A Day in the Life of a (First Year) Junior High Teacher

Your day begins at 5 am because you still haven’t quite figured out exactly what/how you’re teaching today and because you have millions of papers to read and grades to enter before Parent-Teacher conferences this week.

Thankfully, you’re the first person in the copy room which means you can use the copier before it goes on strike and demands soft caresses and a blessing with holy water before it will work again.

You can tell when the students begin to arrive at school when the knocking at the door starts. You are afraid that a rabid dog has been let loose in the hallways by the way the students call your name and beg you to let them in. However, you are the meanest teacher in the school, as you tell your students daily, and refuse to open the door until 7:40 because you will not relinquish one minute of silent alone time.

At 7:40, you greet them at the door where they have anxiously congregated and you are accosted by a hoard of 13 year olds, eager to tell you about finally beating Five Nights at Freddy’s on their iPhone, Nicki Minaj’s new haircut, and how hypnotism is a real thing. The ones who don’t stop to talk greet you with a head nod and a “Hey, Teach,” as they walk in.

Because it’s early, first period is the most docile class you will teach today. They are polite, mostly out of grogginess, but don’t get the joke when you tell them that the second amendment allows you to wear sleeveless shirts.

They do, however, laugh at the day’s puppy joke, told daily by one of the students in the class. Today it’s “What do you call a small hot dog?” (a hot puppy). A kid in the front says he has a joke, too, and you let him tell it, knowing you will probably regret it. He says “What is as fast as a cheetah and has eyes like a hawk?” and then tells you that the answer is ‘Ms. Poulson’. You don’t really get it but laugh anyway.

You notice a girl off the the side of the classroom is wearing a bicycle helmet. You laugh because you know why she has it. You are an infamously bad aim and have unintentionally flung several dry erase markers into her head, meaning to throw them at other students so they could write answers on the board. Somehow this poor girl seems to always be in the line of fire. Hopefully your teaching skills have improved more than your pitching skills over the course of the school year.

It’s early, you still feel fresh, and first period ends with you feeling moderately good about your teaching abilities.

Next comes flex time, where failing students go see teachers for remediation and help. You feel like a steak in a piranha tank as a swarm of students surround you saying, “What’s my grade in this class?,” “Why did I get an F on that test?,” “I thought I turned this assignment in but my grade says it’s missing,” and “Why haven’t you graded that thing I turned in 30 seconds ago?” Your fight-or-flight response kicks in and you resist every instinct you have that is telling you to lock your door and hide under your desk. You spend the next 40 minutes passing out copies of worksheets that were due weeks ago and trying to get room quiet so students taking tests won’t be distracted.

Thankfully, you have a prep period next. It is spent grading tests, searching Pinterest for lesson plans, making more copies, sneaking several times too many into the candy drawer that is supposed to be used as a reward for students, and picking up trash and paper from the floor. As you circle the room, you laugh as you notice that someone has written something one the back wall: “Ms. Poulson is Viola Swamp.” This is in reference to a children’s book you have in your classroom about a nice teacher with terrible students who sends a mean substitute (Ms. Swamp) to teach her kids to be good. You laugh again when you see that only a few centimeters under that someone has written “Kim Jong Un.” You secretly hope that was meant in reference to you.

Third period begins, the class you dread. It’s full of students you like (because there aren’t really any students you don’t like, even though they sometimes drive you crazy) but somehow the combination of personalities makes you wish you had dropped out of college and gone on a reality TV show instead of getting a teaching license.

They greet you as “Ms Pupusa” in honor of your love of Latin American food, and then immediately proceed to do none of the things they know they are supposed to do as soon as class starts.

You know you are a pushover teacher and are afraid that you let the students walk all over you. You vow you will make them have a ‘come to Jesus’ moment and today will be the last day they will misbehave. You send student after student into the hall so at least those who want to learn can do so uninterrupted. You know this is a terrible solution but don’t really know what else to do. The classroom management course you took your sophomore year of college is all a blur now and the only thing you remember is that you are pretty sure that using the colorful words you learned from the kids at the back of the bus in 4th grade is not an appropriate solution.

It’s now lunch time and you crumble into a ball at your desk, on the verge of tears. There could not possibly be another teacher in the universe as bad as you. Your students, whom you love dearly, deserve someone much smarter, more competent, and more patient than yourself. You curse the day you chose a major in education. You won’t make it through this year, let alone a second or a third. How long will your parents let you live in their basement until they kick you out? If only you were prettier, you could have married rich and never had to talk to a junior high schooler ever again.

You venture out of your classroom to refill your water bottle. On the way back, you are stopped by several students who want to sing for you the 4 part harmony they wrote to “You are My Sunshine.” They then proceed to sing Happy Birthday in harmony, in honor of your half birthday this week. They tell you have another verse of Uptown Funk they rewrote in your honor (“Uptown Teacher”) to sing for you later.

Your spirits buoyed, you are ready for your last class. This period, you only find 3 anatomical drawings on your desks and textbooks, bringing the daily count to 7. Not as bad as it could be. You notice one girl has begun to call you “Ms. P-Diddy.” She’s the girl that goes by Beyonce, so you’re pretty sure it’s supposed to be a compliment.

This time when you ask about the second amendment, someone answers that it gives us the right to have arms. You laugh as you imagine a country where citizens aren’t allowed to have arms, legs, or any other limbs.

Halfway through class, a kid raises his hand. Holding up a tube of Chapstick with all the Chapstick pushed out, he asks, “Ms. Poulson, should I eat this?”

“No! You should not eat that. Why do you want to?”

“I just really want to…”

He proceeds to bite off the entire stick and try to chew it. He struggles to swallow it and then asks, “Uh, can I go get a drink?’

As you release him from class, a kid in the back pipes up “Um, you should know, on the tube it says to call poison control if you eat it.”

When the Chapstick-ivore returns, you tell him to call poison control if he feels sick and to tell them he ate it during math class.

The bell rings. As the class floods out, after school stragglers make their way to your room. They come to say hi, beg for candy (or what’s left of it at this point) and give you the mangled pillow they made in sewing class. They make you feel like a celebrity, bringing their friends in to meet you. Sometimes they come for after-school detention and end up telling you where to find the most authentic tacos and the best empanadas. One promises to bring you his mom’s homemade mole.

You erase the board, pack up your two computers (you have to bring your own laptop to school everyday because the battered one provided by the school doesn’t do most of what you need it to), and feel grateful to be leaving the school during daylight hours.

You think you are probably maybe glad you became a teacher and hope you will feel the same way tomorrow.

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2 Responses to A Day in the Life of a (First Year) Junior High Teacher

  1. Kelli O'Dair says:

    I love reading your posts!


  2. I love this! Thanks for sharing.


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