For those who don't know, I taught high school in Houston for a number of years. I also ran a Teach For America content team to support new teachers, and I still post regularly on TFA discussion boards for teachers.
This is the time of year when I start getting semi-desperate, despairing emails from new teachers (Teach For America or otherwise). Because about this time, idealism starts wearing thin and the hard realities and challenges of shepherding students--especially those who are significantly behind their privileged peers--begin to sink in. (Here's one post with a page of angst from my writer's notebook and some bad day antidotes.)
Once I get over my flashbacks to my own "dark days" at the beginning of teaching (including one session crying behind my filing cabinet during a planning period), I write these teachers the most encouraging letters I can. I tell them to focus on what they can change. I tell them that even their most out-of-control class can be reshaped. I tell them that teenagers forget quickly and that teachers can introduce new systems and expectations in their class whenever they have a plan to follow through with them.
But it's also good to know what not to do when you are feeling desperate and overwhelmed as a teacher. Roxanna Elden has a great piece on just this topic. Here's my favorite tip on what to avoid:
Watching “inspiring” teacher movies:
When you watched these movies before you started teaching, you probably thought, “That will be me one day! I’ll be the teacher who (pick one) shows I care/never gives up/makes learning fun!” Now, you’re just wondering why the movie teacher has only one class of high school students and why she never seems to grade any papers. Movies are a lot less inspiring when the non-Hollywood, unscripted version is playing full time in your classroom. Leave these films for their intended audience — the nonteaching public.
Read the whole article, The Five Worst Things To Do After a Bad Day. And while you're at it, if you have a teacher in your life who needs a dose of down-to-earth advice, send them a copy of Roxanna's book, See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers. It's the tell-it-like-it-is kind of book that will help teachers realize they're not alone with their challenges--and get down to doing something sane about it. You can read an excerpt of See Me After Class here.
Teachers: be gentle with yourself. Be patient, be persistent, and be peaceful. Oh yeah, that's my personal motto, inspired by the challenges of teaching.