Bureaucracy, Politics, and Paperwork
Written by Caroline Johnston // Edited by Chelsea DuDeVoire
It’s seven-fifteen in the morning. I unlock the door, throw my keys on the desk, and for a split second remember sitting in this room as a teenager, lost in a cocktail of naivety and curiosity. The clatter of the keys hitting the faux wood jolts me back into reality.
I have a stack of papers to grade and fifty copies to make by eight.
I wish there were a word to explain the conflicting feelings of landing your dream job, yet constantly feeling frustrated. That’s how life is for me right now. I’m twenty-three and teach college-level European History to high school students at the same school I graduated from just six years ago. I consider myself a historian who happens to be a teacher, though many see me as the opposite. Every day my anxiety, my memories, and my desire to thrive seem to cloud my mind and thwart my actions. Still, I persist. I have something to prove.
My coworkers are so distant – not through any fault, but because of the nature of the job. We all spend our hours with teenagers and rarely with one another. When we do meet up at faculty gatherings, it becomes strikingly clear that we are not the same. They are in their forties and fifties, comfortable, here to stay. I’m new and uncomfortably ambitious. I listen to the music my students listen to and get mistaken for them in the halls. I might last five years here before I go searching for bigger and better challenges. My coworkers are not wrong - we’re just different sorts of people.
When I got here, I realized that many of them saw me as a student. Several of my old teachers-turned-coworkers can’t help but reminisce about having me in their class. I still struggle to call some of my former instructors by their first names. Yet over the last two years, I have earned the respect of my colleagues. The courses I teach carry tremendous weight and everything hinges on test scores. I spent my first year with administrators breathing down my neck and not believing in me, but the tables were turned when my students’ pass rates came back with flying colors. It’s kind of ironic how numbers scare me, yet they legitimized me in the eyes of those who doubted me before. The administrator who hired me went from questioning my every move to becoming a strong believer in me.
Not everyone has been so supportive, though. The term “sexual harassment” brings to mind an episode of Mad Men where a receptionist is incessantly flirted with and petted. I always saw sexual harassment as something that happened to other people, not me. Until it did. It does. It froze me. Day in and day out I receive comments on what I’m wearing (too frumpy, too sexy), and what I’m eating (too healthy, too caloric.) A certain man sometimes even asks me if I’ve "gotten laid lately" as well as to "show some cleavage." While I’ve never capitulated to him, I kind of brush everything off because I’m afraid to bring him to light. He is so beloved by others at the school, I convince myself the problem is me, not him. I wish I could be more courageous.
Sometimes I slip back into high school me. A student will whisper about my clothing or my weight and I will begin to feel hurt. I have to remind myself that we are not on the same level. I cannot be hurt. They are teenagers and I am not. I have to remind my students that we are not friends - we can’t be friends, but that I care about them immensely. The classroom itself is where I seem to thrive. I love my subject, I love my craft, I love my students. There have been times where I’ve changed my students’ lives and they’ve changed mine. I’ve talked students out of self-harm, I’ve had students validate me as an educator. No other job would pay me to rant about how much I love Napoleon. I am an important facet of society. The bureaucracy, the politics, the paperwork, though - that’s what suffocates me.
I need to see myself through the eyes of others. For a second-year teacher, I’m incredibly successful. This job has its trials and its rewards. I wish I could be bolder about some things, or maybe even spend a Saturday doing something other than grading a stack of essays. Yet I always rise to the challenge eventually. I’d like to think I’m proving myself little by little.
If I could go back in time two years to that crossroad, I wouldn’t change the route I took. At the end of the week, I’m exhausted, but at the end of the day, I’ve found something I’m passionate about, and that’s worth every challenge.
Caroline graduated from the University of Florida in 2014 with a degree in Political Science. Currently, she teaches AP European History in Jacksonville, Florida. Her loves include traveling, her puppy, and volunteering in her community. Caroline serves on the public relations committee of the Junior League of Jacksonville, where she lobbies at the state level for women and children’s issues. Her motto? “Work hard, play hard".