Overwhelmed

Glen attended boarding school, and now he is learning what it means to teach in one. The work never ceases, but it is not without rewards. Will Glen learn to survive and prosper in this world?

Glen meets with his head of school about a class assignment

Scene Photo

Glen wonders if his lack of teacher training will keep him from succeeding.

I wonder if some first-year teachers actually think they are prepared for what awaits them. I’m glad my parents were teachers—if I had only taken notes at the dinner table.

This is my first real job. I want to succeed. I want to be helpful. I want my students and colleagues to be happy that I am at the school. I want not to have a heart attack triggered by anxiety!

In characteristic fashion, my father told me not to worry: “Everything will be okay. I still get nervous too, and I’ve been teaching for 24 years. You know your subject matter. You will pick up the pedagogy over time. I couldn’t say it any better than Gilbert Highet did in The Art of Teaching—“The great teacher is the one who knows when to get down off his high horse.”

What is that supposed to mean? I truly love and respect my dad, but he has an annoying habit of speaking in parables.

I guess, looking back on it, I should have talked a little more about my responsibilities in that first meeting with the Head of School. I was just so happy to have a job, and so eager to work with kids, that I didn’t even ask what a lot of these responsibilities involved. I should at least have written it down. Now I know better.


Glen checks his perceptions with a colleague

I haven’t had a day to myself in weeks. How can that be? I don’t waste my time. What do my colleagues know that I don’t know? They appear to have some balance in their lives.

It is a sad commentary that I don’t feel completely safe sharing my confusion and doubts with my colleagues. On the other hand, if I don’t talk to someone soon, I may pop out of my skin.

Finally, I just needed to vent. I went to Liz because she had just started a year ago, and I figured I could trust her. Was this just me? Did I just not understand what a job was like? Was it a boarding school problem? I just knew that I didn’t seem to have a life outside of school, and even when I ran as fast as I could, I still felt like I was falling behind. Perhaps I was just not cut out to be a teacher.


With a year of teaching under his belt, Glen rethinks his situation.

The academic schedule waits for no man. As soon as I grade one set of papers another set comes roaring down the pike. The sheer volume of work grinds me down, but it’s the uncertainty that keeps me awake at night.

I am continually forced to make judgments I feel unprepared to make. Who should be on the starting team? Is the essay deserving of a “B” and not a “B-”? How much of my role as yearbook advisor should be guiding and how much directing? And on, and on. I am haunted by the feeling that my judgment is haphazard, even unreliable. I am just so tired.

My own internal standards for defining poor, average, and outstanding performance in anything academic have evaporated, if they ever existed in the first place. When in doubt—which is just about every waking hour –I ask myself what my teachers would have done in the same situation. Cool, huh? My old calc teacher, Numbers Mayhew, lives on through me to torture yet a new generation of learners.

Fortunately there must still be some debate about what constitutes academic torture, at least among my students. They seem to like being in our classes, generally speaking. And at least a handful trust me enough to seek my counsel. If it weren’t for the students I might have sunk completely out of sight some time ago. They are the greatest. When I wonder what I should do with the next few years, they are the most important factor I keep coming back to.

As it is, I almost have one year down. That feels good. And everyone says it gets a lot easier. But I honestly don’t know about next year. If any tier-two law school throws me a lifeline I will have to get some much needed rest and carefully consider my future. Still, I really enjoy the kids and love the good moments teaching. I keep coming back to that.