There is a map for the first year teacher. Actually, I think it applies to teachers of any number of years, but let’s stick with the first year teacher for now. We begin with Anticipation—looking forward to our new, exciting, kind of scary year, fresh and full of our ideas and hope. Then a few months into the year, we move to Survival. This is where we realize there is a lot more to this position than we thought during this first year and we really do just seem to make it day to day and keep going because we still love it all. Ha Ha! Aren’t we happy! We have a job! Then around December and into February we are smacked in the face with Disillusionment. Ahem. Following this stage, apparently sometime within the next few weeks into March, we come to Rejuvenation and feel life is good again. Then we move on to Reflection toward the end of the year, and meet up again with Anticipation for the joy of the year to come.

For the last couple of months, this new teacher has found herself deep within the pit of Disillusionment. Sadly, I was disillusioned by the students, the very thing I had wanted to go into this profession for. Remember being a 9th grader? Of course you do. Never mind whether you want to remember it or not. The world revolves around you. You could care less about the teacher in front of the room as an actual human being. She’s just a woman in teacher-clothes who talks (or yells) and walks around the room making it mighty difficult for you to send that all-important text to your friend. Teachers. Don’t they realize you have important things to do? Why can’t they just let you listen to your iPod or let you sleep and leave everyone alone? And just why ARE you failing this class anyway? You actually have to do ALL that work? AND bring your own pencil? And those are just the three brain cells you use to think about the academic side of things. There are many other important things to think about. Like lunch, girls, boys, hair, perfume, gum. What room is left to think about anything or anyone else?

You know that phrase about not being able to survive by giving and giving but never getting anything back? I got tired being the only one making an effort. I cared about what I had to teach them. But they didn’t seem to care that anyone else wanted to learn. I had loved teenagers. Now I was disillusioned. I was disappointed. And I was tired.

I got tired of the students not caring about their grade or their behavior. I got tired them being disrespectful to their peers, the adults, and themselves. Since when has it been acceptable to speak to adults this way? If I had even thought of speaking to any adult the way these kids speak to us, I’d be gone. “Yes, this is Neighborhood High School. We noticed Equinox isn’t school today.” “Yes. She’s . . . incapacitated at the moment. When we decide to resuscitate, we’ll let you know.” 

I got tired of others criticizing the instruction I got from my licensure program, telling me to disregard what my instructors had told me. I got tired and discouraged hearing what I believed in spoken about as though it were too idealized and, therefore, stupid and worthless. I got tired of being given 100+ page books which had the same information from my licensure program, wondering where I could find four extra hours a day to read them. I was tired of all the contradictions I was hearing. I was tired of being told everything I was doing was wrong, but what they told me to do right was what I thought I was already doing. I was tired of baby-sitting. My students did not care. And I was afraid that I was becoming a teacher who did not want to care. I did not want to be that teacher.

I needed encouragement. I needed to know that I was doing something right. Because I could think of a lot of better and more fun ways to spend my time.

Slowly, slowly, answers came. I prayed. I drank in the comfort and strength I received at church. I spoke with der Meister (who does too many wonderful, life-saving things to mention here). I found joy in my children. I prayed more. I had something to keep me going day by day.

I thought about FAL’s first year on her job and how she had to get a pep talk from her boss daily because she felt the entire office was against her. Her boss firmly, but with care, told her to not let them get to her because she’s strong. She can do this; she’s better than that. I thought of the “Family Motto” and realized that who the illegitimate ones are varies depending on the day and event. I remembered everyone’s advice to hang in there; the first year is the hardest. You can make it through. While I was talking to Elder Long Shanks about this profession, how a lot of things look good on paper, but we have to consider the human factor, he wisely and simply commented, “Yes, we have to remember we are teaching human beings.” As he said that, I realized how right he was. They are just kids. And I am just a human being like they are.

One day I again read a certain mission story from a certain Married Mormon Man, about the struggles of a dedicated missionary. I had heard similar stories before, but I related this day. I realized I was being rejected. Doors were slamming in my face more than they were opening to allow me in, and it had gotten to me. I did not want to go continue. I did not like the area. I was bitter and grouchy and wanted to go home. But . . . I knew there were people on my side. There were students who wanted to learn. I had seen it. I remembered how much joy and excitement I had for this profession. I did want to continue. I believed in what I was teaching and didn’t want to give up. I had to change. I had to show them I cared.

So I smiled more. I showed my students that I love what I am teaching and that I want them to learn. I tried praising more. I created opportunities for them to serve. My students start responding well to the lessons. And I realized, with relief, that I am not alone. Other teachers were experiencing the same feelings I was. Veteran teachers recognized that I had hit Disillusionment and started to build me up. One teacher shared the advice that saved her life during her first year. She had cried out in desperation one day that she “didn’t know what she was supposed to be teaching these students!” and a wise teacher told her, “Neither do they.” They don’t know anything. It’s your job to tell them what they’re supposed to know. You’re an expert, as far as they know. Teach them! They’ll forget it years from now anyway.

Encouragement came. A mentor who observed my class commented, “You have made great improvements! Keep it up!” One of my students told his friends that I was not one of his lame teachers because, “At least she helps me! None of the others will help me!” Another student gave me a rough draft of a story he is writing, and it was actually good—and cool that he would share it with me. And two of my students actually fought over a book on WWII that I point out on the library shelf. They care. Sometimes even a bit about me. And then comes four, count them, four glorious days of weekend.

The sun is starting to shine. And so Rejuvenation has begun.