What I Forgot When I Left the Classroom (Part One)

For one year, I was a specialist-coach. I had a fancy title. And, while I enjoyed my job, I went back to the classroom again. During that period as a coach, I mistakenly believed that I knew what it was like to be a teacher. After all, I still taught lessons - often two or three a day. I spent hours in the classroom.  If anything, I looked better as a teacher than I had when I was still a teacher.

I didn't feel myself getting out of touch. After all, I wasn't rusty. I was still passionate. I remained energetic - perhaps more so than ever - when I taught. And I had memories, vivid memories, of my classroom experience. I was still a teacher-coach.

However, I forgot what it was like to be a teacher. I forgot how draining it can feel at the end of a day. I forgot what it was like to plan a lesson on the fly, instead of having hours to perfect it. I forgot how much time is spent on parent interaction, updating data charts, doing fluency data on the computer and maintaining the technology.

I forgot how powerless it feels to cry over a child's story. I also forgot what it means to lose my patience with the same child and feel like a failure for my lack of empathy. I forgot what it was like when people arrive with clipboards, taking notes that I will never see for purposes I will never truly understand. I forgot the agony of needing to use the restroom and knowing that I wouldn't have a break for another two hours. I forgot that prepping for a sub takes hours and how it feels to deal with the aftermath of a bad sub-student combination.

I forgot about dealing with the newest trends tossed at us as the silver bullet. Try this seating configuration. Update data walls. Fill out the Galileo Score Growth Quadrants. The whole district is using them now. Where is your anchor chart? Yeah, it's now a tight in our district. Read up on the new holistic rubric. Oh, and two of your students got in a fight after school and we need you be a part of the discipline meeting.

I'm not sure how it happened. Perhaps it had to do with having my own office space. Maybe it began when I was able to use the restroom at will. Or maybe it had to do with sitting through the meetings where we all talked about the ideal "first best instruction" without reminding ourselves about the limitations teachers face. Or perhaps it happened when I walked into a classroom with a clipboard, comparing the ideals of "first best instruction" to the reality of a worn-out group of teachers trying their hardest to make it.

Or maybe it happened when I thought about teaching as an idea rather than a reality.

I love teaching. I'm glad I moved back into my role as a teacher. I love what I do. I look forward to going back to work tomorrow. What I do feels meaningful. But here's what I forgot in less than a year of coaching: teaching is hard, really hard. It is fast-paced. It is draining. It is filled with uncertainties that I simply didn't face as a coach. As a specialist, I specialized. I got to work within my strengths. As a teacher, I am constantly reminded of my failures.

I recognize that coaches and specialists deal with their own set of challenges. I don't mean to minimize this. Instead, I'm suggesting that it is easy when you move away from the classroom to forget just how hard a profession it is.  It is easy to toss out platitudes and feel-good advice when you aren't in a classroom. However, it is much harder to be a teacher.

Note: there is a much more positive part two