10 challenges teachers face the first week of school

This year marks the beginning of my 10th year as a teacher.  I’ve taught in a large public school, a tiny missionary school, and a medium-size Christian school and have found that no matter the location or school size, there are certain things about teaching will always be the same.  It will always be a truly wonderful profession, one that is fulfilling and fun and has fantastic perks like students who make us laugh every day and a 10 week summer.

But teaching is certainly not without it’s challenges, and during our first days of school last week, I couldn’t help but think about some of the annual transitions we teachers must make every September.  I realize lots of people who work “normal jobs” face these same challenges every day for 50 plus weeks, and you probably have zero sympathy for us as we recover from summer.  But I think my fellow teachers will admit that it’s always a bit of a strain on our bodies and minds as we switch gears and turn back to teacher mode.  That being said, here are a few of those challenges we faced last week.

10 challenges teachers face the first week of school

1. Waking up 

It’s not that we dread the first day of school.  We really don’t.  I mean sure, we spend the last few nights of summer having first day of school nightmares about horrific students and showing up to school without shoes or a prepared syllabus, but for the most part, we are ready and eager to start a new school year.  However, after 10 weeks of getting decent sleep, our bodies revolt against the absurdity of rising before the sun.  There is something just plain unnatural about waking to darkness.  Without any light one might even, hypothetically speaking of course, accidentally step in the pile of cat puke so conveniently left beside the bed as she staggers to the shower.  So yes, just getting started in the morning can be quite the struggle.

2. Dressing like a professional 

We’re fine with wearing pants and blouses, but we still mourn the loss of our summer wardrobe.  Tank tops and  loose fitting shorts with elastic bands are packed away along with our bottles of sunblock and books we read for fun.  Gone are the days when we could wear the same outfit 4 days in a row and shower only on occasion.  Now we have to actually think about what we’ll wear and can’t go to school with our summer hairstyle because kids pay way too close attention to our outfits and will comment on oily hair.  They will definitely notice if we wear the same shirt too often and several will even tell us if we look like a “hot mess.”

I fear what my students will remember about me because 15 years after being in high school, I can still picture my typing teacher’s low bun, Ms. Gorginsky’s khaki pant suit, and my biology teacher’s frog necklace that she sported way too often.  It’s a lot of pressure in the morning knowing that critical teenage girls will be scrutinizing my every wardrobe choice.  And it’s a bit disappointing to realize that some students won’t remember a thing I teach them about World History, but 20 years from now, they’ll still picture the black maxi skirt I wear once a week because it feels like I’m in sweatpants.

3. Commuting to work

After 10 weeks of mornings with our families around the breakfast table, we say goodbye to pancakes and hello to bananas and pop tarts that we eat as we rush out the door to rejoin the rest of the working world on the busy streets and crowded freeways.  Being late is not an option when you’re a teacher.  Everyone knows about the infamous “5 minute rule” and if there is more traffic than usual, you will end up with 25 teenagers on the verge of mutiny.  Plus, the principal won’t care if there was an accident on the freeway and he might even be waiting to scold you in the parking lot.  (Not that I’ve ever had that happen.)

4. Pretending to remember kids’ names

Yes, we had you in class last year and used your name roughly 317 times, but somewhere around mid-July, your name became a distant memory.  When we have you in class again, we recognize  your face and know we should remember your name, but our memories just aren’t what they used to be.  We’ll still be genuinely excited to see you, but you’ll probably receive a long, “He-ey” as we make a mental note to scan the class list before the next period and memorize names of returning students.

5. Calling roll

This is fairly easy at Valley Christian since there are so many white kids with so many white names.

Kyle, Matt, John? Got it.

Haley, Sarah, Hannah?  Piece of cake.

But we also have several International students and a few parents who decided to give their child a uniquely spelled name just to mess with us.  We struggle through it, hopefully not quite as poorly as THIS GUY, knowing that we’ll probably forget your name again next summer. (Teachers, you really need to watch that video.)

6. Talking all day

We knew we’d be talking a lot when we chose our profession, but five hours of non-stop talk is hard on the vocal cords after a 10-week break.  If you’re like me, you spent many of those days sitting by a body of water with your nose in a book, speaking as many words all day as you will during the first 20 minutes of first period.  So don’t be surprised if we’re constantly clearing our throats, chugging water and caffeine, and sound like Joan Rivers by the end of fifth period.

7. Re-training the bladder

We chug the water to clear the phlegm but now we’re left with full bladders that have grown accustomed to being emptied whenever needed.  Quite abruptly these bladders are placed on a strict schedule determined by bells and breaks, and making this adjustment the first week is nothing less than painful.  If we look anxious for the bell to ring right before break, it’s because we know there is about to be a race to the faculty bathroom.  And if we aren’t at least third in that line, we may have to hold it for two more very long hours.

Plus, we have to pray that we make it in there before So-n-so blows up the stall yet again because all the air freshener in the world cannot mask that stench.  We also are dealing with a few colleagues that still don’t follow the POO ETIQUETTE, even though I posted that list of guidelines in the stall last year.

8. Eating lunch like the Tasmanian Devil

Eating a meal in under 15 minutes always takes a little getting used to.  By the time we’re done answering questions and using the toilet, we’d better hustle to the teacher’s lounge in order to microwave our leftovers or scarf down our bagged lunch.  And if we forgot a lunch, because after 9 years of teaching this still happens all the time, we’ll have to skedaddle over to the cafeteria lines to purchase some lukewarm pizza which we’ll have to wolf down in about 7 minutes.  Oh the days when we could linger in front of the refrigerator or hop on over to Chipotle whenever our hearts desired.

9. Being patient with the first day glitches

The glitches always come.  Things don’t go as planned and we’re forced to roll with the punches.  The glitches come during the summer too, but in August we don’t have 25 teenagers studying our every move.  In August we can scream and swear and act like toddlers when life throws a curveball, but come September we’d better get our act together and go back to pretending that nothing phases us.  We might be screaming inside and want to pull our hair out or slap you in the face, but you would never guess it based on the smiles plastered on our faces.

10. Making a good first impression

Some teachers say you shouldn’t smile till November so the kids won’t try to pull any crap with you.  I strongly disagree with this tactic- unless you want the kids to think you’re a total jerk and write mean things about you on the Internet.  I don’t need to be their friends, but I have found that I can win their respect by being kind and patient with them.  However, if I have a brain fart on the first day and accidentally spell “gnome” with a silent “k” instead of a “g”,  I’ll be forced to spend the rest of the semester trying to win back credibility and convince them that I’m not a total idiot.  Hypothetically speaking.

Teachers, what do you think?  Do you agree with these challenges?  Did I miss any?  Which ones do you find most difficult?


13 thoughts on “10 challenges teachers face the first week of school

    1. katiehardeman Post author

      Haha! Good eye! Ironically, I think you might have been the one to pick out that mug in the thrift store in CO before our crafting extravaganza in Estes Park. My crafting skills are pretty terrible so I simply wrote “Iron Well 2012″ on the mug which now holds binder clips:)

  1. Gina cortes

    Totally agree with your list! Retraining the bladder can be challenging. I would really like you to repost the POO ETIQUETTE because people have forgotten. And waking up when it’s still dark…UHG

    1. katiehardeman Post author

      Ha! I once complained to a friend about having to turn on the light in the morning and she still makes fun of me for it. But seriously, that should never be necessary:)

  2. Teresa

    I love the list, it’s all so true. I would add sore feet though. I’m also curious who “so and so” blowing up in the bathroom is…. (The toilet in the bathroom by your room flushes better, but I don’t think it’s me… :):))

    1. katiehardeman Post author

      I sit on my stool so often that my feet don’t get sore:) The culprit is totally Sheri. Kidding. Or am I?

    1. katiehardeman Post author

      I love your avatar! She’s got glasses like yours and is always saying inappropriate comments:)

  3. Terri Turner

    Good list, Katie! With me, it seems to be first month glitches, plus breaking in two new secretaries. We started August 23, and I think our math workbooks might be given to us tomorrow. They finally arrived today! It has been nice just playing games for math, and fortunately, our curriculum has a game for each lesson. Another challenge this year is the new curriculum for my 3 transitional kindergarten students that I need to address as I still teach my regular kindergarten students. Just this morning, I was thinking, “it’s still dark and I need to get up.” Fortunately, there is no cat spit up, only a dog bone to stumble over on my way to the shower.


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