By Jane Morris
Teaching last year in 2022 was by far the hardest year in my entire teaching career. I’ve had difficult years in the past, but nothing compared to this previous year. It left me exhausted, frustrated, and completely broken down. Teaching is always a tough job, but the last year takes the cake in difficult years.
A Tough Year to Teach
I have come very close to quitting many times in the last 15 years but somehow I have managed to keep going. Part of what has helped me is writing about my experiences in my books and being able to vent on social media without holding anything back. I have a weird kind of amnesia when it comes to my overall experience of a particular school year. I tend to rely on my husband’s reaction to my desperate rantings to help me figure out if it ever really was this bad.
Fifteen years have passed, and apparently, at the end of every school year, I have a little breakdown of the “I just can’t do it anymore!” variety (if you’re a teacher, you know exactly what I mean). The emotional and physical exhaustion at the end of the year is too intense and it feels like the only way to survive moving forward is to leave without looking back.
I have a similar breakdown during the first week of school every year too, I’ve been told. After two months of rest and no emotional and mental abuse, the onslaught of the coming year is too overwhelming to handle.
I only know that I do this every year because every year my husband says, “You go through this every year. At the end of every school year, you have a meltdown and declare that you can’t do it anymore. It takes you about two weeks to fully extract the poison (which involves several hours a day of ranting) and then you’re fine. Same thing at the beginning of the year. You completely freak out and say you can’t do it, but after a few weeks, you’re back in the flow.”
Last Year Was the Worst Year
Something was different at the end of this past year though, and it accidentally slipped from his mouth during one of my rants. “Things must be really, really bad. This is a breaking point. You always go through this, but this seems more extreme.” We stared at each other until I yelled, “Yeah! It is really bad! We’re all at our breaking point! And if something doesn’t change, we’re going to crack!”
So I kicked the metaphorical teaching door closed in my mind. I literally saw myself doing a badass martial arts move where I jump in the air and kick my classroom door shut. I declared to the universe that I was finished for good.
But here’s the thing. The door opens from the inside. So kicking it from the outside would kick it back open. If I kicked it closed from the inside, I’d be trapped in the classroom. And you know what? That is a perfect metaphor for this career. There doesn’t seem to be a clean way to kick it closed and walk away. You have to be willing to jump out the window and shimmy down the drain pipe into a mud puddle.
There is so much I want to say about this, so let me keep it short because we’re all pressed for time:
- Is it normal to have a complete and total meltdown multiple times a year where it feels like you will literally die if you don’t quit your job? Probably not. They’re going to need to pay us a hell of a lot more to make those crises worth it.
- The meltdowns never feel repetitive. It always feels like this is the worst it has ever been.
- Are jobs supposed to be so poisonous that you feel like you need to extract the poison to feel healthy again?
- Back in the flow? There is never a flow. There is only a white water rapids, life-or-death feeling of being dragged along.
To further prove my point, I asked my teacher followers to help me paint a picture of how last school year was the worst they’d seen in their careers. Here are some of their comments:
- “Well, the year started out with TikTok challenges that had kids ripping their schools to shreds, running fight clubs in the bathrooms, and smacking teachers’ butts.”
- “Elementary kids of all young ages were obsessed with the number 69!”
- “If you didn’t live it you couldn’t understand it.”
- “It felt like it was April/May in SEPTEMBER. The whole year was cranked up to 11 in every category and was exhausting. We also just saw so many bizarre and unexpected behaviors from kids.”
- “Phone addiction was the worst it’s ever been, impudence, lying, attendance, tardiness, just… everything. The worst.”
- “I don’t think it can really be explained to anyone who didn’t experience it firsthand. Exhaustion and a lot of WTF on the daily. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I’ve been teaching for 20 years.”
- “Last year, every kid expected an A regardless of the amount of work they did. During remote learning, they got an A for nothing and they expected the same.”
- “So many bizarre behaviors as kids got used to being in school again. Everything was cranked up to 11 and it felt like May-level exhaustion in September.”
- “Toxic positivity was the worst ever. Admin. preached ‘self-care’ constantly but then put ever-increasing demands on us.”
- “So many overly confident kids who thought they were brilliant and already knew everything when just two years ago they’d barely have passed.”
- “Zero accountability for the worst behaviors. I sent a kid to the office and admin. literally bought them a pizza.”
- “Parents were questioning my professionalism more than ever before. Shouldn’t they just be happy that someone showed up?”
Why Was Last Year the Hardest?
So what was so bad about this year? Why is everyone saying it was the most difficult, frustrating, and exhausting year of our careers? Here are my two cents on why last year was by far the hardest year of teaching we’ve experienced thus far.
Bottom line: Everything was extreme.
Student behavior was the worst we’ve seen. Student maturity was the lowest we’ve seen. The lack of attention was the worst we’ve seen. Parental nonsense was the worst, skills were the lowest, and worst of all, despite the obvious challenges teachers were facing, administrative micromanagement was the most intense.
And like I said to my husband, if things don’t change (and fast!), teachers are going to reach a major breaking point and begin leaving the profession in even bigger droves than ever before.
Something’s gotta give. And fast.
Jane Morris is the pen name of a teacher who would really like to tell you more about herself, but she is afraid she’ll lose her job. Jane has taught English for over 15 years in a major American city. She received her B.A. in English and Secondary Education from a well-known university and her M.A. in writing from an even fancier (more expensive) university. She has a loving family and cares about making people laugh more than anything else.
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