Somehow, I made it through two years of teaching without quitting. But I think I just watched a version of my past self actually do it.
By that I mean I identified strongly with the difficulties one of our after-school employees was having, but couldn’t keep her from quitting. (Not sure if I wanted to?)
I mostly knew of this girl’s struggles through her supervisor, but when I spoke with her personally I felt like I was talking to my first-year-teacher self. She wasn’t making any sense, but it made perfect sense to me: She would express frustration with the other staff members, then backtrack and say it was all her fault. She would say she was totally at a loss and hitting a wall, then say she knew exactly what needed to be done. She would spout humility and self-loathing, then insinuate that the rest of the team wasn’t pulling their weight. And throughout, I could just see this constant tension between how she felt like this was her life’s calling and how she felt like she couldn’t do one more day.
As I talked with her, I remembered conversations with administrators, veteran teachers, and TFA staff–remembered the look on their faces and the things they would all say–and realized I had the same look on my face, was saying the same things.
It would have been an interesting experience even if it had ended there. In the end, though, I decided I was in a position to make things a bit clearer and easier for her and improve the program at the same time, and so I scheduled a staff meeting for the site.
By the end of that meeting, though, she’d given up. She had also gotten into a heady confrontation with the site supervisor and revealed a lot of what she really thought about the school, its staff, and why the kids were so far behind. She was careful never to say it, and in fact said a lot of self-deprecating things instead, but I could tell that in her opinion, there was one simple problem: the school, and the rest of the after school staff, were not as hard-working as her, not as smart as her, and had low expectations for behavior. I don’t even think she knew that’s what was coming through in what she was saying.
So I went from identifying with her in an empathetic, “ohhh honey” way to identifying with her in an “oh crap was I just like her?” way. And on some bad days, I think the answer would have been yes.
For the most part, maybe with rose-colored hindsight, I think the sane part of me knew that my problems stemmed from my own lack of experience and inability to cope. But I definitely was not always thinking/saying the most ‘asset-based’ things about my school or coworkers, either.
I’m so glad I was able to be there for that, and learn from my mistakes in such a visual way. Because I can feel now how absurdly wrong she was about that staff, and how ridiculous she looked pointing fingers when she could have been learning from them.