Mountains, Molehills, and Growing Pains

The beginning of the last school year — my first school year as a full time teacher — was marked by fits and starts. Our meetings started today, and I got to talk more with a number of the new teachers. Some new to teaching, some new to my school.

Can I say, phew!

It’s such a relief not to be in that position again. Getting used to the school argot, learning and promptly forgetting the quirks about the school’s operation, struggling to fill out medical and retirement forms, and firing a mountain of questions to everyone around you while hoping that you aren’t annoying anyone. A totally overwhelming experience. Phew.

It’s kind of fascinating to think back to that time, though. In the first weeks of school, there were huge and small obstacles that I had to overcome. I often didn’t know the difference.

For example, in my school, each teacher signs up for a couple “duty periods” a week — where you proctor a study hall or sign kids out when they leave campus for lunch. I signed up for my duty periods, and then — way late in the game — realized that one of the duty periods I signed up for conflicted with my 10th grade adviser meeting. I freaked out. Full stop.I felt so anxious about it that I sent an email to this faculty list-serve we have asking if anyone could switch. (No one responded.) And I remember being just terrified and anxious to talk to the principal and tell her I had screwed up.

And looking back — even as soon as the day after it was quickly resolved — I realized that I made a mountain out of a molehill. It was a five second fix, and 72 hour freak out.

A second example: in my first two weeks of teaching, I was doing work in my apartment late one night, and realized I didn’t have the teacher’s edition of my Algebra II book with me. I swore I brought it home, so I tore apart the whole apartment. (You know, one of those frantic and desperate searches where you even peek in the freezer, because there’s that minuscule chance that you (a) opened the freezer door looking for a popsicle, (b) put the textbook down in the freezer while you reached for the popsicle, (c) closed the door with the book in the freezer, and then was (d) struck with temporary amnesia where you forgot that you went to get a popsicle and left the book in the freezer.)

I was so freaked out about this missing book that I hopped on the subway and went back to campus to check. At this point it was like 10pm at night and I was dead tired from all the work I had been doing. Plus the subway comes much less frequently at that time.

The book wasn’t anywhere. I returned home, dejected, and I tried to fall asleep. Thoughts kept running through my mind: had someone stolen it? Could I have put it anywhere else? Will everyone think I’m irreponsible?

The next day, after considerable querying and looking like a fool, it turned out one of the other math teachers had simply borrowed it and returned it in a different place.

I now know that losing a book — teacher’s edition or not — is not a huge deal.

More than not being a huge deal, these things weren’t even blips on anyone’s radar. I had made yet another mountain out of a molehill.

The problem was that at the time, I didn’t know what the school culture considered a mountain and what the school culture considered a molehill.

I’m glad I am familiar enough with the school culture so that I know when I can just say “whoops, oh well, time to move on,” and stop worrying. And honestly, almost everything I obsessed about last year were the small things.

This year I know I won’t be sweating the small stuff. (As much.)



  1. Oh you’re so lucky! New teacher liaison! I’m jealous — really. This year, I wanted to get involved with the new teacher orientation. I even suggested a panel where 2nd year teachers are put in a room with the new teachers, and everything is totally confidential (nobody but us and them), and they let the new teachers ask us questions. (Didn’t happen. Sigh.) And I said I’d love to get involved with new teacher stuff, and maybe be a mentor, or do something to help them out. But no one asked me to. (Double sigh.)

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