Topic 2: Echo Chamber
On the first day of my teaching career, the echo chamber in my mind seemed louder than usual. I’m not even sure whose voice I heard first. All the voices were pounding into my brain to a point, where the anxiety I was feeling was causing me to panic so much that I couldn’t function.
As I stood in my classroom, eyeing it, and remembering all the time I had spent over the last two weeks since I moved to Texas decorating it and trying to make it pretty. I had posted pictures of it from every angle and posted them on my Facebook because I wanted to show all the voices that they were wrong. From the star bulletin board borders to the gigantic golden stars that I had painstakingly written the classroom rules on in my best handwriting to each of the individual name labels I had placed at each table, I was proud of my classroom.
But as I stood by the pencil sharpener, sharpening all of the pencils for each table, I began to question my career choice for the thousandth time. The voices didn’t help. How was I supposed to teach thirty first grade students? How was I supposed to keep those students engaged for eight hours every single day? What the hell am I doing becoming a teacher?
Maybe they were all right. The voices first started during freshman year of college. I wasn’t prepared for college. I really wanted to take a year off and find myself. I wasn’t mature enough for college. My birthday was late September, I wouldn’t even turn 18 until I was in college. I had just barely made the cut-off for kindergarten back in elementary school. I was so much more immature than almost everyone else in my grade, and even though I scraped by high school, even I knew that I wasn’t meant for college, just yet. I had begged and begged my parents to let me take courses at the community college and get a job working with children while I found myself. Unfortunately, to my very education-oriented family, community college was an embarrassment, and if I went to community college and didn’t go to a four-year college right away, I would NEVER go to college and embarrass them even more.
Being as socially awkward as I was and still am, due to horrible bullying in high school [and this was before social media, I couldn’t imagine my high school life is we had had Facebook or Instagram or anything like that], I wasn’t good at making friends. I gravitated towards people, who didn’t have many friends like me figuring they weren’t that picky. I spent the entire first two weeks of college watching video tapes in my room and making Ramen noodles in a coffee pot. I met my first two-supposed friends during my 8 am art history class, two weeks into the semester, when I still bothered to wake up for my 8 am class. They were two boys, Scotty and Mikey, who lived in my dorm.
After Scotty and Mikey, I met Kat in intro to anthropology [a class with a professor, who insisted we call him Bill, and bragged about his time as a graduate student doing research on the Sikaiana Islands, where all the local ladies fell in love with him because he had a hairy chest. I’ll never forget Bill, even if all Kat and I did was write notes to each other instead of taking notes on the classroom material, though it was usually Bill bragging about his romantic life]. After Kat, Juliann was added to our group because Mikey remembered her from Freshman orientation and was in love with her. Our group of five got along great, but eventually it branched out even further and started to include Tom, who lived next door to Mikey, Dennis, Tom’s roommate, who had the worst acne I’ve ever seen and thought he was the shit because he could drink and hold his liquor like a frat boy. Lauren, Scotty’s ex-girlfriend, whom he had met on AOL, who just so happened to wind up at the same college as he did, joined in, followed by Amanda, who started dating Scotty even though Scotty was sort of dating Kat at the same time.
As our group got bigger, drama started, as it usually does. For me, the drama started with my mother. My mother was addicted to drugs. It started during the winter of my senior year of high school. She slipped on some ice, when she was racing our garage door. She got knee surgery, and a prescription to opioids. To sum up a long story, she got addicted to opioids, and around the time I started college, she was abusive to me, mentally, psychologically, and physically. I didn’t really know how to deal with the abuse, as well as my stress from being a freshman at college, when I wasn’t ready to be in college, and started drinking, robo-tripping, and smoking weed whenever I could get it. Robo-tripping was the easiest to accomplish in college because all I had to do was drive to the 24-hour Walmart in Reading, PA and buy cough syrup.
That was when the first voice started. It was winter break during my freshman year of college, and in-between trying to beat Final Fantasy IX on PlayStation, and sending AIM messages to my friends until the wee hours of the night, Kat confessed something to me. She had started to act awkward around me like she wanted to tell me something but was afraid to tell me something. However, Kat was never good at keeping secrets, so eventually she fessed up and told me that my so-called friends, mainly Scotty, Dennis, and Tom had been talking shit about me at the end of the semester when she had been hanging in their room. She said that they said that I was never going to graduate college. I was going to “end up on the streets, selling my body for drugs and booze.”
The second voice was my brother’s voice. My brother was always the golden child. He got perfect grades, had a genius IQ, was captain of three sports teams in high school, got a full scholarship in engineering at Georgia Tech, and was on the crew team. My parent’s favorite subject was to go off about how wonderfully successful my brother would be, and it was like they didn’t have a daughter.
My brother liked to tell everyone how his sister was a slut. That was how he introduced me. “Meet my sister, the slut” even though I’m pretty sure he’s slept with so many more girls than I have guys. The second thing he liked to tell people was how I had no future. How I barely graduated college and was going to live at home mooching off my parent’s money for the rest of my life. The third thing he liked to tell people was how I was going to end up alone because no guy was ever going to fall in love with a loser like me.
I wish I could say that my brother has changed, but he really hasn’t. He got married last month, and while he was in the grooms room getting ready, he was extremely drunk on bourbon and started ranting to my husband about how surprised he was that I actually had a job and house and found somebody to fall in love with me because our family had been pretty sure I had no future.
The voices got a little bit quieter about a year after I graduated college, and my brother had extended his stay at Georgia Tech and was renting an apartment there and decided to stay on for a few more years to get his graduate degree in quantitative and qualitative finance.
I finally had a job. I was a teacher’s aide in a local school district. This meant several hours out of the house and away from the echoes of failure I always heard from my family when I was at home. I worked in an autistic PreK class, and I absolutely loved everything about. The classroom teacher I worked with, Liz, was amazing, and the other TAS: Marie, Joanne, and Kiki all became close friends. They constantly flooded me with praise, and their praise made the voices shut up. It was after spending two years working in that class that I decided to become a special ed teacher.
Going back to school was hard. All I could think of was that my friends from my ex-college were right. I’d never do anything with my life, being good at my job was just a fluke, and I had no future except for a future of prostitution and failure. The first day of classes, I didn’t even want to say anything. I was afraid I would say something wrong, and they’d be right, I didn’t belong in college. I was too stupid to ever be successful in college considering I barely graduated the first time.
Surprisingly, the voices quieted in college. I had a professor, Dr. Marshall, who made it very clear from the first day of his class that anyone who didn’t participate in his classroom discussions would fail his class. I didn’t want to be a failure. I didn’t want to prove Scotty, Dennis, and Tom right.
I ended up being one of the best students in my major. I was constantly showered with praise, and the praise shut the voices up. To this day, I still credit Dr. Marshall with teaching me that the voices were wrong. I’m not stupid and I’m not a failure. I can do things. Dr. Marshall and I keep in touch. He was a guest at my wedding, and we exchange holiday cards every year. If I’m ever in New Jersey, I try to stop my old university, where he’s now the philosophy chair and say hi.
I wish the voices stopped then, but they didn’t. The third voice I heard was a cacophony of the special ed teacher, whose class I did my student-teaching with, and the disapproving voice of my supervisor from the university. I excelled in teaching courses. By the time I got to student teaching, I almost had a 4.0 and everyone had high hopes for me. But my student teaching placement changed everything. My supervising teacher was a miserable bitch, who constantly frittered on about how she only had about three years until she could finally retire. She treated the kids like they were robots without personalities, which was so different from how Liz had treated her students. When I had my observation, she wrote the entire lesson plan telling me it had to be this way, and she didn’t want any of my input. My observation went horribly, and when my supervisor asked my supervising teacher why it was so bad, the teacher went on about how I refused her help and just did my own thing without cooperating with her because she didn’t want to look bad. The next week, I found myself in a committee meeting with the Dean of Special Education, my supervisor, and my advisor asking me if teaching was really what I was meant to do and threatening to fail me in student teaching, if my scores didn’t get better. Meanwhile, I had to continue to be in this woman’s class, listening to her rant on and on about how I was the worst student teacher she’s ever had in how ever many years she had been teaching. She also criticized my hair, my clothes, and everything about me and told me it wasn’t good enough. I passed student teaching by the skin of my teeth.
I met Justin shortly after I graduated. We did the long-distance thing for about two years, and then I accepted a teaching position in Texas and moved here. Between meeting Justin and saving up enough money to move, I got a job as a TA in a middle school Lifeskills class, and once again the voices quieted, and I excelled at what I was doing. When I accepted my job as a first-grade teacher, I was so excited to finally start my career. Sure, it was a strange and rocky road to get there, but I was finally there.
I wish I could say the voices ended there and I had a happy ending, but I didn’t. During that first year of teaching, I was horribly bullied by my principal. I don’t know why he didn’t like me. Sure, he wasn’t the one who had hired me. I had been hired by the previous principal, who wrote an email about two weeks after I had been hired, that she was transferring to a better district. He sat in my room almost every day and would call me to his office at the end of the day to tell me what a horrible job I did. When I got my first observation, I got straight 1’s, which was the worst score you could get and was put on an improvement plan. He told me I picked the wrong career and it would be better for everyone if I just quit teaching. He would follow me around the school and corner me after going to the bathroom to tell me I sucked. He would yell at me over things he didn’t yell at the other teachers about. Like once we had a field trip, and I wore jeans because the field trip was going to a farm and it had been rainy, and it was bound to be muddy. He stopped me in the hallway to tell me I was violating dress code even though all the other teachers were wearing jeans too. He changed my position every year. The first year I taught first grade math and science, the second I taught PreK, the third I taught Lifeskills, and the fourth year I started co-teaching, which I hated, only to be transferred back to first grade at the end of the year because a teacher quit.
I stopped sleeping. I would try to fall asleep, but the anxiety would keep me up. Every night, when I was trying to sleep, all I heard was the echoes of his voice telling me what a shitty teacher I was. So why didn’t I transfer, you ask? Oh, believe me, I tried. I even got as far as being hired by a different district, but to make the transfer official, the district had to call him to ask about my teaching, and he told them I was horrible teacher and probably one of the worst teachers in his school, and they never contacted me again.
I stopped going to the bathroom during the day because I was afraid, he’d corner me and harass me again. I would come to school extra early and stay until almost night fall because I didn’t want him to stop me when I was arriving or leaving school. He wrote me up during my wedding because apparently getting married wasn’t a good enough reason to miss two days of school before spring break. I started having panic attacks walking through the school because I was afraid, he was hiding in the corners and trying to find me.
Eventually, I escaped. I finally got a job teaching special ed PreK, which is what I had always wanted at the school I teach at now. I don’t know why he finally let me escape, I think it’s because I threatened to alert TEA about all the violations he was making to the law when it came to the SPED students he decided to randomly put into general ed classes even if they weren’t ready for it, dissolving all self-contained special ed classes.
Jobwise, I’m in a good place now. I have the job I always wanted and went to. I’ve gotten two years of the highest possible teacher ratings you can get within the district. I love my kiddos, who are special needs students from ages 3 to 6, and my brain is a lot happier now, but it’s not perfect.
The psychological damage is still there. Even though I know my current principal likes me, it doesn’t stop me from having an anxiety attack when she calls me to her office because the words from my ex-principal echo throughout my brain and I’m afraid she’s going to tell me what an awful teacher I am. Other teacher are friendly to me, but whenever I see them talking to each other at lunch or during recess, my brain things that they’re talking about me and saying things like “She’s the worst teacher in the school and we don’t know why she has a job” like my brother used to tell me or my so-called friends used to think of me. Every time I get observed, I always think my supervisor and supervising teacher from student teaching are right and I can’t write a proper lesson plan or teach a whole or small group lesson. Whenever I see admin, or other teachers walking in the hallway, I panic. Sometimes I’ll even change the direction I’m walking because I don’t want to cross paths with them because I’m afraid they’ll corner me and say something like my ex principal did.
For the rest of my life, I’m pretty sure the echoes of anxiety will forever haunt me and repeat themselves, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever find anyway to escape the echo chamber.