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Mean mommas, struggling tykes and these other things make first-year teachers cry

You would think a first-year teacher busts into tears when a lesson flops or a parent yells. Her make-up gets messed up when she can’t remember how to enter grades for report cards or her PowerPoint fizzles out five minutes before class starts.

We’ve all been there. In almost every career, there is a four-year tutoring session that proclaims at the end that we are ready for anything. We receive a fancy piece of paper and enter the work force rarin’ to go, ready to face anything and everything. But when reality introduces itself in the most unsuspecting ways, we realize, “They didn’t teach me this in college.”

Let’s face it; no amount of college learnin’ can prepare us for everything we will face in our careers. Sure, our highly qualified, well-respected professors sprinkle their seeds of experience onto our fertile fields of enlightenment, but they certainly can’t wear the “Been There, Done That” T-shirt with any sort of all-encompassing justification. The fact is, nothing can prepare us for the diversity and unexpectedness that come when our careers present us with the most challenging of tests — people.

Because, well, people are tough. They are missiles of mixed up emotions, behaviors, and attitudes, and like Forrest’s box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get when you work in a career that involves people.

So, I am not immune to lending a box of Kleenex to brand new teachers. The first 180 days are some of the most brutal, revealing, and rewarding moments in a teacher’s career, and with that challenging initiation comes many warranted minutes of breakdown. That’s the process of growth, so no one blinks an eye at the meltdowns.

Especially when a teacher faces her first angry parent. Oh, I remember mine like she is sitting next to me right now. The thought of this woman makes the hair on the back of my neck stand at alert — Daniel’s momma. She had a tongue as sharp as Freddy’s razors and a demeanor as scary as Hannibal Lecter. Dr. Brachett’s Methods of Teaching course did very little to prepare me for a parent-teacher conference with Daniel’s momma. But I survived, and most of us will. Our classes from the College of Hard Knocks will fill in the gaps, and we’ll overcome unscathed for the most part.

However, some tears from first-year teachers aren’t shed because of mishaps and mean mommas.

They are shed on behalf of the little people they work with – those little people college professors have never met – who don’t fit into familiar molds. They can’t be placed into nice boxes labeled “smart” or “not smart”, “on grade level” or “not on grade level”, or “well behaved” or “misbehaving”. If teaching little people was that easy, everyone would flock to the profession.

Little people don’t come with directions. They don’t fit into the categories we learn about in college, and they can’t be easily sorted into nicely organized boxes. They are thirty missiles of mixed up emotions, behaviors, and attitudes crammed together in one room with a rookie teacher standing in front of them drinking from the fire hydrant of everything she learned in a college program that did not prepare her to stand before thirty missiles of mixed up emotions, behaviors, and attitudes.

So, she cries.

The first-year teacher I met last week was certainly crying. And after I offered her that box of Kleenex, she explained why. She wasn’t crying because she felt her four years of college was wasted. She wasn’t crying for the overwhelm she felt standing in front of thirty missiles. She understood that discomfort to be the rite of passage all educators must face and overcome.

She was crying for one kid. One little person. One missile. A first-grade volatile projectile she desperately wanted to reach before he exploded. In less than 90 days into her career, she had already developed the heart of a teacher. She saw past his anger, beyond his disruptions, outside his disrespect and into the spirit of a little person dying on the inside. Her professors didn’t teach her that. No college course taught her how to have such compassion.

Experience will dissipate the overwhelm of the profession, most assuredly, but may she never ever lose her sense of compassion for her little people, because if she ever does, our society will lose all hope.

The same goes for you, too

Sheryl Green is a secondary educator in Columbu. Email her at