My co-workers, especially the younger ones, have surely heard me tell them, likely multiple times, that they are doing great in life and at work and are much more poised for success than I was in my early to mid-20s, the age of a lot of our newer hires these days. I am so proud of each of them—more than they know.
Why do I say that? When I was their age, I was immature, only occasionally employed and didn’t even know what I wanted to do with myself. I was a hot mess.
Sure, I had just graduated from a good college—on time, with OK-ish grades—but I just wasn’t prepared for the real world. And I wasn’t sure if journalism, my major, was my path, either.
However, I knew I needed to do something. I was covering high school girls soccer and basketball (poorly) as a freelance reporter for the very high school I once attended, but one can’t survive on that.
I decided to see if education held some promise. My mom taught for over 40 years, one of my best friends was about to start teaching and the retirement package seemed solid. Mom suggested I substitute teach first.
I got certified in fall 2002 to be a substitute teacher, and then I was thrown to the cats. One might say he or she was thrown to the wolves, but wolves are my favorite animal so being thrown to them would be fun! Imagine the snuggles! Being surrounded by a bunch of cats would be awful.
My mom taught for over 40 years, one of my best friends was about to start teaching and the retirement package seemed solid.
The kids I “taught” that day were first-graders trying to sit still on the day before Thanksgiving break. I had absolutely no idea what to say to them. I’ve never been around children in my life—ever—aside from when I was a child, and I’m not sure I even handled that well.
The bell rang to start the school day. I stared at them. They stared at me. I took attendance and mumbled something about reading aloud to the class.
Fifteen minutes into my first day on the job, my introversion, inexperience and attempts to not look like I was completely out of my element made me feel like I was being repaid for all the times (a lot) I had acted up (a lot) for substitute teachers in my youth—like the time I set the classroom clock ahead 15 minutes so we were let out of class early by a clueless sub, free to roam the halls.
Of course, the kids I was in charge of didn’t do anything wrong. I just didn’t know how to work with them. We gathered on the floor to read a book of their choosing.
“You skipped a word,” one of the children said as I read aloud.
“Show us the pictures,” a runny-nosed first-grader said as I went way too quickly through the book. I think every one of the kids picked their noses at some point that day.
Eventually a guidance counselor saw I was struggling and came to my aid to help run the class.
I don’t remember much of the rest of the day—I think I blacked out from fear and my senses being bombarded by 20 6-year-olds.
At the end of the day I knew I was not teacher material. The kids were well-behaved, but it wasn’t for me. Fifteen years later I can say it was the toughest, most emotionally draining job I ever had, and I think it was even a shortened school day because of Thanksgiving break! How do teachers do what they do, day after day?
When we’re trying to find ourselves, learning what we don’t like can be just as important as finding out what we do like. Kids are OK—when I’m around them I feel protective of them and often find children to be entertaining—but a bunch of them at once isn’t for me.
I found myself in a classroom years later as a journalist explaining to children as a guest speaker why newspapers still matter and being an informed citizen is important.
What was the toughest job you ever had—aside from reading this blog?