Or “The Dark Side of the Mathtwitterblogosphere“
I haven’t written anything on here in a very long time … life doesn’t always go exactly the way you plan. A few years ago I was prepared to dive head first into the new paradigm of teaching mathematics in the age of the internet.
My initial efforts to flip my classroom were a flop; seeing the innovative practices that other teachers were able to implement in their own classrooms made me reflect on my own practice to the point of being critical. Instead of committing to continuous incremental improvement, I tried to change too many things all at once. I couldn’t keep up the intensity for much more than about a 9 weeks. The remainder of the school year was fairly traditional. I backed away from following the internet superstars of math education that I had been rabidly consuming as it was a reminder of what I could be offering to my own students.
The next year I realized that I was already mentally done with that school year and those students as a group (but not as individuals) by the end of first 9 weeks. I was burning out fast, and the sudden realization that I wasn’t really trying very hard anymore escalated the depression that had been smoldering for who knows how long. I even had students who had known me a while saying things like “Mr X, you’re not yourself anymore – is everything all right?” …
I spiraled further and further downward; it was not just impacting my students but also my family. I would get home and have no patience left for my own children a lot of days even though I hadn’t exactly been putting forth by best effort at work either – what once had been a passion, was just a job (and I was doing a pretty shitty one at that). By winter break, I asked my wife (who is also a teacher) if I could just give up and not go back to work, I would find something else while I figured out a better option. “NO”
My wife and a co-teacher eventually convinced me to not completely give up on my career around half-way through. There was also just enough occasional positive reinforcement from students to make me feel like I was doing some good in the big picture of things. However, I believed there was no reason to be medicated or in therapy to teach.
I finished the school year on a slight upswing and realized that I didn’t want to change schools or careers. For all of the negatives, this was my school, my students … some of them would be fine without me, but there are some that hopefully need me. I started a serotonin re-uptake inhibitor that summer and therapy this spring when I decided the medication alone wasn’t going to get me all the way back to where I wanted to be … guess I’m a liar.
I’ve had some setbacks this year; I’ve only wanted to quit a couple times, but I hung in there. It wasn’t a perfect year, but it was definitely worth it even if only for one simple reason. Not too long ago, I had a freshman girl preface a private conversation with me with the words no teacher ever wants to hear “I don’t know who else …” – it was the sort of thing that made me sad/sick/angry, and I had to convince her to talk to other adults about it including her mother … I guess that’s why I went to work this year for those of you who believe in fate or that sort of thing.
Then earlier this week, I was given a gift by a former student on social media … this student did not do well in my class despite being very intelligent … math and sometimes motivation just weren’t her thing:
For Teacher Appreciation Week, I’d like to say thank you to [X] for being the best teacher and non-family mentor I’ve ever had. Even though you taught my least favorite subject and I never paid attention to it, you helped me to grow as an individual more than any other teacher ever has.
On my bad days when I just needed a moment to clear my mind, your room was always open and I can’t tell you how much that meant to me.
You’re so intelligent and kind hearted and I’m sorry for any trouble I ever gave you in class. Thank you for helping me to expand my mind and begin to look on the brighter side of things,
Keep what you do up, [X]. I know you have a lot of rotten kiddos in your classes, but I promise you that you change lives. The kids who really listen learn so much from you. Everyday I use a lot of what you taught me. Well, not the algebra stuff, but whatever.
Hope the rest of you had a great Teacher Appreciation Week … the grind is real, but I finally am starting to believe the promise that it’s worth it again …