The worst idea I ever had: Student teaching

I knew it was a mistake the very first day. There I stood, in front of a classroom of students at Lindblom High School. They looked somewhat interested to see what would transpire with this totally green, uncertain, freaked-out student teacher before them. How did I get myself into this?

My fear is usually a matter of my failure to see it coming, and therefore my inability to prevent it. I was an English major. Not an English education major, just straight English, like studying poets and old timey authors, which was fun, and I was pretty good at it. I didn’t wake up to the issue of my future employability until a little late in the game – like the last semester of my senior year.

Yikes, what would I do? Once I looked up from my papers and reading and such, I saw that my friends were way ahead of me. They were getting jobs teaching in California so they could live on the beach, or moving to Colorado to work in a B&B in the mountains, or applying to grad schools in Rhode Island, or getting jobs with a friend of their family in Chicago. I had nada. I needed a plan.

It came to me in a flash. I would move back home to Chicago after graduation, enroll in a local college, and do student teaching. Then I would be employable. No problem.

The first thing I learned was that an actual good plan doesn’t come in a flash. Had I had the wit to troubleshoot this great plan, I would have recognized its flaws: I hated being up in front with everyone’s eyes burrowing into me, judging me, and finding me wanting. I also didn’t even want to teach, as I’d seen the toll it took on my own mother. But it was too late to stop the train. I was on it and couldn’t get off.

Up there, I stared at the students, while tracking the movements of the nice, good-humored classroom teacher I was supposed to be a help to, feeling my panic rise whenever he stepped out of the room. He wasn’t especially directive. It was sink or swim, and I was drowning fast.

I soon developed a routine: Somehow live through the day, get into my car in a shower of relief and drive home. I would go straight to the picnic table in the back yard and get started on tomorrow’s lesson plan.

It wasn’t all bad. If there were student papers, I would grade them, offering helpful suggestions here and there, and I kind of liked that. I even liked passing them out the next day.

Then I would go inside, have dinner, and start worrying about the next morning. It is a tribute to something stubborn in me that I kept going back every day. Every day I would have stomach trouble. Every day I was eaten up by anxiety. Every day I was that much closer to the end.

When it finally came, I missed the last day of class. I don’t recall why, but it felt like a missed chance to say goodbye to the students, the teacher, and the whole bloody endeavor.

My happy ending: I applied to grad school in counseling, something I actually loved, once I thought things through. I have never spent a moment in the front of a classroom again, except on career day at my children’s elementary school for just a few minutes, telling them what it is like to be an addictions counselor. Yes, I can spend 12 hours wrangling with a group of addicted individuals and their many issues, but nearly melted down before a classroom of high school students. Go figure.

This encounter with fear convinced me that I could survive my terror, but that I should in the future save myself from it in the first place. So far, so good.

Type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.

Comments

Leave a comment
  • I am glad you figured out your life's plan but student teaching is way worse than teaching. Way worse.

  • In reply to Kathy Mathews:

    I suspected that. I'm glad others have what it takes to climb that learning curve, otherwise what would we do?

Leave a comment