On Teacher Burnout

It is the third week of the school year, and I am already contemplating the fact that I might not make it through my first year of teaching.

There’s a lot of factors at play here–the stress and difficulty of my cross country move being a large one; not only do I feel lonely, but the majority of my time outside of school is spent in trying to do things like procure groceries, unpack my luggage, buy a lamp, or find the UPS depot to pick up a package (and end up losing over three hours of my night to their disorganization; thanks UPS!). Many of the factors that are burning me out are not school-specific ones.

However, there are several issues that are issues many schools face.

For one, I suffer a significant lack of materials. My curriculum–which was assigned to me by my school–is based entirely around handouts and reading packets. However, I am denied photocopy paper and the machine is rarely stocked with paper. Somehow, I need to make a minimum of ten pages of copies per student per day, but I am not provided with the materials. Without the copies, however, I can’t teach the content.

When I DO manage to make copies, I have to stick to the bare minimum. With ninth graders, you need to give them a lot. They need graphic organizers, note-taking guides, vocabulary lists, hard copies of all assignments and the requirements (right now I have to settle for writing everything on the board), worksheets, etc. I can give them none of these things because I can barely even give them the work the school expects them to do.

So, at best, I can give my students the absolute bare minimum of materials, with absolutely nothing to help them utilize what we give them.

In addition, I have no technology in my classroom. I have a very old over head projector (the kind with which you use transparencies, not the kind that hooks up to a computer) that doesn’t focus the entire page at once. I also don’t have a screen onto which I can project with said projector, so I have to use either the whiteboard (which doesn’t erase fully so whiteboard marker barely even shows up) or the wall above the whiteboard, which is so high up that most of the students have difficulty making out the words of the poorly focused projector. And yes, I know how to focus it–I get it to the best possible setting and then hope for the best. I can’t give my students projects based on technology–such as presentations using Powerpoint or other media–because there is no guarantee that they have access to such things at home, and even if they stayed after school to work in the library, we would be unable to access their efforts in class. Likewise, I cannot use Powerpoint, videos, audio, etc in class. I teach a double-period block class, but I have no way to break up the monotony of the class. Media makes an enormous difference, and it’s yet another resource I cannot utilize.

I’m teaching my students about California geography, but I have no map of California and no way to access such a thing. I’m teaching short stories, but often without knowing if I will be able to hand out the stories or not.

My class has no textbook, and the novel we’re supposed to start next week… won’t be available for another two weeks or so. So I have been told to “fill time.”

Meanwhile, I’m a new teacher, and teaching out of my subject area, so filling time is hard for me. I dislike giving busy work, and I dislike giving work that I cannot collect and grade, and I’m already in over my head. I try to put writing prompts and assignments on the overhead, but that’s ineffectual and difficult. I can’t give the students handouts because I can’t make copies. I can’t have them work in their books because they have no books. Meanwhile, I’m struggling with classroom management, so I end my days drained and empty despite having gotten next to nothing done over the course of the day.

Finally, my classroom is not my classroom. The previous teacher has yet to move out her belongings and materials, so my social studies classroom is full of science and physiology posters and books, and I keep being told “it’ll be cleaned out soon.” I don’t have enough seating for my students, and instead of desks, like every other teacher, I have long tables, which makes arranging the classroom near impossible. It is difficult to create a classroom culture in a classroom that is not yours, regardless of whether or not you are the only one teaching in it.

I have phenomenal colleagues who are working hard to support me and help me, but without materials and resources, I feel powerless and lost. By the end of the day, I want to cry. When I get home, I want so badly to work on getting ahead on my curriculum, creating new materials, improving my systems, but I am generally so crushed and overwhelmed that it’s all I can do to cook dinner and sit on the couch, let alone deal with any of the mess of my personal life or professional mess.

This is where new teacher burnout comes from. People talk about classroom management overwhelming and demoralizing new teachers, and it does, but the thing is that we already have the odds stacked against us before we even have to deal with student problems. There are already so many bureaucratic and infrastructure problems that by the time we enter the room, we already feel like we’ve lost the battle, so of course classroom management is just the icing on the cake. It’s not hard to break something that’s already barely holding together.

Hmm. And I swore I was going to be more positive.


09/14/2011. Tags: . Uncategorized. 2 comments.

Fielding a Curve Ball

Here I am, in the third week of my first year of full time teaching.

I am teaching a class in which I am not certified (California Studies, when my certification is in English) and I got hired only days before the school year started. I did not start till days after. My classroom is still full of the belongings and decor of the previous teacher. I’m adapting lesson plans and curriculum from another teacher, who has been teaching Cal Studies for almost a decade. On the plus side, he knows his stuff. On the downside, he knows his stuff–most of the materials are little reminders to himself, rather than detailed information. I’m learning the materials only slightly before my students.

I just got an apartment, and I am still moving in. My belongings arrived from Boston only two days ago. Life is getting easier, mind you, now that I have my belongings.

I’m still finishing all my paperwork with HR. My curriculum is almost entire handouts and the photocopier is always broken. I have a severe shortage of materials. I have zero technology in my classroom (I thought Boston was bad, but I was wrong!). My students have major discipline issues and do not do work reliably at all.

All that said, I am fortunate to have a job, and fortunate to have this job. My administration is wonderful, and my colleagues are fantastic. I feel very supported, and the environment is overall positive. While I am often frustrated by my students, there are great moments as well, and there are several students that stand out as particularly delightful. I already have a Doctor Who action figure at my desk that a student brought in for me. That’s a warm fuzzy.

I am trying to learn to better manage my classes–a problem I had overcome in Boston, but must start from scratch here. I am trying to learn California history. I am trying to learn the particular nature of my school. I am trying to learn to write better lessons for really long classes (in Boston, I had about 45 minutes, here I have two hour blocks!). I am trying to learn a new school-wide discipline system, and how to best use it.

Plus, I’m learning a whole new city. That part is mostly exciting, but sometimes stressful. I’m establishing my adorable new apartment, which is mostly exciting, but sometimes stressful. I’ve downgraded from a fairly spacious one bedroom to a studio, so it’s been a challenge. My books are moved in, though, which is always a wonderful thing to see.

Today, I’m just pushing myself to write in this blog again. Starting tomorrow, I hope, I will begin talking more about what I’m teaching and what’s going on in my classes. I want to talk about how I’m creating my materials and what I’m learning about education.

Urban education is a challenge. Being a first year teacher is a challenge. This year is a huge challenge, but one with which I look forward to grappling. I will overcome it, I will do my job well, and I will come out a better teacher.

09/13/2011. Tags: , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.