Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Slump

For almost a year now I've heard the same phrase on a daily basis.

"I am kind.  I am smart.  And I am important."

Last January I had the privilege of doing my student teaching with one of the most wonderful mentors I could have ever hoped for.  She taught me so many valuable things.  Things that have become apart of me not only as a teacher but as a person.

Every day at the end of her lesson her students recite, "I am kind.  I am smart.  And I am important." After they recite the daily mantra they go around in a circle and tell her who they were important to. They can list as many or as few people as they want but it always has to end with them saying that they are important to her.

As I took over her classroom for several months I got added to the list of people they were important to.  And so everyday I would hear, "I am kind.  I am smart.  I am important.  And I am important to Miss Beth."

Now fast-foward.  Past graduation.  Past me getting my first real-life-real-adult job offer.  Past the most incredible summer filled with absolutely zero work and all travel.  Past the first month on the job.  Past new kids, new school, AMAZING new co-workers, and learning to go no longer by Miss Beth but by Mrs. Menlove.  Fast-forward to sometime end of October/early November, where all first year teachers hit that first year teacher slump.

They warn you well before that you will hit a slump.  Where you feel like nothing is working out and everything is falling apart.  I thought I would be immune to that slump.  But it hit me hard like a ton of fat heavy bricks.  And it was in that slump that I started to wonder what the heck I was doing. I started to wonder why I do what I do and if maybe I should have chosen something else as my career choice.

Because sometimes it would be really nice to sit in a fun little cubicle where everything is white, organized, and pretty.  Where no one coughs all over your water bottle.  Or tips over your Coke onto your expensive Paper Source desk calendar that you knew all along would probably get ruined.  Or gets smudgy little fingerprints all over your picture frames and asks to use your favorite felt tip pens continually.

And other times it would be even nicer to be able to wear something classy to work without getting boogers wiped on it.  Because what 1st grader carries around a tissue with them at all times?  I'll answer that for you.  None of them do.  That's why the side of my brand new dress is definitely the best option.

And then there are the times where I wish I could just leave work at work.  The times were I come home only to worry and think about how unfair life was for some of my students.  The Sunday nights were I felt so anxious wondering if my students would have a not-so-much-of-a-struggle-Monday than the week before.  The times when I wonder why can't I just do more for these kids?

I started to wonder if I should have done something where I could travel.  Or maybe something that was just more instagram worthy.  Maybe I should have done something more creative.  Something that brought on less stress.  Or maybe something that paid more.

This slump also came with the horrifying few weeks where it felt like literally nothing was working and everything that had been working had reversed itself.  No one was making progress.  Behavior problems were a daily occurrence.  And everything I had been trained to do seemed to fly out the window.  It was then that I truly wondered why I had ever convinced my sister-in-law to major in Special Education.

I started to feel honestly a little stupid.  I started to wonder if I had been fooled all along.  I had always thought I had picked a career I was completely and totally passionate about.  I had promised myself I wouldn't be like everyone else regretting what I had majored in.  I also started to wonder why I suddenly cared so much about the pay.  I had never cared about money before.  But suddenly I did.  Suddenly I felt like I was putting up with too much to get paid so little. To sum it up I just started to feel like a real big idiot.  A real big idiot who was super annoyed with everything.  

Fortunately, some time during those couple of weeks of annoyance and far too much self reflecting, my mentor teacher texted me.  She is one of those people who brought me a present my first week of work.  She is one of those people who continually makes sure everything is going alright.  She is the kind of mentor I hope to be one day.

We were chatting.  Swapping stories.  She was updating me on some of her kids I missed so much. I was telling her how I had survived my first IEP meeting and better yet my first reevaluation meeting.  And then she said something that would make me look at my job differently from that moment on.

"The kids miss you.  They have been asking when you are coming back.  They still always say, 'I am important to Miss Beth.'"

I will not lie.  I teared up just a little.  Actually to be honest I flat out cried.  Because they are absolutely right.  They are and will always be important to Miss Beth.

And that's when I realized why I do it.  That's when I realized why I am a Special Education Teacher. And that is when I realized why I will continue to be a special education teacher.  Not because it is glamorous.  Not because it pays amazing.  Not because it is easy.  And not because I work with the most amazing humans in the world (Even though I do.  I am spoiled rotten in that aspect).

I do it because I want my kids to know that they are kind.  That they are smart.  And that they are important.  And most importantly, that they are important to me.  Because every child needs to know they are important and if that is the only thing they learn in my class, I am perfectly fine with that.