The first year of teaching is coming to a close. Only 14 days of school are left before summer vacation. My contract was not renewed for next fall; the principal cited financial constraints. In teacher lingo, I've been "Riffed." RIF stand for Reduction in Force.
I can't say it's been an era. It's more like an "er." Picture a cartoon dog with his head cocked and a confused look on his face, with a thought bubble above his head. "Er?" What just happened this year? And what am I supposed to do now?
The obvious answer is "Look for another job, stupid!" But wait a minute, not so fast. Teaching jobs aren't that easy to come by. There are many more qualified appliants than jobs even in middle school math. I am hampered by the fact that I am an "alternate route" candidate. In other words, I didn't go to college and get a teaching degree. I got a math degree, then a master's degree in math, then I went and worked in industry for a salary and made mucho bucks. Now I'm coming in by the back gate, doing a one-year certification program by going to school at night.
I made a lot of mistakes this year, but I also worked my tail off. Rather, I should say, I worked ten pounds on. I feel worse physically than I've felt since being pregnant. The stress and late nights and early mornings and all the hours working at the computer and the night classes and all the junk food eaten on the run have taken their toll.
I have heard that the retention rate for new teachers is less than 50%. I can understand why. The kids are really draining. I love them and I love teaching, but I have very little left over for my family or my writing at the end of the day. Some days I have nothing at all left over, and it's all I can do to remain conscious until bedtime. My own son gets less attention from me than my students do; he's usually in front of the television while I work on the computer in the evenings. My husband feels like a monk, without the benefit of three square meals a day.
Every teacher I've talked to says that the first year is horrible. I would be encouraged by the fact that the first year is behind me now, but if I have to start all over again at another school, it will be just like having another first year. New students, new curriculum, new administration. Assuming I can even find a job.
The thing is .... I really, truly felt called to do this. Teaching middle school was the last thing I ever imagined myself doing, because I never considered myself good with kids. I was terrified to step into that classroom and face those kids all by myself. But I gave it my all and looked upon it as my missionary work - a way to serve the Lord with my talents. I discovered that I really enjoy it. Despite the way they suck the life out of me, the kids also provide a vicarious excitement that I am really going to miss. And it is not a thankless job. I have such good relationships with my students and many of the parents, as well. I've substituted for almost all of the grades in the school, and have been told that I'm the best substitute ever. Kids are already starting to ask me if I'll be their math teacher next year. I haven't told them that I'm leaving; I don't know how to explain it to them.
I still can't quite believe that it's over. I really thought when this whole situation arose that this was God's way of providing for us. I would have a low-key job with summers off and my son would get a Christian education. The benefits made up for the low pay. Now my son will be going to a public school and I have no idea what to do next fall. I told my husband that I'm taking the summer off because I am so burned out. It's kind of late to try to find another full-time teaching job; they've all been filled. I might try to find a part-time office job somewhere, or maybe part-time teaching, but I can't afford to work for too little as we do have bills to pay.
The really confusing thing is that the paperwork for my teaching certification has disappeared into the bowels of the state department of education. The school has re-sent it five times now, and every time I call the NJ Dept. of Ed., they don't have it. I can't help wondering if this is a sign that God really doesn't want me to be certified to teach full-time. Perhaps this whole year and a half of effort (including the nine months prior to the school year that I spent studying for my state exams and going to summer school) was simply an exercise in obedience. Perhaps God just wanted to know that I would obey Him no matter what, even if it meant facing adolescents alone and unaided. Perhaps He knew that this little Christian school needed a math teacher for one year and I was the person He chose to do it. I don't know.
I do know that He has a plan and that He has promised to bless me and my family for our faithfulness this past year. I don't feel very blessed yet, but I am holding onto that promise.