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Giving voice to the smallest complaints

New York Teacher

As a first-year high school English teacher, I know I have it good. I’m allowed to teach just about anything I want, so long as it falls under the broad umbrella of English language arts. I have a functioning smartboard in my room. The worst behavioral issue I deal with on a regular basis is students doing work for their other classes during my class.

But I confront real challenges, too: students leaving mid-semester to enroll in rehab or inpatient facilities; weekends where the sheer volume of papers leaves little time for anything other than sleep, food and circling boxes on rubrics; existential questions about whether this is really the path I’m called to follow, whether I’m having a positive impact or whether I’m merely reproducing social inequality one reading check at a time.

But this diary entry is not about those problems. What follows is my attempt to give voice to the smallest, most insignificant complaints imaginable from my first year.

No one will dish.

Anyone who has labored in the trenches of the public school system for an extended period of time knows the importance of a good ally — someone with whom to collaborate, to commiserate and to badmouth colleagues and administrators.

But such trust is not earned overnight, and despite my near-perfect attendance record at teacher happy hour and my best efforts to prove myself a worthy confidant, my fellow faculty members have remained rather tight-lipped on the gossip front.

Perhaps my colleagues falsely assume that because I am young, I am too earnest and full of hope to engage in such rumor-mongering. Perhaps they are too virtuous themselves. Perhaps this is just a rite of passage one must endure as a newcomer to any established organization. In any event, high school social life is proving significantly less exciting the second time around.

Kids who don’t actually need the elevator are always sneaking on.

This behavior results in a more crowded elevator that makes more frequent stops, thus hindering the experience of adults who don’t actually need it, like me.

People throw trash in the recycling bin (and recyclables in the trash).

This problem isn’t unique to schools. It just irritates me.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned this year, it’s that teaching is not a job that ends at 2:20 p.m. after the last class gets out. No, teaching is a job that has a way of seeping into the gray spaces in your day and breaking down the crude mental walls you have erected between “work” and “life.” It becomes a part of you.

And if you’re lucky, every once in a while you get a taste — in the midst of all your petty, self-pitying rumination — of that intoxicating feeling we call purpose.

Related Topics: New Teacher Diaries