By Samantha Knight
There are times when quitting is simply not an option.
This is coming from someone who is a serial quitter. There are countless unfinished novels stored on my flashdrive; I regularly start cleaning my house and then stop halfway through, distracted by some lost item uncovered while sweeping under the couch. The dozen clubs I’ve joined (then promptly resigned from) may also be worth mentioning.
This, however, was different.
I was six months out of college when I was hired to teach 8th grade English at a middle school near my hometown. I knew it wouldn’t be easy--I was told by fresh and veteran teachers alike that the first year is the most difficult. In the interview, I was told that this was no exception--in fact, this might be especially difficult. These were good kids, I was told, but they were given a terrible lot. Three months into the school year, and already two to three teachers had been unable to stay. Various subs passed through the classroom as well. The students had no structure, and had gotten used to anarchy in the classroom. They were the only consistent ones in there.
They were like foster children that were continuously passed from teacher to teacher. To cope with the constant abandonment, they decided they owned the class. It was the teachers who walked into their territory.
While teaching, there were moments that I, too, thought I might quit like those before me. I brought with me rules; many resisted. In hindsight, I understand that they didn’t really believe I would stay, that I was temporary like the rest. This, combined with the fact that, at twenty-three years old and five foot nothing (I could have passed for one of their peers at a distance), led to a general lack of respect among the wilder ones. Sometimes I came home crying and ready to call my principal, saying I couldn’t control the class like I wanted, students didn’t want to listen, I just couldn’t do this anymore.
I didn’t call. I knew that if I quit now, the next teacher would have no hope. And neither would the students.
I stuck it out.
Deep down, these kids wanted structure. They wanted someone to be consistent, no matter how rocky the classroom became, no matter how new or young the teacher was. I received a note on the last day of class from one of my most “problem” students. It read:
Thank you for staying when no one else would. Thank you for being my teacher.
I’m extremely glad I did stay.
And now, in August, I will be entering my second year, new tools in my belt and skills I’ve picked up. The struggle of the first year has made me a more patient, confident, and empathetic person...and, I believe, a much better teacher.
To anyone who is entering their first year teaching, or wants to be a teacher, know this: what they say is true. It’s not easy. Not in the slightest. But, believe me, it is worth it in the end, and it will become easier. Even if you feel you are trying your best to no avail, I promise that your presence is far better than your absence. Keep going.