How to Measure Success When You Feel Like a Failure (and other notes on my first month of teaching)

Success is awfully hard to measure as a first year teacher.  They say to expect the worst.  They say you will be tired and burnt out.  Lost.

Because, really, teaching is no joke.  One of my co-workers says that she views teaching as her ‘mission.’  Nun’s have missions.  This is her mission.

Which makes sense to me.  Because- the hours- the foreseeable lifetime of planning, reporting, writing, prepping, and caring that teachers pour into their simple (not so) 9-5 jobs is hardly worth the paycheck if all you see are the dollar signs.  And good teachers never do.  They see kids.  Hugs to see us.  Giggles to greet us.  Lengthy conversations about how many checks they need on their behavior chart before earning a prize.  Repeating.  and repeating. and repeating. and repeating. and repeating the directions.  Tears.  “It’s not fair.”  “My feet are itchy.” (Too itchy to learn?!?  Focus child!) Pulling their own teeth out (or at least trying to.  To which I respond by hiding behind my book and asking if it could just stay in for a few more minutes…).  Commenting on the coloring of my face on warm days in my zero circulation closet of an office.  Screamed at.  Eyes rolled at.  Ignored and told, ‘I’m bored,’ at.

But, in the meantime, a friend reminded me that happiness is measured by our feelings of successfulness.  And I realized that if I want to survive this anticipatedly difficult year, I need to be able to measure happiness in real ways.  Not based on how I feel at the end of the day when my last kid has a meltdown.  But by some standard to hope to.  Some way to ground myself in joy when all I feeeel like doing is talking in circles about the children who run me in circles.  So.  I decided, for now, to make my goals smaller.  Attainable.

Day one of this new perspective.  I prayed for 2 specific events to occur.  1. that Jimmy would come to therapy.  Last week he refused.  In not so many words. I told him this was his one free pass from speech. And I really hoped I meant it.  2. That my session with Opal working on the sound ‘er’ would go well.  Opal has been working on ‘er’ for 4 years.  Not ‘er’ in words like ‘water’ and ‘river’ and ‘return.’  But plain old ‘er.’  All alone.  By itself ‘er.’

And I ended my journaling from that day with, “I’m so thankful God answers prayers.”

Now, sometimes I forget to measure happiness by little successes.  And those days are the worst.  Because I’ve come to realize that life is not about getting a zap of happiness when you’re feeling down and can’t control the world.  It’s about living.  And living requires you to celebrate the little things your life’s about.

“So, whether you eat or drink, (or teach) or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

4 thoughts on “How to Measure Success When You Feel Like a Failure (and other notes on my first month of teaching)

  1. Honestly made me tear up. Everything you said about teaching was just so true! I know these feelings! God bless you as you pour yourself into your students, on the days when you are rewarded for your hard work, and on the days when it feels like you get nothing in return.

    • well. I’m relieved to know I’m having a totally typical teaching experience. Blessings to you as well. One nice thing about the trauma of teaching is that every teacher can relate. It makes us very relatable. 🙂

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