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The New Teacher Advisor

Managing the
Quagmire of Disillusion


Research done by Mark Littleton out of Tarleton State University in Texas shows that new teachers begin feeling disillusioned toward teaching around the end of October and continue to feel disillusioned until around January. That disillusionment can cause many to quit before they even have a chance to become familiar with teaching.

One of the best pieces of advice I got just before entering the classroom for the first time was given to me by my favorite high school science teacher. She said, "Give teaching at least two full years before you even consider quitting. No matter what happens or how awful you feel, don't quit until you've finished your second year."

Around the middle of my first year, I was miserable and felt sure there was no way I could survive. I remembered my promise to my former teacher, however, and soldiered on. When that year finally ended, I felt better about my job and looked forward to the next year. By January of my second year, I was feeling more confident and didn't even consider the idea of quitting.

The job of teaching is not easy; it's full of contradictions. We work with people who claim to be professionals -- yet often act unprofessionally. We talk with parents who claim to support us -- yet fight us at every turn. We live in a world where one year the rules say one thing -- and the next year the rules are completely different. District mandates get harder and harder in an attempt to meet public demands -- the same public that offers lip-service, but no substantive help, to our predicament. We work with kids who push at us, rebel against learning, and beg for attention -- all at the same time.

Those are just a few of the issues we face as teachers, and when they all pile on, it can be disconcerting. You might be in a situation in which you wonder, "Why the heck am I here? What difference am I making?" It's easy to get disillusioned in a career like ours.

The first step to getting past the frustrations and negativity is to understand that you are not the only one feeling that way. All of us -- new and veteran teachers alike -- go through low periods. There are times when even the most inspiring teachers wonder whether they truly are making a difference. When we feel we are the only teacher in our school who feels that way, it can be quite lonely.

Perhaps you're afraid you're not cut out to be a teacher. Instead of allowing your thoughts to take that negative path, remember you are not the only one who feels that way. Find a fellow teacher you can talk to. Ask your mentor or another veteran teacher how he or she gets past those times of disillusionment.

Second, rather than wallowing in negative thoughts, take time to think about why you became a teacher in the first place. Did you do it for the summer vacation -- or to make a difference in the lives of others? Did you do it for the paycheck -- or because you love working with kids? If your answers are summer vacations and the paycheck--well, you might want to rethink your career choice. There are a lot of easier ways to earn rent money than teaching.

If, however, you got into teaching because of a love of learning, a love of children, and a desire to make a difference, don't give up on your dream. It's easy to get caught up in the day-to-day grind and forget about the dreams and passion that led us to teaching in the first place. Give yourself some time to reconnect with the real reason you became a teacher.

Third, watch an inspiring teacher movie. During my first year teaching, those movies really helped me get past the negativity and feel excited and energized about teaching again. Movies such as Mr. Holland's Opus, Stand and Deliver, Dangerous Minds, and others can help you see that other teachers have suffered doubts but soldiered on to make a real difference in the lives of their students. If you're not a movie buff, there also are plenty of uplifting and inspirational stories about teachers. Read a variety and see how different individuals coped with their situations.

Fourth, surround yourself with teachers who are positive and inspiring. If you find yourself in the teachers' lounge with a group who are doing nothing but venting about the kids, the school, and the system, then it is time to leave the room. If you're already feeling disillusioned, you do not need to tread further down the negative path with those people.

Go find someone who maintains a positive outlook despite the issues and talk with him or her instead. If you have no place to go during a planning period, go to the library, hang out in an office conference room, or sit in an inspiring teacher's classroom (with their permission, of course). Don't set yourself up for further frustration and anger by hanging out in a place of negativity.

Lastly, take some time for yourself. Find something that you love to do and dedicate one afternoon or evening a week to it. I love going to the movies, and Wednesday is my movie day. Every Wednesday afternoon, I mark an appointment from 4 to 6 to go to a movie. We have a dollar theater not too far from where I live and for $1.00, I can escape reality for two hours and come out feeling refreshed.

What is your favorite thing to do? Do you love to run, read, scrapbook, exercise, shop, or just spend fun time with your family? No matter what it is, give yourself some time off from grading papers, planning lessons, calling parents, and the myriad other tasks of teaching, and spend it doing something just for you.

Don't let the quagmire of disillusionment drag you down. You can make it. You can do it. Although it can be easier to let those feelings of negativity rule, take a stand and don't let them get you down. Remember, you are not alone.

  • Make a list of all the reasons you became a teacher.
  • Find positive teachers to talk with and listen to their stories.
  • Read or watch stories of other teachers who made a difference and let those tales inspire you to be the best teacher you can be.
  • Take time for yourself and don't forget who you are as a person. Don't let the job consume you so completely that you forget what makes you a special and unique person.

Take those steps and, as the years progress, although disillusion will still appear, you'll no longer view it as a never-ending pit. Instead, you'll see it as a brief stopping place -- a signal for you to take time to reassess, to gather your thoughts, and to recharge your batteries. Then you jump over the puddle and move on.

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