A Mopey, Self-Deprecating Confession

Happy Saturday!

This week was terrible. Not in a "I'm so tired and stressed out from all the assessments and/or PD I had to complete this week" or even a "Yikes! My kid's were really unfocused and now I have to reteach everything again next week" kind of week. No - this week was one of those weeks where I am questioning my "calling" as an educator. I really, truly hate to admit that. I hate feeling stressed out every, single weeknight. I hate that I came home last night and cried on my couch for 2 hours before surrendering to my bed at 8 pm. I hate even more that I left my old job for this position. I feel like I made a mistake...

To give you a little context, here is the back story of my journey. I worked for 3 years as a special educator in a therapy school for students with behavioral, social/emotional, and neurological disorders. These students had significant challenges, ranging from learning disabilities, to conduct disorders, and traumatic brain injury. All of these children had a history of behavioral challenges that limited their functioning in a "regular" school  - thus, their least-restrictive environment was our school- State funded, sub-separate, Out-of-District Placement school in Boston. It was a high-anxiety environment, with a high turnover rate. The kids were challenging. The behaviors were challenging.  But, I loved it. I felt that the school was designed for meeting the needs of these students, and that my ideas were valuable. I felt that I could contribute to the well-being of my students by voicing my opinions, attempting new strategies, and asking for help. It was a team-approach, and I don't think many schools can honestly say that. Sure, schools can say we work together as a team, but is that really true? Each of my students had a TEAM of people working for his/her benefit- this team included me as the Special Educator, my Assistant Teacher, my Milieu Counselor, his/her Case Manager, any specialists (SLP, OT, Reading, Math), parents, and any additional staff (often times we would have a an administrator as part of our team, such as the educational supervisor, behavioral supervisor, principal, clinical direction, milieu director, or program director). It was a huge team effort! I won't lie - sometimes it was definitely too many cooks in the kitchen. And honestly, after some of these meetings, I would leave feeling less prepared, and more frustrated than before it started. But, I soon found out that there are FAR worse environments out there for teachers...

Additionally, I had friends at this job. I know, I know...that is  not the point of our occupation - just a bonus. However, have you ever had the worst day of your life in your current position, and talking to a colleague about it turns your day around? Having a team working with a particularly challenging student was so helpful during these times, because I knew I wasn't alone. The frustrations and stress I was feeling, was being felt by others too! We could talk, collaborate, or even just bitch about the situation (often down at the local pub on Friday afternoons), and I could go home and move on with my night, instead of dwelling on it all weekend, making myself sick with stress and worry, or completely shut myself off from the world (all of these are issues I am currently working on...). Those friendships were the reason I would wake up after a terrible day the day before, and trudge on into work. I knew my Littles were counting on me, but I also had people I could count on too. We need that love and support just as much as our Little Learners do.

After a particularly tumultuous school year last year, with a deteriorating team, many administrative shifts, and overall, a toxic work environment, I resigned from my position in June of 2013. It was a natural time for me to transition, so it did not come as a major surprise to my colleagues or team. I had just graduated from Simmons College with my Masters in ABA and was getting married in less than a week. While I knew the reasons I was leaving the program, my colleagues viewed this as a natural transition into a new teaching experience. I hadn't lined up a new job yet, but was eager to get the ball rolling. With my licensure in Moderate Disabilities, my Masters in ABA, and my experience with behavior and students with a variety of disabilities, I was confident I would find a job.

I did. After a summer of job interviews, portfolio building, and Thank You letter-writing, I nailed a job in my town. I talked myself up in the interview, highlighting my strengths, and discussing my goals for working on my weaknesses. The school talked itself too - lots of PD opportunities, small staff-to-student ratio in my classroom, and, the most important bullet for me: team collaboration. I heard endless discussions on how they are a school that really strives for the team approach. Everyone collaborates, everyone is willing to hear other ideas, and everyone lends a hand. I left the interview feeling good about this potential position. After hearing that I got the job a few days later, I was giddy and bubbling with excitement! The position I applied for and had ultimately gotten, was a special educator position in a Therapeutic Learning Program AKA Behavior Kids. It was a program as part of the public school district, thus, I assumed, "less severe" behavior challenges than the students in my previous school. After reading of their behaviors on paper, I still assumed that "aggression" in this environment, must be different than what I was used to, because, they were still in a "regular" school. Aggression in my previous school was just what it sounds like - aggression toward others meant punching, kicking, throwing large, heavy objects toward them. Aggression toward self meant SIB (self-injurious behavior). If the students were "aggressive" at our schools, it meant that this type of aggression was not able to be managed in a safe, secure, and effective way in the public school environment. I felt it was safe to assume that if these students were still in the public school environment, than the "aggression" was not to the level of those who had to have been "shipped out" to other, more restrictive environments. I was wrong.

Now, I want to make myself very, very clear. Behavior is my forte. I feel confident in my abilities to manage behavior, implement behavior support plans, and create engaging lessons and interactive environments as a means for positive supports. I am comfortable dealing with students who aggress toward me, spit at me, swear at me, calling me names, destroy my room, rip their work, etc. I know what to do. I have my degree in it for crying out loud! But this year, so far, as really made me doubt my abilities. I left my old position for reasons with the politics and administration, not because of the kids or environment. I left my old position to a new position in the same field, with the same issues, to help the same kids.

The first day of school was a disaster. You can read about that here. The first week, though looking back on it, wasn't a complete success, I did survive. Since then, my weeks have been up and down. Sadly, if I were average the weeks, based on my own feelings, I would say that the majority have been disappointing, stressful, and all-around, ungood. Sure, there are days that feel okay. But I have yet to leave the building at 3 pm (yeah right...try like 5), feeling successful. I have yet to feel like I've made a difference. I have yet to feel like I have any support at all. I have yet to feel that my behavioral education and experience has paid off. I feel like a first year teacher, new to the classroom, new to students, with ZERO classroom management skills.

What I've come to realize is that I assumed wrong. The behaviors are exactly the same. The kids are no different. They throw chairs at me, call me terrible names, and punch their classmates. They come from broken homes, wonderful successful homes, or no homes at all. They have trauma histories, behavioral disorders, and/or communication challenges.  I get them. I get what they need. I know how to help. Sadly, the district doesn't offer the support we as educators of these learners need to implement the ideal environment. The only difference between this school and my old school is the environment. We had set protocols for specific behaviors, and I had the support of my colleagues and administrators to implement behavior supports. Not here. I am on my own.
"Oh, you have a student who is trashing your room once a week? Do what you think would work with that student and let us know. Oh, no you can't do that. No, you can't do that either." Great...

In addition to the challenges I am having reaching out to my colleagues for support, my para has been absent 6 times since September. 6 TIMES! So, is it any wonder that I'm not able to remain on a consistent academic schedule with consistency in our behavioral support? Well - it doesn't even matter. Because we are 6 weeks in, and I feel like the damage is done. You know what they say about setting up your classroom from the start with your behavioral and academic expectations? And how much more effective your classroom will run for the rest of the year if you do this from the get go? Well, I'm one of those teachers who has always said that, and now I'm one of those teachers who is screwed because I didn't do that.

It also doesn't help that my toughest kid is universally disliked by my entire class, INCLUDING my para. He has significant learning and behavioral challenges, and is the one that has destroyed my room every week since school has started. Arguably, he needs the most support - when his needs are met, other students can succeed as well. Well, with my para being out, I don't have the man-power, or even just to BODIES to reinforce his positive behavior, thus, less attention = more outbursts. And even when my para is here, it find it nearly impossible for her to praise him for anything! "Well, he should know how to do that" or "Oh, he knows exactly what he should be doing. You shouldn't have to praise him for sitting in his chair." There is nothing more infuriating as an educator than another educator who doesn't get it....and frankly, is mostly likely doing significant damage to the students' confidence. AND,  I'm having a very hard time talking about my concerns with my supervisor and principal because she is considered the most capable, and the "best" para in the school. So what is it that I do not see?

I have left nearly every single day this year holding back tears. Then I come home, work on academics and behavioral supports until bedtime, just to wake up the next day, not being able to get anything done. I feel like I haven't taught anything in weeks. WEEKS. I feel like I have NO control over my classroom, and it pains me to say that. It pains me to "walky" to my fellow colleagues for CPI support in my classroom SEVERAL times a day. It makes me feel like I don't know what I'm doing. What's worse, is that I was talked up by the administrators as this "behavior guru." How embarrassing is it to continuously be the one who repeatedly asks for help with the SAME behaviors, with no progression since the beginning of the school year.

We've had one meeting in our discipline this year. And it was to talk about our SMART Goals. Talk about a lack of support.

I'm sorry for the depressing, defeating post today. I've needed to get these feelings off my chest for weeks. Friday was the final straw - something needs to change. I can't go on living like this, waking up every day, dreading my day at work. Hopefully, this post will kick start something in my life to better my situation. I'll keep you posted.


  1. Oh wow, Rae, I'm so sorry that your year has not turned out amazing by any means. I truly hope something does change for you in the very near future and you start enjoying being a teacher and going to work everyday again. Good luck and try to enjoy your weekend!
    Learning to the Core

  2. Rae- It saddens me to hear that you are having a tough year. I am a principal and my job is to help my teachers. I have a great assistant principal that handles all the discipline while I handled instruction, parents, etc... As a principal it is our job to ensure that teachers have the support they need to do their job. I have some very challenging students on my campus too and I expect the same from them as I do from my other students. Hang in there. If you need any advice, I'm just a click away.
    Stephanie from Principal Principles

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. As an educator, I value the principal's role in the education system very much - I'm hoping this beginning of the year is a fluke, and I will receive the support I so desperately am looking for!

  3. Wow Rae you are not wrong in wanting and needing change in your current situation. I love that you know your strengths, you know what needs to be happening that's not and you still have a genuine heart for your Learners. My advice would be to see yourself as the leader because you leadership is letting you down. Diplomatically but firmly tell your para what she must do for your students. Don't accept her shinning or not wanting to support your goals for the students, just tell her I need you to do or say X and we will see results. Back yourself completely and settle for nothing less. You sound like a wonderful teacher, you know you are, so now lead your team. Head up...it WILL be a winning week this week!
    Julie x
    Mrs Stowe's Kinder Cottage

    1. Thank you - you are right! I need to be the support that I am looking for. Thank you for your kind words and warm sentiment :)

  4. I'm kind of agreeing with Mrs. Stowe's a bit. I think you're going to have to be the Leader that you are. You will have to treat your para like a student and explain what she needs to do and don't accept anything less.

    I fear you're caught in a district that has a broken system. If you're coming from a Private School setting to a Public School setting then I think you had high expectations, but the truth is we (public schools) are bound by budgets, red tape and bureaucracy, I've been teaching 10 years and I have changed positions about 7 times...I always feel like a *new* teacher. This year, I do too;) It's my first year teaching in a GT Pull-Out program that is not well received within the district.

    Deniece (This Little Piggy Reads)

    1. Thank you Deniece. You are right - it was a hard transition, and one that I was not well-prepared for. I appreciate your helpful response and advice - here's to a shining week!

  5. Rae-

    I am so so so sorry to hear this. It breaks my heart that amazing educators like you are being turned off from the profession because of the lack of support, resources, and the sheer amount of energy that it takes. I'm feeling the same way, but I cannot even imagine a classroom with children who have these behavior needs like you have. I can't even pretend to relate, I'd be lying. But I can relate to the amount of stress, wanting to cry on the way home, being completely exhausted, run down, and feeling like nothing you're doing it working. I'll keep you in my thoughts and pray that you get the support you and your kids need and deserve!


    1. Ashley - thank you so much for these thoughtful words! Your thoughts and prayers are just what I need :) I greatly appreciate you taking the time to comment

  6. Dear Rae,
    I'm touched by your post! I've been teaching 20 years, much of that in inner city schools where getting to curriculum was a joke compared to all of the other things we were dealing with. You can't do it alone - you have to keep asking for support and know that it's not any reflection on you.
    Last year I spent every weekend working on "a new plan of action" for behaviour because the previous week had been a disaster! I had no help in the class, but the teachers across the hall were having just as bad a time, so we swapped ideas and talked afterwards, and that helped. Keeping emotional distance from what was happening helped (they loved to see a teacher upset!) I tried every behaviour system out there, and each one worked for a few kids, so I overlapped them all. For my attention seekers, I created situations for them to succeed and poured on the praise, and sat them right with me so we could talk about things unrelated to school sometimes (building a relationship). I also wrote down examples of what was happening and asked admin for advice about how they would handle it - with specifics. I even invited the principal in to teach a lesson or two so he could demonstrate his expertise! Haha! I have NO problem asking for help, so if they think they can show me a better way - awesome!
    I'd be happy to share some of the systems I used if you want to contact me. Good luck!

    Whimsy Workshop Teaching

    1. Thank you so much Susanna - your advice will go miles! I am working on getting better at asking for help, and not taking things so personally! Your comment has helped me to see what I can do a bit differently in my current situation to make it better for me and my students - thank you! :)

  7. I'm so sorry you're having such a rough year. I could write a similiar post to yours and honestly I think maybe I should post about my experience. I hope that things can change for you in some way shape or form. You are an amazing teacher. Don't let this situation make you feel otherwise. I read something earlier this year that said not every teacher can be an amazing teacher in every situation. And that is so true. Your situation is not a good one. That's not a reflection on you. Hang in there.

    Extra Special Teaching

    1. I found that quote:

      "A teacher who thrives in one particular situation might not thrive in another. Teachers are most successful and happy when they work in the subject, school, context, and communities that best fit them."

      It came from this article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deborah-chang/5-things-great-teachers-a_b_3860781.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000003&ir=Education

      I decided to post about my story for tomorrow, too. Know you're not alone.

    2. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. It's educator's like you that keep me posting! That quote has really changed my perspective of my current situation - I look forward to reading that article- thanks for sending it my way.

      Sadly, I know I am not alone. I'm so sorry to hear you are in a similar situation. Here's to better times for both of us!

  8. Awww - I am feeling for you Rae! I moved to a new school this year too and it took ages to feel comfortable, make some friends and actually get over that stage of having to prove myself. (To explain, our school year is calendar year) - it is now October and I am only now feeling I can go to other teachers. I am in the last term of the school year, children are in my routine, I am feeling happier and less stressed than February!
    Reading your story, I am positive that you are in the right profession - you will look back on this blog post in 6 months and your classroom will be such a different place. Sending you hugs and happy thoughts!

    Teaching Maths with Meaning

    1. Allison - thank you so much for your kind words and sentiment. I am happy to hear that your situation turned around and you are ending the school year in a good place. Take care!

  9. Oh, Rae...I'm sending you the HUGEST-EST (is that a word?) virtual HUGGGGG right now!!!
    Growing Firsties

    1. Thank you Lisa! Hugest-est is my new favorite word! :)

  10. Rae...This is the second blogpost I've read like this today. And I bet there are thousands feeling the same (not making yours ANY LESS). I moved to a new school in my district and questioned myself if I made the right choice. I shed lots of wasted tears last year with a not-so-great admin who values a 1st year teacher over veteran teachers. Who "gives" perfect evals to 1st year teachers. Although my troubles don't compare to yours, it all boils down to the same. Over my 16 years, I have questioned myself and the...Is this what my calling truly is??? It is. Just like it's yours. Because what I'm reading, you're damn good at what you do. It may not seem like it *this* year...but you are...and you will persevere.
    AND that's what I realized about myself...I'm damn good at what I do.
    Now...go kick some butt! You can get through it. It WILL only get better.
    Hugs to you.
    Thank you for writing this post. I truly truly empathize and sympathize with you.

  11. Rae,
    I am with Lisa from Growing Firsties- I want to give you the HUGEST-EST HUG, too. I thought that the entire time I was reading your post. I am so glad you could get it out and write it down. You need to get it OUT. Not only is the situation with behavior frustrating, but sometimes even more is the lack of support. It is so sad that people aren't there to genuinely care and help in real life. I often feel like other bloggers are more caring and genuine than the "real life" teachers we work with each day. I KNOW you are an awesome teacher and I love that you know you strengths. Don't ever doubt them. I also agree with Julie- that you are a LEADER where there is obviously a leadership void. Susanna from Whimsy Workshop would have fabulous ideas because I know here class was very challenging last year and she did wonders with them if you need someone to bounce ideas off. I am so thankful we have this core of caring friends online to really care and want each other to succeed. I see it very often that sometimes other teachers don't really like it when someone does well and succeeds and that drives me CRAZY. It is so hard to leave school and let it go. Other professions don't understand that- it is so hard to turn off the day. Make sure you take time for YOU, too, to stay healthy and strong! Please know we are here to listen and help if we can. AND give you HUGE VIRTUAL ((HUGS)) and send lots of real, live PRAYERS for you!
    Kindergarten: Holding Hands and Sticking Together

  12. I felt the same way last year. I felt alone and defeated because I had a group of students that were not a good composition together and on a daily basis there was severe behavior problems that I couldn't control. The support staff and administration was a lot of talk, but not actual following through with the plan because it interfered with their schedule. You can't control when a child will have an outburst and I will need their help. I also can understand your frustrations with your para. My para has been out for 18 days since Sept. 3rd and for reasons I know are not what she is saying them for. She also does not hide the fact for the students that she dislikes. All I can say is hang in there. Try to find the small things that the kids are improving and remember it's not all your fault. As long as you know you are doing the very best you can than that is all you can do! (I know that is also easier said than done...I am a perfectionist). I hope things turn around.
    Fun in ECSE

  13. I am so sorry Rae! I was so sad reading your post but the one thing it showed me was that you are where you need to be - in terms if your profession. If you didn't care about those kids you would not be shedding a tear over it, second guessing your ability and seeking help. I know you are at a new school and are trying to not ruffle any feathers but enough is enough it is time for you to play hard ball. Be the Leader, fight for what you and your students need, you are the expert in this field, don't let them second guess yourself. I know it is all easier said than done but you can't go the next 8 months like this. You need to think if yourself and your students and not care about what anyone else thinks of you, they are not standing in your shoes. Good luck and keep us posted, we all care and want to see you happy and successful.
    The Picture Book Teacher's Edition

  14. So I'm in pretty much the same boat as you. When I found your blog on a list of MA blogs, I recognized some of the photos immediately as the program where I worked last year. I never said anything because we were in different schools and didn't interact much at all. When I moved on from that structured environment for a chance at my own room in a public school, I envisioned things being...well...similar. I'm in a whole different world now, and while there are some things I love, there are some HUGE issues too.

    In terms of your para, I wouldn't rely on verbal praise for this kiddo. Sticker charts, tallies, or ClassDojo (especially if you have a smartboard) along with a specific plan, will specify when she should praise him...and if she can't manage to muster up any enthusiasm, at least she can give him a sticker or a point. If she can't do that, then you can use the system to show evidence that she's not delivering reinforcement effectively, and that can be addressed with the principal or team. Hopefully if she sees positive results, she will realize the praise is important.

    We have been trained and educated to do what we do, but we can't work miracles. I don't have enough staff to cover the lunches/specials/inclusion my kids need. I can't fix that problem, I can only work around it. Which means some days are only going to be "good enough" and not great. Do I hate it? Sure. But I'm trying to let go of the perfect vision of what it should be, and handle the reality the best I can. I'm hoping it will get better, and there are some changes on the horizon that should help that, but I know they'll bring new challenges too. Just remember that you're good at what you do, that you're doing your best within the environment you're in, and that things will settle down. Everyone keeps telling me not to expect things to go smoothly until winter break. It seems impossibly long from now, but the first couple of months have flown, so perhaps they're right. Good luck!

  15. Hi Rae!!
    Oh I want to give you a giant hug! I am so sorry to hear how things are going for you. Don't give up! Hang in there and remember that your students are lucky to have you! But make sure to speak up for what you need...and go pamper yourself

  16. Oops, got cut off. I was trying to say, go pamper yourself-you deserve it!

  17. Keep your head up Rae! I have read numerous blog posts and Facebook status of teachers I follow about this very issue. Teaching is such a difficult career, but we are called to to it. I've written a series of posts about this very subject. I think you are a talented teacher and I enjoy reading your blog. Stay positive! :)
    Mrs. H's Resource Room


Thanks for the comments! I look forward to reading them :)

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