Thursday, November 11, 2010


“So many things I'd like to be, yet I am cursed as what?

A writer with no publisher? A teacher without a class?

Turn the radio up a bit, to drown out these silly thoughts.

I want to drown my sorrows in the many things I'm not.”

- Kelli Steele “Past Lives " (The whole lovely poem is HERE.)

Several weeks ago, there was an announcement there would be layoffs at my husband’s company. We had to wait 3 ½ days. The 3 ½ longest days I’ve every waited in my life (except for being 12 days late with my son and 8 days late with my daughter. While pregnant In the Summer). While we waited, we rethought everything. Regrets about choices of jobs in the past, regrets for money we didn’t save, and so on. We discussed what we’d do in a worst-case scenario.

My husband considered looking for jobs out of state.

I began to look for car insurance jobs. I worked at a car insurance company that has some lizard mascot for eight years. I was full-time in the beginning and then part-time while in graduate school and having my son. The company was good to me and I did my job well. I could’ve had a decent career. I might even be an upper-level supervisor right now. I hated the job.

Even before the job scare, I’d considered another field. Problem is I really like having off in the summer and spending the time with my children. So I began looking for jobs on the school calendar.

I’ve been so frustrated to be on the job market for so long. Since August I’ve had three interviews. Since I’ve begun looking, I’ve had four. That was some loooong dry spell.

And then my husband’s job scare made me feel worse. We didn’t have my income to rely on because there wasn’t much income to rely on.

The day after my husband got the notice of layoffs at work, I saw the ETS (Extended Term Sub) job open up and applied. And that day, I received an e-mail from the assistant principal that I’d hear about an interview in a couple of weeks.

My husband didn’t lose his job.

I scheduled the interview.

I got the job.

In March, I may be a daily sub again. But at the end, I hope to do well enough that I have recommendations from coworkers. Even more, I hope the students miss me and I’ll miss them. Right now it feels new and scary and overwhelming.

There were three parents on my interview committee, which is a story in itself. One parent was a former high school student of my graduate school instructor who guided me through my student teaching all the way in New York. They’re still friends. I thought that was an uncanny connection.

This parent, who has a big job at a nearby university, sent an e-mail:

Dear Ms. Milstein,

I wanted to congratulate you on getting the position as ETS replacement for redacted (your excellence was clear at the interview) and to pass along greetings from redacted, who remembers you fondly.

This e-mail meant the world to me. I’ve been so down on myself for being underemployed. It’s been ages since the instructor this parent and I both know complimented me. After coming to observe me, he said, “Teachers are either born or made. You were born to be a teacher.”

I never forgot these words, carrying them with me in my darkest times, a reassurance that I was good and had just screwed up by waiting too long after student teaching.

Even though I’m overwhelmed with a class chockfull of discipline problems, 90+ names to learn (I’m horrible at this.), lessons to plan, papers to grade, parents to meet, and I don’t even know what else. Even though my transition was faster than had been planned. Even though I’m sleeping and eating less. Even though.

A week into teaching, I stood up in front of a class and started a discussion from the textbook and the kids got excited and I got excited.

A reminder.

The next day, I dealt with the tough class. Okay, the hardest student was absent. And I was in a room with desks instead of tables so it was easier to keep them separated. But one girl confronted me and I stood my ground.

A battle won.

All these years teaching college, being an assistant in the fifth-grade, subbing. And I’m still a first-year teacher who didn’t even get to start at the beginning at school. In addition, I don’t have my own room, but carry a cart from class to class. (Seating chart nightmare, anyone?) Of course I’m freaked out.

It’s normal.

I have to be the person I said I am in the interview. I meant every word at the time. I have it in me.

Teachers, what was your first year like for you?

Readers, what fears did you face? How’d it turn out?


  1. I began work right after teacher's college in a Grade 8 class for the months of May and June. It was in a quad, an open concept room with three other classes. Needless to say, my lessons and disciplining were often overheard by the other classes. I survived those two months with a host of challenges.

  2. Congrats on the job! You'll do a great job. I think it's normal to feel overwhelmed but you'll channel that energy to your benefit!

  3. Wow, congrats on the job and so happy that everything worked out for your husband. I've always been down on myself for being "under" something. But so many great things come out of having autonomy over my own time. You're going to be great :) I completely agree with the idea that teachers are made.

  4. My daughter is in her first year teaching HS English. More days than not are a challenge for a host of reasons, but the good days make up for the tough ones. What we're seeing is that the real "teacher" education begins now, standing in that classroom, rather than in her Masters Program. A certain satisfaction comes from the whole process, from each accomplishment, each independent decision, as she settles in.

  5. Theresa, you have such an amazing gift to pull me in to your words .. I held my breath as I kept reading about your husband's job, your interviews, etc ... even though the journey is hard - you tell it beautifully.

    As for my own teaching story ... still in my first year :) and so glad I made the change after 20 years in the wilderness (of business).

  6. @ Paul C, it does feel like surviving at times, doesn't it? I hate when other teachers can hear me, or worse, hear the students.

    @ Vicki, it's already gotten much better since I wrote this post shortly after I started. I hope it improves from here.

    @ Saumya, no matter how good a teacher is, there's always something new to learn. I have plenty to learn.

    @ Joanne, I'm glad your daughter is finding satisfaction in what she's doing. They say it takes three years to get into a groove.

    @ Clutterbug, thank you very much for the compliment.

    I know you're still going through your own teaching and interviewing challenges. I wish you the best of luck.

  7. Congrats on the job. 1 1/2 years and not one interview. Maybe I have bad breath or something. :)
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

  8. hi miss theresa! im just so really happy you got that job cause i know you been trying soooo hard to get to teach for a long time. nows when those lucky students get the most best teacher ever! im real glad your husband didnt get out of his job. now things are lots better and you could just relax and be the neat teacher you are.
    ...hugs from lenny

  9. Theresa you are strong, I read it every day I stop in for a visit and read your blog. You persevere and things turn out in a positive light.

    I love how even when you're down, stressed, frustrated or hoping for a miracle there is still that one thing that I hear... and that's HOPE. Without hope we would be nothing, and you my friend are far from nothing.

    Congrats on the job, you're going to do great.

    I find that my fears often come from feeling inadequate, not good enough, and I realize I'm the only one that thinks less of myself. If I could stop that, a world of possibilities would open up.

  10. Great post, Theresa, I agree with Jen above, your posts are always full of hope and positivity. I take comfort from that with my own challenges.

  11. I know what you mean. My husband's company (the world's oldest racetrack) went out of business last year and his job dissolved with it. It took him close to eight months to get a hired again and the entire time I felt so guilty for being a stay at home mom.

    In the end things worked out but it can sure be a scary place to be.

  12. Congrats on the job and I'm so glad that everything worked out with your husband's job too! We all get down sometimes, I know I do, but perseverance is key. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes we just have to get the cobwebs out of the way to see it.

  13. I taught HS English my first year out of undergrad, and MAN, I loved those kids. And wow, I hated the beauracracy associated w/teaching. I was very young, but I had a great group of students--I just wasn't ready to be their Mom. :D

    Congrats on your kudos! Congrats on your ETS! Subbing's hard, but it sounds like you're doing a great job. All the best~

  14. @ Jules, that was my drought too. I had one interview and then.... nothing. I kept telling myself my resume and cover were solid. It wasn't like they were meeting me and rejecting me. But it was hard to keep the faith. From August to October, I had three and got one.

    I hope things turn around for you.

    @ Lenny Lee, thank you. I hope the students feel the same way about me.

    @ Jen, I feel the same as you - I'm harder on myself than anyone else. But I do hold out hope because what's the alternative?

    Comments like yours always make me feel better.

    @ Brigid, I'm glad to hear I offer hope and positivity because I feel like you and several other bloggers do that for me.

    @ Anne, that must've been a stressful eight-months. Staying home if a job, but when it's not paying the guilt is enormous during lean times.

  15. This is such a powerful post, Theresa. I'm so glad you didn't give up. Teaching is not an easy profession, but we need good teachers now more than ever. I had two long-term sub jobs at the middle school before getting my first full-time position. I went from 7th graders who still loved school and teachers to high school freshmen with MAJOR attitude. I cried almost every day that first year. I survived. And you will too! :-)

  16. Your story gave me chills. I know how scary that can be and how rewarding, too. I start teaching a weekly workshop with 3rd - 6th graders next week and I'm excited and scared. It's normal.

    Congrats on getting the job you were born to do :)

  17. I taught at college level once and boy was it a challenge, having to deal with kids who thot they were smarter than you. That said I am still going to go back and teach when I turn 50 its in my retirement plan cos I love giving back and if only one kid is touched then I would have done my job.

  18. You do have it in you. It's possible for you to do this and succeed. Way to go for not giving up.

    This post was great and powerful and, really, just keep going!

  19. Great post, very insightful. Good on you for keep going!

  20. Great post. I found myself paused and pondering this quote: “Teachers are either born or made. You were born to be a teacher.”

    It's my belief, that the GOOD teachers, are the ones who were born to be one. In other words, it's the teachers who have PASSION about their work as a teacher, that are the great ones. The ones that make a difference. The ones who leave an impression on a child, plant a seed in their soul, that literally changes the course of that child's life, for the better. Sometimes, without ever knowing they did.
    Good teachers cannot be MADE, in my opinion. Because without the passion, they cannot be. No one can teach a teacher, to be passionate. It's a part of who they are. The passion, is the gift they were born with, and the indicator that THAT is what they are meant to do in their life. Even if they have more than one passion.
    We need a lot more GOOD teachers like you in the world. The ones who hate their job, don't necessarily like kids! (there are some out there in the schools!)are burnt out, or are just hanging on with all they have for that package, can actually damage a child's path, just as the good ones encourage and inspire. The good teachers are such a blessing. I am a huge supporter and a grateful person, of the good teachers in a world. I pray for a whole lot more.
    I'm not sure I really addresses your questions at the end? But your post inspired me to have something to say anyway. : )

  21. Glad all worked out for your husband, Theresa...and I'm happy for you gettig that letter. Isn't it nice to hear sometimes that we are doing good? You are very dedicated to your work and everybody can see that.

    I've had my share of life's challenges - looking for a new job, not knowing what the future holds. Perhaps I got lucky that all turned out well.

    All the best, Theresa! :)

  22. Well done to you Theresa on all your accomplishments. Your stiff upper lip in the face of your many challenges and your perseverance are a credit to you. Take a bow, you deserve it. I am thrilled the worst of your fears have passed. Good luck with the job.

  23. It does sound like you were born to be a teacher, because it's clear that you're passionate about it. And you've kept at it despite all the obstacles that you've faced, which is more than many people would do.
    When I first started teaching, my hands shook when I wrote on the chalkboard. And I used to practice what I would say before every class.

  24. @ Shannon, I'd love to know more about your experiences. The first two weeks I was a walking anxiety attack. Now it's better, but I still need more authority.

    @ Solvang Sherrie, thank you for sharing and your advice.

    @ Joanna St. James, Neurotic Workaholic complains about the same problem with her students. How great you want to return to teaching.

    @ Laura, you make some excellent points. Besides passion, I think a person also needs charisma and intuition. The academic part can be learned but there has to be some sense of self to stand in front of an audience of students.

    @ Len, I'm glad you made it through your job challenges. We all face tough times. I hope work-wise, the worst are behind us.

    @ Ann, thank you. In some ways, it's getting easier each day.

    @ Neurotic Workaholic, I can relate. The first day I taught as a student teacher, my hands were shaking and my voice was trembling. I used to practice too. It's not easy, what we do.

  25. I skipped a few replies. Sorry!

    @ Nicole, I agree, it's all about perseverance. If we stopped to think about it all, we'd freak out.

    @ LTM, it IS like being a mom. The bureaucracy is tough. Sometimes teachers wind up doing paperwork for the sake of doing paperwork. And it takes away from teaching.

    @ Melisssa, thank you very much. These positive comments mean a lot.

  26. I can only speak from an elementary grades perspective. My first year, I had no clue about classroom management, but knew subject knowledge.I tried to ask co-teacher, but she a gave me no help, so I took a classroom management class. It worked. Although, I have observed other teachers and subbing included, we all got through the frustrations aabout what you are talking about. I believe it is a constant learning process and some years, you just have a better class.

  27. Phew! I am so glad your husband didn't get laid off and that you got the job.

    After my first year of teaching, I was convinced I hated it, but that's only because I wasn't any good at it yet and I wanted to pretend the problem wasn't me.

  28. I'm happy that your husband didn't get laid off, and you got the job. There's been times like that in my family, and they were always terrifying times.

    I'm a 4th year university student, and currently, I've just made a huge decision that rendered all my schooling rather useless. I keep wanting to redact the decision. To follow the path I've spent years making. But I really hope it's a correct decision that I've made. :)

  29. Theresa Milstein!! What a scare for you and your husband - good grief!! I'm so relieved to hear that his job is ok but I can so understand how this whole scenario brought on all sorts of memories and insecurities.

    So YAY that you got this post till March. It sounds amazingly challenging!! 90+ odd names to learn?? And of course there's the odd one or two kids willing to ruin everything for everyone so WELL DONE you for standing your ground!!!! You're a born teacher!!!!!!

    I'm sorry you have to carry your stuff around and don't have an office - not even a desk all your own - at least a locker?!?!? Good grief!!! But nevermind, nevermind!! You just rise above all these maddening inconveniences and be the bestest there is cos I know you are!!! :-)

    What fears do I face?!?! The blank, white word doc and the cursor blinking at me!! How did it turn out? I end up writing silly poetry that rhymes!

    Take care!!

  30. @ Choices, my classroom management is pretty good, but one class in particular is challenging even for seasoned teachers. That said, I still think I could be stronger with all the classes. Now that I know their names and personalities, it's getting better.

    @ Missed Periods, I know there's so much I need to learn to be a better teacher. There's a big reliance on the textbook from the previous teacher, which doesn't make for exciting lessons. I'm spending a lot of time trying to move away from it. More work for me.

    I remember from being in the 5th-grade all those years that my third-year I became a much better teacher because I had enough years of material I'd created and I didn't have to think so much about it.

    @ Emy, I never dealt with that as a kid. My parents weren't in those types of situations until I was an adult.

    I hope you can use some of what you learned. I wish you luck and success on your new path.

    @ Old Kitty, I have an office and a cart. The good part is I don't have a homeroom, so I don't have any homeroom responsibilities. Believe it or not, there are plenty of 'em.

    Writing is a big fear to face. You've made much progress lately.

  31. Such a comforting post to read before my underemployed self rests her head on the pillow. Thankful for the pillow, and more resumes to send out tomorrow.

  32. Visiting you from BlogHer,

    Congrats on your job. We live parallel lives. My husband's job is laying people off left and right, and we don't know if he'll have a job in January. I just applied for a full-time job at the college in which I adjunct; still waiting after the two hour interview and the PPT teaching lesson I had to give to 6 interviewers. I hate subbing. I don't know how you do it. I subbed twice, and I HATE IT. You have no control over anything or anyone. My first time subbing, a kid took my bag and threw it across the room simply because I marked him absent. I wish he had been.

    Great post and good luck with your writing, your subbing, and everything else. See you on BlogHer.

  33. Congratulations on getting the job!

    Your post is a reminder that sometimes our worst fears don't come true.

  34. @ Lichen, good luck with your resumes. I hope you're not underemployed for long.

    @ Marina, I'm sorry about your husband's company. The good thing about my husband's place is they did it all at once, and now hopefully they'll stay strong.

    Good luck with the job. Sounds like they made you go through hoops.

    I don't love subbiing, but I'm better at it than I thought I'd be. It took awhile to feel comfortable.

    Chucked your pocketbook? Lovely.

    @ Ellie, thank you.

  35. Hi Theresa .. this is a wonderful post & full of brilliant comments - I see a bright teaching future .. you certainly have the attributes.

    Enjoy the time .. better to be busy than not (as you know) & it does look like things are on the up - so pleased for you ..

    Have fun - you will I know .. happy Friday and weekend .. Hilary

  36. You've come a long way and I'm sure you'll be successful in the future - and isn't amazing how much an email can really lift our spirits?

    My first year teaching was hell on earth. I had NO idea what I was doing - foreign country, very different system and curriculum and the kids could spot my confusion a mile away! Not easy.

  37. Congrats on your new job! It sounds like you're doing great -- I would be terrified! I'm sure you're doing a wonderful job with the kids and they're going to be really grateful one day to have had such an awesome teacher!

  38. @ Hilary, it is good to be busy, but I miss writing.

    The comments people have left are wonderful.

    You have a good weekend too!

    @ Talli, the comment or e-mail can completely change my mood.

    I can't imagine what kind of year that was. It make me feel better about the challenges I face. There's not much that's harder than feeling unsure about yourself in front of a bunch of kids. That's why I hate subbing math.

    @ Lisa, thank you. I'm a little terrified sometimes too. I hope they do feel that way about me. I'll try to earn it.

  39. I'm not a teacher, but I have so much respect for you wonderful people who devote so much time and engery to teach our kids. And I'm so glad to hear your husband didn't lose his job - it's a scary time right now!

  40. My daughter is single and on her own. After working in business for 6 years she went back to school for her masters in education. She graduated two years ago but has not been able to find a full time job in teaching in NYC (hiring freeze). She pays a mortgage so she can't afford to work as a part time sub. I feel sad for her as she worked hard, and would make a wonderful teacher, but right now it's so difficult to get a position.

  41. Congrats on your new job Theresa. Gosh, its tough in the market place right now. The reality is no job is safe, at least in the industry I work in.

    My sister is also a teacher so I do know how hard it is, especially with tough kids. Most of them grow up in tough love. I admire that you faced that kid down.

    My fears, so busy with RL that my edits have been at minimal since Weds, I'm worried I'll fall off track but hope to spend this w/end catching up. ;)

    Hope you get a restful weekend with your family! ;) x

  42. @ Susan, thank you. It is a scary time right now.

    @ Pat, I hope your daughter does get a job in teaching after working so hard. It took me about two years to get a job, and this is just an ETS position. It's not a regular teaching salary.

    @ Talei, I agree - no job is safe.

    There are many students with sad stories. The ones who act up are obvious. I worry about the ones who endure quietly because they may not get any attention or support.

    Good luck with your edits. Have a restful weekend too.

  43. Theresa, I'm so excited for you! Congratulations!!!! You'll do great. :) Show the kids that you love them no matter what and they'll want to please you. I've had my share of tough groups...Share part of yourself with them. Let them know you have dreams of being a writer and that you are human...I can't remember what age group you said they were...but kids no matter what age like to be listened to. If they believe you "hear" them they will be more cooperative. Best wishes and congrats!

  44. Oh Theresa.. I'm so happy for you! I'm glad everything is working out all around :)

    And don't worry, I have complete faith in you, I know you'll do great!

  45. The layoff nightmare, shudder! Been there, done that, hope never to revisit!

    I'm terribly shy (in person) and when I first began at the center and had to talk to complete strangers, I would shake. My neck gets red and I talk to fast.

    It's gotten better. Mostly.

    My co-teacher put masking tape on the backs of the children with their names on it. I learned their names and the kids thought it was funny. I still struggle with some of the parents' names.

    The hardest part, especially when I was new, was talking to a parent about an issue their child has having. NOT FUN.

    You are an amazing person. You have to be pretty special to do what you do on a daily basis. And I'm glad your husband was able to keep his job. Whew!

  46. @ Sharon, thanks for the advice. It's 7th and 8th graders. You know, the most challenging age to teach. Right now I'm working on making the lessons more interesting instead of relying on the textbook.

    @ Writing Nut, I'm glad you're back. Thank you for the nice words.

    @ The Words Crafter, I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who deals with kids who struggles with names.

    I have parent-teacher conferences this week. I'm not looking forward to that.

  47. I'm actually facing the joys of underemployment right now. And my husband will be layed of on december 31st, so things look really gloomy right now. Im going to interviews and I hope to get a job. Fingers crossed, I hope it all turns out as beautifully as it did to you! =)

  48. @ Clara, I'm sorry about your underemployment and your husband's pending layoff. Way to take the joy out of this time of year, eh? I hope you both find something better soon.

    And I hope to go from ETS to bonafide teacher soon.

  49. Wow, this is a great story. I'm glad your husband didn't lose his job, and that you got yours.

    And dude, that first year of teaching... Ugh. I remember being so nervous and wondering how in the world to do anything. There's so much second-guessing that first year. Hang in there!

  50. @ Elana, yep, you understand. That about sums up how I feel, especially during grading and parent-teacher conference week.

  51. My fears are that I will fail. Hey, I'm a husband and a father. I want to succeed and provide safety and shelter for the fam!

  52. Congratulations Theresa, that is fantastic and a great boost:) My Mom is a teacher of 3rd grade and I admire anyone who can manage 30 plus kids at any given time!

  53. @ Stephen Tremp, I worry about not being the best mom I can. Being aware of it, probably makes us better.

    @ Olive, thank you. 30+ students in a class is a lot. I admire your mom too.

  54. Way to go, you!! And I'm so glad your husband's job ended up in no danger. :o)

    There's a fire in teaching I truly miss, especially if the students are as excited as I am about the subject.

    Good luck with everything you have going on, my friend!

  55. Congratulations! I'm so glad this worked out for you. Best of luck for ALL your dreams to come true in the future!!!! I'm in my eleventh year as a teacher and have been very lucky to have work. I got in at the right time, just before they no longer hired, but only laid off due to $$$$ shortages in the district. I also got in at the time when the newest teachers on the block began the wonderful game of "musical classrooms" and "musical grades" every year. Because I change grades and rooms nearly every year. But I can't complain. I love all the staff and all the teachers. This year I'm teaching second grade. Fun!!! christy

  56. @ Jackee, thanks. I'm glad my husband's job wound up being safe too.

    I'm working on crafting my fire in my lessons and passing it on to the students.

    @ Erica and Christy (Christy), that must be so hard to change grades and classrooms each year. How does a teacher get confident with the material and build new material if s/he is constantly moving?

    I'm glad you're having a good year.

  57. The summer before my first year was crazy. I taught a summer program for students in jail. I decided that they wouldn't have been in jail if they had had more love. So I gave them a lot of love and not a whole lot of structure. They ran all over me. That experience really changed how I saw teaching. I became a structured, organized, teacher with expectations for students. And my students were wonderful. For the most part, they always lived up to my expectations.

  58. @ Polly Oveson Scott, thanks for sharing your experiences. I'm working on structure and organization, which seems to be pretty effective in all but one class. They're tough for everyone. But they're so much better than when I began. Now I'm trying to pass on more of the love.

  59. Funny reading this. Funny as in "I hear you" not as in I'm laughing at you.

    I've been teaching for 11 years now, and I still remember my first position, which was a part-time position I got before I even had my degree (started in March). It sucked bigtime. The students (10th graders) were spoiled as can be, and I was seen more as a classmate than their teacher. I finished the year and was set on getting a full-time position, but I have to admit, I was regretting the teaching thing at the time.

    My first FT position was a junior high ELA position that allowed me to (1) start the year as their teacher and (2) teach junior high kids. What was my first year like? It was great. I was crazy strict, and was overwhelmed with the amount of out-of-class work I had to do. But the key here is I found myself as a teacher. I was able to back off in terms of my over-the-top strict nature, since the rules were established by mid-year, and I loved it. Now, 11 years later and still teaching junior high ELA, I laugh at how I was ready to quit after that first experience.

    With my writing career beginning (first book out on sub to publishers presently), I am hoping I find myself as a writer in the same way. Well, I could easily go without the period of doubting myself, but I feel that same excitement and that green feeling I felt when I started teaching.

    Good luck to you with your teaching, and your writing.

  60. Thank you for this story. You've inspired me on both the writing and teaching fronts.

  61. Glad to hear your hubby did not lose his job. I used to trach night courses and online classes at a local small school. Project management stuff. I loved it. Teaching is a gift and I'm thinking of entering part-time once again.

  62. @ Stephen, if you do return to teaching, good luck.