This is what you need to know:
Despite what teacher movies, books you've read, your credential program, your master teacher, your new principal, your BTSA coach, and the blogosphere would have you believe; there is no black and white in teaching. Teaching is one huge gray area.I had to bold that. We make it seem like it's a noble profession full of clear choices and goals. You want every kid to succeed and feel safe. You have high expectations. You set big goals. You put your students first. NCLB bad. Diane Ravitch good. Worksheets and grades and rewards and punishments are tools of the lazy and the incompetent. You will never, ever give up on anyone.
That's all bullshit.
Look. I know. You're brand new and you just watched Waiting for Superman or Race to Nowhere or read The Schools Our Children Deserve or watched Sal Khan's TED talk and you are PUMPED. You are going to be an amazing teacher. Your kids will gasp with joy and be lost in wonder and LEARN LEARN LEARN. More importantly, you're not going to be that teacher. The one next door that goes home at 3 and gives out the same worksheets as he did 10 years ago.
Sorry. I know this won't mean much to you right now, but it doesn't work that way. In teaching, there is no clear path. There is no choice that is always right or always wrong.
There will be a time when your students are hurt by your high expectations and your big goals. Especially when you're new. You just won't have developed the skills yet to help your students meet all of your goals. It's true. There will be a time when you have actually damaged a kid because you set a high goal for them that you just weren't good enough to help them reach.
There will be a time when you can't keep your kids safe. You hear about a fight that's going to happen at lunch. You should report it right? What if a lunch time fight is something that can be managed? What if it happens, gets broken up, and everything is fine after? What if avoiding a lunch time fight means they'll now fight after school? Only this time they will bring others. And weapons. And nobody is around to stop the fight when one kid is on the ground and ten others are kicking him.
There will be many, many times when you shouldn't put your students first. Go home. Go to sleep. Get a massage. Take a day off. Spend time with your family. Play a video. Ask that teacher next door for a worksheet. Often, what's good for you is good for them. You should do what's good for you. Sometimes what's good for you isn't good for them. Sometimes you should still do it.
There will be a time when that teacher next door has the perfect piece of advice for your current problem but you blow him off because he's that teacher next door.
There will be a time when embarrassing a kid in front of his peers is the best thing you could have ever done for him.
There will be a time when you use stickers and candy and points and extra credit and it will work wonderfully.
There will be a time when you need to kick a kid out. You've got 33 others. Don't make them suffer for the one.
There will be a time when you give up on a kid. You hate it every time but you've got 193 other students that haven't given up and you can only do so much.
There will be a time when you have a student that you love like your own but you need to recommend to the school board that this student be expelled. Because no matter what he means to you, he is a danger to the rest of the students.
There will be a time when you look a student right in the eye and lie to her.
You can't worry about always making the right choice or always making the wrong choice. At best we can deal in probabilities. Often what we think are our best and worst choices were the result of nothing more than chance.
Sometimes you make the choice that you can live with. Sometimes you make the choice that you can't.
Teaching is a human endeavor. It's messy and complicated and the best job in the world. There is no black and white in teaching. Only gray.