Monday, October 10, 2011

My First 2 Years As A Teacher

They were the darkest of times.

Some days I went home crying. Some days I just went home and wondered what on earth I was doing. Most days I didn't know what I was doing let alone WHY I was doing it.

I had kids who swore at me daily. Some hit me or spat at me. Others arrived without breakfast, ate no lunch and didn't show up after lunchbreak most days.

I had kids who came with bruises, black eyes and cuts that I know didn't happen from the door slamming. I saw abuse, violence, our school had an attempted arson most weeks and sometimes even when we were in the buildings. Kids urinated in the tote trays, ripped seats off their own toilets, graffiti was everywhere, no-one wanted to help, no-one wanted to know. We had a bomb threat the first term I was there and the bomb squad was too busy to come so the unmarried teachers with no children were sent through the school to search the bags. That was me.

The school leaders were broken. My deputy head, who was my tutor teacher, had a nervous breakdown week 3 and I waited for a new guide and support person to arrive. That took 6 months.

I had a child in my class who was psychotic. He had experienced a hideous personal trauma aged 6 and had never had counseling or support after it. No-one had the resources to help or the time to care. He came to school and barked like a dog, urinated in the corner, hit me, threw chairs at me and generally swore at every opportunity. I would read the class story with him pinned between my legs and his arms held by me as another child turned the page for me. He was violent, angry and a mess. I was a beginning teacher who didn't have a clue of how to help him.

Our principal didn't want to know. She rolled up at 9am and rolled out at 3pm. She had the audacity to tell me that I wasn't cut out for teaching because I asked for help. She suggested I go and re-train as some other profession. She wouldn't support us as a staff, wouldn't even call in the parents of a child who broke my colleague's jaw in a fit of rage. The school was limping by without a single professional person screaming 'STOP! I want to get out of here!' until I did.

It broke me.
I did my time, like a prison sentence and I resigned from teaching forever.
I had never wanted to be a teacher. I went to teachers' college by default so I could kill off a year until I was old enough to take my place in the Journalism course I had always dreamed of.
But then the kids got hold of me while I was at teachers' college and they wove their way into my heart. I had grandiose dreams of traveling to Africa and making a difference to kids who had nothing.

Then I got posted to my first school, with kids who had nothing, in my own backyard, and it was NOT the romantic fantasy of a beginning teacher with stars in her eyes. It was hell and I had to drive there every day, count out 6 hours of hell, and drive home crying.

So I left.
I gave up.
It beat me.
They won.

I was never going back to a classroom again. And that, as they would say, was that.
Until my mother got into the act.
One firm lecture from her about being a waste of tax-payers' money and all that and guilt got the better of me. I made a deal with the devil - I would apply for ONE job, and one job only. And if it was 'meant to be' then I would get it and return to teaching to have another go. If not, then journalism beckoned...

I applied. Wearing jandals, board-shorts and a shabby t-shirt I sauntered into the interview (oh I was determined to sabotage ANY chance of getting this job!!!) but I was in for a shock. The principal recognised a very broken, very disillusioned young teacher and she hired me. She knew I had had the worst of times, she knew I was busted up and cynical about my career choice, and she hired me anyway.

Over 2 more years I healed. I experienced the joys of actually TEACHING - not just managing - a class. I experienced laughter and fun, daring to try new and wonderful things. I was nurtured and supported, finding a collegiality that I had previously not known. I was respected by students and their parents, I was part of a thriving learning community and I fell in love all over again. The romance was back. The dream was alive.

If I had my time over again and I could change anything, I simply wouldn't change a thing.
Every experience that I had, every tough time, every bad day, contributed to me being who I am today. I have never been complacent BECAUSE of what I learnt. I have never been content BECAUSE of what I experienced. I have been passionate and driven to make a difference to myself first so that I can be the best teacher and learner that I can be BECAUSE I went to hell and back and I never want to sit back and accept my circumstances ever again.

I am a teacher and every day I get up and LOVE what I do BECAUSE of what I learnt in those first two years.

I am the master of my fate.
I am the captain of my destiny.


  1. WOW - so powerful - thanks Kim for sharing this - you are a true inspiration to all teachers - thanks for sharing!
    The children in your class are so lucky to have such an amazing teacher!
    Craig @mrkempnz

  2. I can see why you chose "Invictus" to add to your blog. It inspired Nelson Mandela in a time of oppression. He went on to achieve greatness. Your first experiences have some similarity when you were exposed to an oppressive, uncaring situation.

    While I've had some children who have made life difficult until I could work some magic, I never had to face the systematic failure in a school as you had. "What doesn't kill us makes us stronger" is often used when a situation is confronting but there is no comfort there when you're experiencing the situation.

    I am very glad someone saw through your disillusionment and saw potential. I have seen young teachers who falter but are supported by a caring person and go on to be great teachers.

    The rewards are the reactions of children you get through to over the years. Many of my Facebook friends are former students who, although now adults and parents of school children, wanted to make contact. Their positive comments over the years show me I've made a positive difference in their lives.

    Your blog post shows you are ready for the next step. Some young teacher will come along and you will be able to buddy up with them and offer support. You will know from experience the journey starts with the first steps and no matter how faltering, the journey into teaching is worth it.

    Ross Mannell (teacher)
    NSW, Australia

  3. Oh dear what have I got myself into for next year? Looking forward to blogging about it.


  4. Wow. What an amazingly powerful post.

    As a second year teacher, I've found myself struggling this year - just feeling overwhelmed and like I'm not making a difference. This certainly puts all of that into perspective.

    Thank you very much for sharing your story.

  5. Hi Kimberley. Your searing honesty drives your message home. I thought my hell was bad, but I am grateful you have shared this experience.

    I will be passing it on to my sister, who is going through a very difficult time in her teaching studies.

    Thankyou for sharing.