students/position like this), but a Fulbright Teaching Assistant in Malaysia. She’s right. She isn’t nearly mature enough to be in this position.

      • Audrey

        HARSH. I am a TFA alumni (and still in the classroom, might I add, as are 60% the corps members I started my commitment with in my placement region). I don’t know any TFA-er who would write something awful like this. Some people may leave after their two-year commitments, but when in the classroom, they are working their tails off for the good of their students. The training we receive is top-notch and extremely current. Alternate certification or not, a good teacher is a good teacher though, and the author of this article needs to get out of the classroom.

  • Kari

    I truly hope you are able to quit teaching and find a career that you are passionate about, or that this entire piece isn’t true. I am working my tailfeather off in college right now to become a teacher and to become a damn good one. This is what I’m passionate about and even though the education system is currently incredibly flawed, I still have hope in it. You’re not helping yourself or your students by this situation. There are talented and driven teachers out there that would take your spot in a heartbeat, especially in this economy. Let them.

  • RAHHEAD

    This is so real.

    • ashley

      then you need to quit teaching too.

  • Tiffany

    Growing up as a daughter of a teacher, I knew one main thing about teaching: do not do it unless you love it. DO NOT DO IT UNLESS YOU LOVE IT. This isn’t just any old job. It is a career where your actions resonate far beyond the end of the month. It is a seat in the community as a leader of the youth. It is a passion that does not die at the end of a cheap cup of coffee. Go work at Starbucks if you can’t handle the responsibility of guiding those children to be their best; I’m sure they won’t miss you once they get a truly dedicated professional as your replacement.

    • derp

      as a teacher’s daughter myself, I can corroborate the fact that you must love teaching to do it. There is so much bullshit with the administration and the bureaucratic bullshit makes me want to foam at the mouth… and it’s not even MY job, it’s my mom’s. If you think you hate it 5 months in, it will never get better.

  • shannon

    “Of course, I can help you, darling. What do you need?”

    That just churned my stomach.

    I teach classes of sixty adults addicted to drugs and alcohol everyday. The biggest lessons? Find what you love and do it. Bad energy breeds bad energy. Exude gratitude. Get to know yourself again, and stay true to it.

    From your words, it sounds like you may have been “corrupted” before you started teaching. Take care of yourself.

  • MAJA

    People gonna lash at you tight now, I have a strong feeling about this. But I understand you – I am 24 and a teacher, too. Or used to be one, before I switched to the translating stream. I couldn’t take it anymore for the exact same reasons you just described ;)

    • MAJA

      are gonna* * right now – sorry for those mistakes

      Also, I’d like to let everyone know that wanting with all your heart to be the best teacher possible does not necessarily make you one. Bu it IS possible for people like the author here to feel crappy and self-conscious and miserable, and still do their best to not show it, especially to their innocent little students. I never once got the feeling that she is slacking as a teacher, so why are you so full of hate? Do we now have to pretend to be happy to make everyone else happy? Are we not allowed to speak our minds anymore? Seriously?!

  • Shigatsu

    I love the way you’ve written this. It’s overbrimming with raw emotions.

  • Ina

    I actually took this quite differently. It just means that even though she is stuck in a job she doesn’t like, she pulls through it and tries her best to help the kids. Anything for the kids, because that’s who it’s about. She can’t be lying through all of it. Maybe sooner or later, she’ll come to believe that she is doing a good job, then she will actually do a good job. Then one day, after so many years and maybe after the end of her teaching career, she’ll miss the kids who made her want to stay. :)

    • MAJA

      That’s pretty much what I gathered from it, too :)

  • http://themetaphoriclife.wordpress.com filofthefuture

    I’m in the minority here but I think this article is tongue-in-cheek! This is what I took away from it:
    1) teaching is difficult
    2) teaching can be frustrating
    3) the teacher doesn’t know everything (or anything) but he/she pretends to be omniscient anyway
    4) teaching gets in the way of our “real lives” especially when we need to be there for the student (and we always feel that way)
    5) despite everything, we still teach, maybe not so much out of love for the craft as out of love for our students.

    I don’t think I’ve known any fellow teacher who hasn’t experienced the sort of frustration and anxiety the author above has expressed. Teaching isn’t always awesome. I look at the pile of essays I’ve taken home and groan, but I grit my teeth and grade them anyway, as it has to be done, as I NEED my kids to learn.

    • Ina

      I agree completely! Especially number 5. You do it for the kids. :)

      • Teach05

        Agreed. She even says it “looks a lot like love” What experienced teacher that ACTUALLY HAS A JOB hasn’t tried their hardest and failed? It’s frustrating but you do it for the kids not because you have all the answers but because you can find at least some of them together.

  • Ivy

    People like yourself should not teach. I taught martial arts for 10 years, then taught ESL for 8 months and loved each experience. I have tutored and volunteered to help children and it ANGERS me that people like YOU opt to get into a career that is mainly forged in passion. We should just trade places, you take MY job and I’ll take yours, I’m sure as hell, I’d manage much better than you.

  • Elizabeth

    I was going to write “GET OUT OF TEACHING” as well, but everyone else beat me to it. As a teacher, I enjoy going to work every, single day. You shouldn’t be doing this. Your students WILL begin to see through your facade, and then you will be shit out of luck.

  • http://gravatar.com/scenefromahat scenefromahat

    why are you even in teaching? why do you do it? why do you still do it? what brought you to it? why don’t you just quit if you hate it so much?

  • Khan

    I don’t understand the purists who are pulling out the pitchforks here. She’s taking all of her energy and putting it into teaching, which is what everyone agrees teaching shuold be. Yes, she’s pointing out the hardships of the job, but the last bit sums it all up. She’s being positive and making the effort to do anything and everything to her students.

    • Khan

      Should*
      To help* her students

  • http://fannypackspectacular.wordpress.com Ted Pillow

    I’m kind of shock by the vitriol you’re getting here, which seems to be borne out of employment/economic issues that readers are imposing on your piece, rather than your honest writing. It seems obvious to me that your hatred of teaching is, as you very clearly note, an inverted passion/love – it’s very obvious you care about your students. Your emotions are worth a million times more than the apathy that marks a truly bad teacher.

    Also, you’re a really good writer.

  • CHIA

    sometimes i feel teachers get so absorbed into this whole “i am so important” thing because teachers are dictators in the classroom.

    speak to a more senior teacher at the school you teach and ask him/her to be a mentor. teaching can be fun, but it is a lot of hard work that can only be fuelled by passion. if you find yourself inadequate, it’s okay. there are many other things that you can do :) hopefully you’ll find the right fit :)

  • http://teachlikesomeoneleftthegateopen.wordpress.com Kindergarten Kiddos

    Oh Shalene,
    Don’t listen to the people who aren’t teachers. Teaching isn’t anything like you expected, I know. All they teach you in college is how to teach; they don’t teach you how to counsel, parent, balance your love life, and how to stop having those dreaded teacher nightmares! You’ve only been teaching for five months? I promise it will get better. The first year is terrible. There is nothing worse for dream crushing than trying to be brilliant constantly without much time to prepare, with no support staff, with numerous modifications being necessary to reach each student. The new teachers always get stuck with the toughest classes, and they are the least capable of handling the assignment.
    About half of our new teachers are leaving the profession in five years or less. They aren’t leaving because it’s easy. They aren’t walking away because the suck at what they do. They are walking away from a passion because it is become more and more difficult to stay passionate when you feel like a failure.
    If you like the age group you are working with, and you like the subject you are teaching then you should stay. The beauty of teaching is that you can change grade levels if you really need to in order to find what works for you. I’ve gone from JH and HS down to Kinder and I feel like this is where I need to be.
    I doubt there has ever been a first year teacher that didn’t experience the same things you are experiencing. You were just brave enough to speak your mind.
    Remember that you have more wisdom and maturity than your students. You really are helping them. You will be a better teacher next year, and the next, and state will change everything up and you’ll have to adapt, but you will get better. You will get rested. You will learn to balance your personal life with you career. It will happen. It just takes time.
    Hang in there and become amazing!

    • Guest

      Exactly.

      I haaaaated my job for my first 6 months, working with grades 4-8. Now that I’m teaching Kindergarten, things are totally different. And I know teachers who’ve gone in the opposite direction and make fantastic high school teachers rather than k-8, or whatever.

      Just because you don’t have a “passion” for the kind of teaching assignment you get when you first start out, doesn’t mean you should be booed out of the profession by people whose image of the “ideal teacher” you don’t fit. It takes awhile to find your footing, and until then it can really, really suck.

      And, not every teacher is “passionate”, just like not every person filling every other job in the world is “passionate” about that job. My passion is music, but I’m a damn good teacher anyway.

  • Golden Boy

    “Every class is a performance, and I do my work because I’m afraid of getting booed off of the stage.”
    This sums up just about every lesson I’ve ever taught. I work and strategize and retool that thing because
    I don’t want to let my audience down. This means I care. Do we sometimes need to cloak ourselves with the
    guise of legitimacy and wholesomeness because our “act” is shit and we know it’s shit but we still have twenty
    more minutes of this shit? For sure. It happens. These are the “mean reds” of teaching. All the world’s a stage,
    the poet said. Why pretend otherwise?

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