Because of this I went through the classical Secondary Education background – I was a Student Teacher, taught for 25 hours a week (plus coaching), 5 days a day, having a class schedule that was chosen for me.
I’d like to think I work hard – that’s more up to the people around me to decide that, since I think people are normally pretty awful self-judges – but I don’t think I ever worked as hard as I did that first year of teaching. I work up no later than 5:00 am every day to beat traffic, taught my classes, and, at 3:15, that’s when my workday truly began. Homework, lesson planning, grading, and sometimes even refreshing myself about new material (and sometimes learning it for the first time!) all came after the final bell. A lot of nights I worked until 8:00 or 9:00pm, only to do it all over again the next day.
Some of it was, doubtless, a lack of experience on my part – I didn’t have the background to know how to become more efficient as a teacher, and what parts of my education I could and should make more efficient. Some of it was because I was creating a lot of things that I would use for a year or two afterwards (well, that's what I thought, because in reality I pretty much threw it all into the garbage after the first year). In some ways I think I had a learning experience that first year that many teachers don’t have:
1) A hands-off approach from administrative support. This sounds like a truly odd thing to say, because it sure didn’t feel like a blessing at the time, but I think a complete sense of freedom from administration allowed me time and room to decide who I wanted to be as a teacher, and what the best way to accomplish that would be.
2) A sense of support. I'm sure I cultivated some of this for myself - simple things like showing up on time (often before almost everyone else - this is the result of working very far away), helping others out when they needed it, stuff like that - but some of it came from the idea that, in hiring me, that some degree of faith was placed in me to do the right thing. I would like to believe that this is something to be taken for granted but I know, for some of my friends, this was not a given, and their teaching careers were either worsened or cut short as a result.
3) Having books, a curriculum, and lesson plans chosen for me. I had enough on my plate the first year than to have to decide these things for myself. Frankly, given what teacher attrition rates are I think schools should give new teachers lesson plans (and I don't get why teachers so jealously guard their lessons, but that's a story for another time). They don't have to use them, they're just there. Boy, would that have helped me out in an Emerging Internet era.
4) Having a person to talk to. Being a new teacher is a devastatingly lonely place - I didn't have time (and I didn't even have much money) for socializing, I knew I sucked at my job as every new teacher sucks (and my students all knew I was new too) and, everywhere around me, I saw teachers whose students were better behaved, doing more interesting things, and liked their teachers more. Not me.
Teaching was pretty much the only thing I was doing at that stage of my life - I didn't have a significant other or kids, my friends were all working way less than I was, and I didn't really have anything else I would or could do - so 100% of my identity that year was in teaching. Which meant 100% of me was terrible.
I'm thankful that my school had a Mentorship program, which wasn't as good as it could have been but was better than nothing. I had a veteran teacher help mentor me through the process - teaching me about the school culture, helping me decide what was important and what was immediate (and the big difference between the two), and giving me a shoulder to cry on, sometimes literally.
I also need to thank another teacher friend of mine (who later stood up in my wedding, was one of the best friends I ever had, and tragically passed away at the age of 36) who decided, once a month, he, I, and a few friends would meet up at Mongolian Barbecue on a weekend night and laugh and have fun. No excuses - he'd drive by my house and pick me up if I came up with an excuse.
There's a good chance that that kept me teaching.