My Emotional Roller-Coaster

Have you ever been in an emotional state in which you couldn’t tell whom you really were? Have you ever been familiar with states of unstable adrenalin pumps that wake you up in the middle of the night and chase sleep away? Have you ever “caught” yourself gritting your teeth while asleep?

…I have.

Sleepless nights

I never lost passion or doubted my love and dedication to the teaching profession. Nevertheless, I experienced some moments of pure physical as well as moral stress which caused me great pain and which, subsequently, led me to change many aspects of my teaching-related practices.

I assume my readers know that I was so eager to teach, and was very enthusiastic to give the best of me when I began practicing. Unfortunately, this zeal and enthusiasm were a bit out of control as I set high and unrealistic expectations. Of course, I didn’t realize that my goals and expectations were unrealistic back then. I just wanted to make a positive change in my students and I refused to believe that they were beyond help as I was informed by some experienced teachers. “They just don’t know how to deal with kids” I’d tell myself.

Now that I think back about it, I realize that those kids were not totally beyond help. On the other hand, I can’t help but feel STUPID; how can anyone, especially in my circumstances, aspire to change students radically in very little time? I’m talking about students who are literally illeterates here!

As a newbie, one always tries his/her best to stick to the literature on teaching, or any other profession, I guess, trying to implement the most up to date principles, methods, techniques and procedures, and trying, if possible, to integrate the most state-of-the-art technological advances.

Now, when you do this, you expect to get the same results you read about in methodology books, watched on teaching videos, and heard about from other experienced teachers. Nonetheless, the reality is sour and the classroom isn’t that magical after all.  It was then when I wrote an imaginary letter saying:

Dear Chomsky, Vygotsky, Tannen, Harmer, Maslow, Celce-Murcia, Nunan, Larsen-Freeman, Krashen, Hymes, Piaget, Rogers,…F@ # $ YOU, none of your S^ & * works!

You can imagine my frustration after trying hard to be a cool teacher just to see my efforts yielding no results. A mere waste of time and effort. Using games, music, videos, role plays… didn’t make my students better ones, it just made me suffer more. My students weren’t familiar with these techniques so they thought I was kind of “weird”. I even happened to hear the following conversation between two students who weren’t in my room but were close enough to be heard:

  • Student A: Look! The students are up and walking inside the classroom hitting each other with a rubber ball.
  • StudentB: what do you think they’re doing?
  • Student A: I have no clue, but today’s teachers have gone really mad!

In fact, my students were engaged in an activity called “hot potato”. In this activity, students are required to mingle and hit each other with a rubber ball which we pretend is a very hot potato. Meanwhile, music plays in the background. When I stop the music abruptly, whoever is holding the ball has to present himself to the class.

This made me feel bad. I was bringing new things to the school and yet some students think I’m crazy! I felt under appreciated and frankly, I felt sad.

Anyway, this is just one example of many constraints I had to deal with. The greatest burden, however, was my students results. The results were really catastrophic! Only 10 percent of my students got good marks in their first test. The other students were either totally lost that they didn’t know what the test was about, or had handwritings that were totally illegible.

Reading my students test papers was a heartbreaking task. Even though I knew they didn’t prepare well, that they didn’t have the adequate level to be there and that they were passing from a class to another without having mastered the previous curricula, I couldn’t blame anyone for their results but myself.

The time that followed my first test was very difficult on me. I started thinking that I wasn’t a competent teacher and that I couldn’t make my students progress. It’s true that I knew that there were things beyond my reach which I wasn’t responsible for, but a sense of guilt chased me day and night and made my life a nightmare, …literally!

At this particular moment, I was starting to become schizophrenic. I would spend a lot of time thinking of my teaching and reflecting back on my mistakes, blaming myself for my students extremely low level, and being harsh on myself because of their low marks. On the other hand, I would stop myself and tell myself that it wasn’t my problem, that my students hadn’t studied enough before they sat for the test and that there was nothing I could do about it. “I just can’t make up for 9 years of education in one month” I’d tell myself.

So, basically, there were two sides of me, one side was blaming me and making me feel guilty and another side comforting me and making me see that it wasn’t my responsibility, and that I was a victim of the educational system’s ineffectiveness.

This emotional roller-coaster  would continue for a relatively long time, a period of some months on which I visited doctors more than I had done in my entire life. A period of time when sleep got scarcer and “good mood” was just some rumor.

A better tomorrow

Thankfully, this had to change soon 🙂

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12 responses to “My Emotional Roller-Coaster”

  1. Lynne Diligent says :

    Speaking as a teacher of almost 30 years, I think you have to realize you can’t be all things to all students. In your case, I know of the students who have been passed through to middle school who still cannot even write their name in ANY language, much less, English. You might not be able to teach these kids what they are supposed to be learning in your class. But some of them you will teach, and with others you can make a difference in their life in other ways.

    I think everything we do in life is important. Sometimes, just to speak kindly to someone can make a difference in their lives. Even listening to them or having a conversation can make a difference. Sometimes we can inspire our students to be better people for having passed through our class, even if they didn’t learn English.

    Most of all, remember that you can’t reach them all. But you can make a difference in SOME students’ lives.

    I became a teacher to make a difference in some students’ lives. In my case, I felt that if I was “that special teacher” for even ONE student it would be worth it. However, I know I made a positive difference in many students’ lives. That’s all you can do. Try to make a difference whenever you can, and remember that even students have some responsibility for their own lives.

    After all, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”

    • RainDancer says :

      Thank you very much Lynne,
      I agree wholeheartedly with you. Unfortunately, I couldn’t understand that when I just started. I thought I was the Messiah. a person who’d help EVERYONE and ANYONE and that everyone would love.
      Now, I know it’s not like this, and I’m happy with my life and work the way they are. Everyday is a new experience and every experience is a step ahead. I’m still learning about this job and still getting to know myself throughout this journey in the teaching profession.

      Thank ou very much.

  2. www.teachesol.wordpress.com says :

    Although this is kind of a melancholy post, I found myself smiling throughout. I recognized myself in the melodrama:) I tend to take every student failure as my own failure as a teacher. On the other hand, Im starting to realize that my most prized successes will be in the fleeting moments that only I witness. Based on your words, I would bet that you are great at what you do. Thanks for reminding me I’m not alone. It’s not easy being the only ELL teacher at two schools. Love your words.

    • RainDancer says :

      Thank YOU!

      I’m very pleased with your comment. It makes me see, in the same way that this post made you see, that I’m not the only one! We’re a community and this should relive a little bit of the tension.

      I think the main problem is that teachers don’t open up and speak about their problems. Everyone is afraid to be thought of as a less competent teacher so they only share, and sometimes exaggerate, their successes, whereas failures are kept secret.
      I’m very happy you could relate to this post.
      Thanks Again.

      Rain

  3. stcarriescenter says :

    I am glad that I read this article. It shows me the perspective of a new teacher. I approach life with curiousity and observe what is already there and connect with it. So this gives me more information to work with when I am mentoring teachers.

    • RainDancer says :

      Thanks a lot,
      I’m so glad this could be of help to you. I chose to write about my experiences so that they get exposed, and so that, hopefully, more people would benefit from them.

      Thanks again for passing by.

      Rain

  4. Ikram Benzouine says :

    I totally could relate to you again. Being novice is a bittersweet phase for every pro-to-be. Apparently, we can’t fix the world in a blink of an eye. We can’t call it a country with only 10 people in one house. I was so blinded by my high expectations and extreme motivation that I took the REAL world for granted. I must confess I paid the piper! Like yourself, I’ve been through serious emotional and physical damage: insomnia, anorexia, extreme stress, etc. Most of the time, I had this feeling of being schizophrenic too… I couldn’t find my “teacher-less” self anymore! I came to a point where I was unaware of who I really am!! I was obsessed with designing this perfect lesson plan to apply it in my class, and bettering my students’ level.
    Speaking of your post-test shock. You have NO IDEA how disquieted I was prior to the exam… I could feel my heart jumping out of my chest LITERALLY! I just felt the need of carrying that worry on my shoulder, seeing that their results would show how effective my teaching strategy is and how successful I am as a pedagog…

    “Time is a healer”, so they say. I must affirm it is! I have come to maintain the following motto: Nothing’s easy to get without some sweat 🙂
    Irrespective of all the down-in-the-mouth moments I had, I still cherish my job ^^

    Many thanks to you for these earnest reflections. Keep inspiring me )

    • RainDancer says :

      Thank you very much Ikram,

      I appreciate your sharing of your experiences. I find it really comforting to know that other teachers have gone through the same ordeals I’ve been through, not that I enjoy seeing people suffer but it just lets me know I’m not the only one suffering out there.

      I’m so glad you could relate to this and so flattered that you feel that my posts are inspiring.

      Stay tuned for more 🙂

  5. Ikram Benzouine says :

    By the way thumbs up for the heartfelt verses you wrote for Vygotsky and co 😀

  6. Arbi says :

    Teaching has its own ups and downs like any other profession. What characterizes “true” teachers is that they often hold themselves responsible for most of the downs and fiascos occurring in the classroom which is something almost unfound in other professions. This tendency to “victimize ourselves” is a sign that we do care about and love teaching. The real and certainly stressful challenge is to sustain the afore-mentioned! However, too much self-victimization / self-blaming is likely to turn pathological and consequently would require immediate pedagogical intervention, a tactful euphemism for psychopathological intervention 😉 Well, teaching, I believe, is at the service of and should ultimately be conducive to learning. And the teacher is supposed to do his / her best to reduce the gap between these two islands, mounts or poles or whatever called teaching and learning! Unfortunately, things don’t usually go according to plan and the reasons are too varied to be covered in one single comment! Let me start by echoing one reason you already mentioned in your article/post. When teachers’ expectations are too ambitious or even unrealistic compared to students’ capabilities, learning is unlikely to occur! Instead, disappointment and stress would haunt conscientious teachers! In this case, such teachers are recommended to adapt their teaching to meet students’ real learning needs. That is to say, we should always take into account the real students we teach NOT the ideal ones we wish we had while preparing our lessons! And remember, given our deplorable working circumstances, attaining 50% or even less should be considered a titanic achievement! Now, as to the imaginary letter of complaint we often co-write to Chomsky et al, I’m afraid it’s a hopeless attempt to de-responsiblize ourselves and put the blame on theories and their begetters 😉 A bad workman always… 😉 Let us be reminded that our job as practitioners is NOT to prove the validity of the theories and pedagogies. It is rather to adapt, edit, modify and customize those theories and approaches to fit and serve our learning and teaching contexts. I’d also like to say that teachers are and will perhaps always remain agents of change! Though you might not be see it, you are making chage(s) in the lives of your students. You are setting a good example of someone who’s doing his job with zeal, honesty and devotion. Change is not necessarily enabling your students to speak, understand or distinguish between the past and present simple! You are certainly inspiring them and touching their lives HUMANELY which goes far beyond their schooling and stays with them as long as they live! Thanksyou for eloquently spitting out your emotional roller coaster;-)

    • RainDancer says :

      Thank you very much Arbi for your valuable contribution.
      I’m a new teacher, I’m still learning as days go by. Everyday in the classroom is a new experience that I cherish and every obstacle I face is a cornerstone of a new strategy.

      I’m getting to figure out things that I didn’t understand when I started teaching, but as my experience grows, so does my attitude and vision of teaching and learning.

      Thank you very much, again.

      Rain.

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