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.

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  • 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?

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