“I wanted to quit yesterday,” a coach confided in me.
“I saw such awful treatment of children. I wanted to tell the teacher she was no longer needed and I would take it from there. I could quit my coaching job and give those twenty-six students a year they deserved.”
I nodded solemnly.
“Isn’t it awful that I thought that?”
“No,” I said. “No. Not at all.”
I have had many days that I’ve decided to quit in the course of this job. And it’s not for the reasons you may think. Yes, I get bogged down by the negativity. It’s difficult to be ever-the-professional in the face of individuals and teams who seek first to assume the worst, not to understand. The work with adults is extremely hard, but seeing students wither in their classrooms is much, much worse.
“Just the transition, Heather, from recess to math took 20 minutes. And the teacher spent most of the time scolding kids, berating them saying ‘You are causing the problem,'” The coach continued.
“They are just little kids!”
Until you become a coach you may not have experienced a classroom like this in real time. We tend to live in our classroom bubbles thinking that educators experience the world much like we do. Thankfully classrooms where kids aren’t nurtured are rare, but likely in the course of our careers we will encounter work in a troubling environment. I’ve come to the difficult realization that underestimated students live up to those teachers’ expectations. “Slow” kids take on learned helplessness. “Bad” kids continue to seek negative attention. Teachers who say, “I’ve tried everything. There is nothing that works,” are correct.
“I have to go back next week,” lamented the coach.
“What am I going to do?”
There is something freeing about the ability to let myself quit for an hour–or four. I imagine myself back in the classroom doing what I know how to do. Visualizing how I’d set up my classroom library, create my writing center and the way we’d start building community from the moment students walk through the door is good therapy. I remind myself that I can go back at any time. And then I think about my motto, “Stay curious” and my belief, “Every teacher deserves a coach” and I wonder how to make sense of it all. “You can’t coach someone who doesn’t want to be coached” is also true. So what can we do?
I didn’t have anything wise or inspiring to say to the coach. I simply said, “You aren’t alone with those feelings. It seems to come along with this work. Explore the feeling of wanting to quit and see what else comes up.”
I find if I give myself time, strenuous exercise, people who listen and dark chocolate, the obstacle in front of me slowing transforms into my opportunity to be a professional. To use integrity, questioning, patience, content knowledge and my understanding of children to move forward. It’s OK to mentally left yourself quit and then come back to the place of “What if…”