I know that on the surface, this photo may not have anything to do with the subject of this article directly, but I’ve always liked wide open spaces like this. It’s where I go for my mental “Happy Place” whenever things get stressed. Photo courtesy of everydayaspergers.com
BEING WORN DOWN AND BURNED OUT IN THE WORKING-WITH-YOUNG-PEOPLE PROFESSION
When I was a little kid, among the things I did to pass the time was to play school in my bedroom.
With Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the rest of the Peanuts gang as my students (I was an absolute Peanuts freak), I would pretend to be a teacher; calling the roll, giving lessons, etc.
Fast forward several years…
As I grew older and saw my mother and many of my relatives enter the field of education with much success, the combination of that and the fact that I’ve always been attracted to the school atmosphere made a career influencing young minds appeal to me that much more, as I found myself wanting to join the family business.
There were other reasons why I wanted my career to be in schools, among them being:
1. Teaching, being with, and being a leader of kids sounded like a fun way to make a living.
2. The school schedule – working weekdays with weekends, holidays and summers off. I had always liked that kind of schedule as a child, and saw no reason why that should change as a working adult.
After roughly twenty years in various positions – a physical education teacher, a sports coach, a tutor, a noon playground aide and an after school leader – and after experiencing quite a few bad episodes with different kids, parents, administrators and supervisors, never lasting more than three years at any one school,
I ultimately realized that I was not meant to work with children as after working as hard as I could, including entering a graduate level program to get my master’s degree and teaching credential – and doing very well in my classes – I found myself disillusioned with the whole thing.
That’s the best way to describe it.
Several factors contributed to this realization and eventual abandonment of this field.
First: The students I worked with that had behavior and attitude issues wore me down and burned me out to the point that I simply couldn’t deal with them anymore as over the years while working at different schools, I have been viciously cursed at and nastily talked back to on many occasions.
I have even had money stolen from me at an elementary school in Los Angeles where I worked as a cafeteria clerk in the mid-1990s, sorting out applications for free and reduced meals, working the cash register, and distributing meal tickets – and it wasn’t even my money!
One day after lunch at this school I went back to my office to count the day’s tickets and money when I noticed that the cash from that morning’s breakfast sales were missing from my desk. Although I freely admit it was my fault, since I neglected to lock my office door, the incident alarmed and angered me as I think it would anyone.
Later that afternoon another kid told me that a girl had snuck into my office and took the money out of my desk. Her and I told the assistant principal, who got the money back and suspended the thief, but this particular incident contributed to my getting fed up with that place.
Along with the behavior problems, I discovered that I did not have enough patience to be effective with certain sections of the student population as I found myself working with kids I did not want to work with, wishing that I could pick and choose the kids with whom I did want to interact.
Certainly those youngsters who mouthed off, cursed regularly, and showed no respect or consideration led me to the point where I even dreaded the sight of them, let alone working with them.
But I also dreaded the sight of those kids who were extremely spoiled brats, whining and complaining whenever they didn’t get their way as I encountered quite a few of those. I grew fed up with them, too.
Those young people with issues, behavioral and otherwise, would have been more bearable to deal with if it were not for the fact that in several of the dozen schools where I was employed over 20 some-odd years, I felt that the principal didn’t give enough support when it came to dealing with certain situations the way I felt it needed to be dealt with.
These were the folks who, because they wanted to be “sensitive to the kids’ needs”, using a phrase that I absolutely HATED: “These are just kids”, would let the problem youngsters get away with near murder.
For example, there was this elementary school near my home , where I taught P.E. for three years.
A good message that should always be remembered.
During my third year there, a new principal arrived who I felt was soft on discipline. During that year there were about fifteen fourth graders whose behavior made life at that place a near hell because this particular principal didn’t deal with those troublemakers the way they needed to be dealt with.
One day during recess one of those kids slammed another kid down on the playground asphalt, knocking him out cold.
You’re probably thinking, surely he was suspended, right?
Nope – he was back in school the next day and more or less got off scott free.
It was only after another one of these problem children sexually harassed a fellow female student that this principal finally used her suspension powers.
These episodes, along with others I was told of such as a student escaping expulsion after he threw a chair at his teacher because his mother sobbed for mercy to the school board, or a teacher somehow getting into trouble with her principal when she sent a student to the office for an obscene gesture, showed me that teachers and staff were basically fifth-class peons with very little power.
This was particularly the case with aides and non-credentialed staff, where I spent the majority of my career as; almost anything can be done to them and the perpetrating child would go unpunished.
The absolute last straw in the education field for me came in 2007, when I was working as an after school teacher at an inner city school.
I was assigned to a group of fourth and fifth graders for the mandatory homework hour, where the kids would do their assignments and I would help them. Since the school was roughly 85% African-American, being Black myself I was looking forward to being a good role model to those students.
Disillusion reared its ugly head yet again as after a few weeks, I felt like I was in hell as a large group of those children, particularly a group of about seven 5th grade girls (as well as a few boys), were the most disrespectful, lying, big-mouthed smart mouths I had ever worked with.
Which is saying something since my time working with young people went back around twenty years at that point.
Still, it was tolerable until early January of 2008 when the program coordinator, who was supportive and allowed me to be as tough as I needed to be to deal with those kids, suddenly quit and was replaced by two people who I knew wouldn’t allow such, who I knew would want me to be like Barney the Dinosaur in my interactions with them.
After a lecture from one of those new supervisors on how badly I was treating some of the kids, and a nervous breakdown from me as I didn’t show up to work for three days, I submitted my resignation not only from that job, but from the field of education in general.
I had had enough and couldn’t take one more day.
I even remember the exact date: February 6, 2008.
One may think from reading this that I was a sympathetical victim of tyrannical circumstances.
That is not true, however.
Without any reservation, I admit that much of my lack of success in working with children was my fault, in the sense that I had quite a difficult time taking orders from different people and getting along with certain co-workers and higher-ups.
I failed to understand and accept that in working with kids – and in any kind of work – you are paid to do as you are told and to make everyone happy; kids, parents and supervisors alike.
This was due to my Asperger’s Syndrome, part of the Autism Spectrum Disorder negatively affecting social interaction, which in my case involves an aversion to being ordered around and trying to please everyone.
The one thing I learned about myself while in the workforce was that I worked best under minimal supervision and influence, if not by myself.
Where I can be left alone and simply do my job without any interference whatsoever.
If I was working with someone, the only way I was truly effective was when that someone treated me as a complete equal, even if they were my superior on paper.
Unfortunately for me, the majority of my school jobs weren’t like that as by the time I arrived at that inner city school, I was completely sick and tired of what worrying about what kids, parents, co-workers and supervisors thought of me.
I was fed up with the notion of my job security depending on so many people as trying to please everyone, as well as the periodic evaluations which to me was merely an excuse for the boss to tell me how bad I was at my job, caused much anxiety.
And I grew absolutely sick and tired of that, too.
A photo of someone with ASD (apparently) at work. Photo courtesy of cbc.ca
Here’s what was so disillusioning about it all – silly, naive me:
I thought that teaching and working with kids would be like what I saw on TV shows like “Head of the Class” from the 1980s and “Room 222” from the 1970s, where the teacher was loved and (at least in the case of “Head of the Class” ) where the students were bright and desired to soak up the knowledge.
I had no idea that there would be a glut of in-service meetings that to me were nothing but a big waste of time.
I didn’t know that you had to pass about five different exams, which you had to pay for, in order to be officially called a teacher.
I knew nothing of the notion that new teachers usually ended up at the worst schools with the worst kids – check out the movie 187 with Samuel L. Jackson sometime – schools with kids that no one else wants to work with, who either have no interest in learning or are too tough to teach, too far gone for anyone to have a true effect (at least in my opinion).
I know it sounds to some that I was nothing but a spoiled quitter who couldn’t hack it or cut the mustard.
What it all comes down to, however, is this:
A career in the education field and working with young people was and is too ill a fit for me.
By the time I left that last job in 2008 I felt like a waiter or a parking valet, catering to everyone’s whim.
Or a glorified babysitter or nanny.
Or a servant.
I should make something crystal clear…
This is NOT a diatribe against either the teaching profession or education.
It is NOT my intention to bash this field.
How could I be against a line of work that so many of my loved ones have been involved in for decades?
And believe it or not, I like and enjoy being around young people and helping them. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have spent two and a half decades trying to make things work out for me in this area.
It’s just that after experiencing so many failures and frustrations, including either getting fired or resigning from the vast majority of the jobs I held, I realize that my talents, personality and personal chemistry are much better suited to something where I can be left alone to do my thing.
Which was the main factor in starting a career in writing, as I now have two blogs and am working on a book.
While it was all disillusioning, and while I did feel quite bitter about the whole thing the first couple of years after I left that last gig, I feel more than OK now because more than ever, I see that it was all for the best.
Leaving the “Kid Business”, as I sometimes like to call it, left me free to pursue writing, which is a much better fit for me.
And which is ultimately all that anyone wants out of a career.
An excellent quote that I thought must be shared. Photo courtesy of malaysianpsychology.wordpress.com