life

What my first days as a teacher were really like

Pity the speedbag.

That’s the punching bag boxers use to build up the speed of their punches.

Or something.

I don’t know anything about boxing. I just watch “Rocky” movies.

I just know the hero wails on that bag during a training montage. A pop song by the latest hot new thing pumps in the background.

In 3 minutes on the screen, years’ worth of training is finished, and our hero is a lean, mean, face-smashing machine.

That is basically how new teacher orientation felt for me, except I was the speedbag and the people clicking through PowerPoint presentations were the gloved fists smashing into my jaw every few seconds.

To be fair, they admitted it was a lot of information in a short amount of time.

I remember joining the teacher’s union.

Other than that, I stumbled around punch drunk in a high school cafeteria.

The air conditioning wasn’t on due to HVAC being upgraded and it was one of the hottest days of the year.

They really want you to be sure you want to be a teacher.

The first week for new-to-the-career teachers involved a lot of meetings like that.

I tried to make sense of it.

I hope, at least, I correctly filled out the online form to get paid.

We’ll see. The first payday isn’t until Sept. 15.

I should mention I live with an acute anxiety condition coupled with chronic depression.

This idea of starting a new career at age 47 is terrifying.

I spent two years and racked up thousands in student debt to earn my master’s degree and teaching license.

My jangled brain chemistry churns thoughts of gloom and failure at every turn.

Fortunately, I have an excellent behavioral therapist and a good psychiatric counselor for medication.

Still, existential dread abounds.

These are other people’s children. They’re in my care. I’m supposed to teach them language arts.

What if I’m not up to the task?

What if I fail?

When I was a newsman, failure meant not getting the story, getting beat by the competition, or making a mistake that needed correcting.

Failure for a teacher means letting a child, their family, and your school down.

Of course, you can’t fail if you don’t try.

Then again, you can’t get paid if you don’t try.

So, I met my students, and we worked on getting to know each other for our first three days together.

I won’t say much more than that. The relationship between teacher and student is sacred.

I never want students to feel like what they share could end up being published.

I’ll just say that I felt as if an army of steamrollers had driven over me by the end of my first three days with kids.

That was 100% about my own anxieties and not about them as a group or individuals.

My mentor teacher said I was doing fine. I asked her why she thought that.

Because the ones that think they’re doing a good job right from the beginning are the ones you have to worry about, she said.

I felt a little better after that.

Unlike “Rocky” movies, there are no montages in life.

You must learn in real time.

It’s slow, tedious, sometimes painful, and sometimes fun, but it comes with time, which only moves forward in specific increments for we mere mortals.

I’ll get better, but never as fast as I want to.

The final bell rang Friday night, I poured what was left of my physical and mental being into my car and drove home.

By Sunday morning, I had a slight fever, dizzy spells, and all kinds of sinus drainage, and felt weak all over.

It felt familiar.

I swabbed.

I was positive for COVID-19.

I was three days into working with students and now I was going to have to miss five.

Geez.

I know it’s bad luck.

But could somebody lay off the speedbag for a minute?

Middle school teacher Daniel P. Finney writes a column for the Marion County Express.

Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
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