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In a Slump

Everyone has bad lessons occasionally. At least that’s what my assistant principal tells me. And most of the time I don’t beat myself up too much when a lesson of mine goes off track, because more often than not I can pinpoint one or two things that I could have done differently to teach a much more successful lesson. As soon as I target what went wrong, I feel better and ready to apply those lessons.

Lately however, I feel like I’m in a bit of a slump. I had an informal observation with my principal that went less than perfectly, to put it diplomatically. Okay, to be honest it was pretty much a disaster. While I immediately recognized some issues with the lesson after my principal left, I didn’t see it as fundamentally flawed. My principal had a different opinion. And since that conversation, my confidence has been seriously shaken.

The rest of the day Friday I was in a funk, kind of fumbling through lessons. I spent all day yesterday planning for today, hoping to bounce back, but instead I felt even more frustrated. With all the planning, the question is what went wrong? Did I follow my lessons carefully enough? If I did, then I need to question my ability to plan effectively. My lessons follow the laundry list of criteria — they have a clear objective, they are standards-based, differentiated, and based on the needs of my students as demonstrated by data I’ve collected. They have a connection, guided practice, and independent practice. And yet today felt like a struggle from start to finish, and is inspiring a serious crisis of confidence that I haven’t felt since my first year of teaching.

The problem is, until recently, I felt that I had made enough progress as a teacher since my first year to no longer be considered a novice. While I was still getting the hang of a few things, I felt like a better than average teacher. Lately I’m feeling downright incompetent. As a third-year teacher I may still be entitled to “novice status” but as someone who got into teaching to be an immediate “game-changer” so to speak, the feeling of being mired in mediocrity is totally unacceptable.

I’m still frustrated with myself over the failures of my first year, but I accept I can’t do anything about that. My second year had its challenges, but I believed it was a success overall. This year felt, until now, to be the one where everything fell into place. It wasn’t as good as the Hollywood superhero teacher story, but it was a narrative I thought I could be proud of. The past couple of days have shaken my view of my current abilities and with it my understanding of my progress as a teacher overall.

While it’s been difficult, it may also serve as a much-needed wake-up call. I got into education to be part of the solution, not the problem. So it’s crucial for me to have a realistic perception of my own talents, even at the expense of my ego. If I’m not doing a good job at this point, I need to seriously evaluate why, and figure out how to do better, quickly. If I can’t put those pieces together, I may need to accept I’m just not a good teacher. I think the whole system would be better off if more teachers made this decision.

For now though, I’ll accept an incomplete before I give myself an F. Instead of giving up I’m reassuring myself that everyone has a slump sometimes. Brutal honesty is something I need as a teacher, but it’s also important not to let a couple of rough days define my abilities or overshadow positive feedback I’ve received. I know my kids have grown a lot this year. Hopefully identifying my shortcomings will be a way to help my kids further, and I can look back at this slump as a brief problem in an otherwise successful year.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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