Make Me or Break Me: A Poem for First-Year Teachers

martini glass on messy desk with tiny apple instead of an olive

Has anyone told you yet that the first year of teaching will make you or break you? People love repeating this sound bite. It rhymes, it’s clever-and, it’s absolutely terrifying.

Luckily, it’s also not that true. A truer—and more useful—statement is this: Almost all new teachers have days when they think they are being broken.

When teaching is good, it’s really good. But when teaching is hard, it’s really hard.

Whatever lessons beginning teachers learn the hard way, they learn in front of a class full of students. The last thing they need is a cliché that suggests the week before Thanksgiving break will be the final verdict on their teaching career.

My younger sister started teaching three years after I did. During her first year I wrote the poem below, “Make Me or Break Me,” which now appears at the end of the book See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers.

It’s also part of the Disillusionment Power Pack, a free 30-day series of emails meant to help new teachers through their toughest month of the year.

Make Me or Break Me

They say this first year will make me
Or break me.
I guess that’s because it takes me
Eight days to get through a stack of papers
And there are eight more waiting,
And every day I stay at school later
And get less done…
This is NOT fun.
Help me someone!!!

I’m already counting how many more
Mondays until vacation
(There are 12, by the way,
And I’m getting impatient)
Because I spent all last night
On grading and preparation
And I can’t get these kids to just
And take this inspiration.

My temptation to keep driving
Instead of arriving
In the teachers’ parking lot
Is almost as strong
As my fear of what could go wrong
If I don’t pull into this parking spot
And I’m not sure if I can take it…

I’m trying so hard to make it work
The way the movies make it seem.
I’ve been sacrificing so much sleep
I forgot what it feels like to dream.
This isn’t the person I’m used to being
Not the image of me I’m used to seeing

I miss the days when I was a student,
Complaining about teachers to my friends…
This job seemed so easy from the other end.
From here, nothing looks the same,
And you know what’s even more of a shame?
I hear my teachers’ voices
When I yell my students’ names.

And you know that one quiet girl,
In the back,
With the glasses?
I overheard her mom saying
She wants to change classes.

They say this job is rewarding, but lately
I just feel like all my students hate me…
Their papers frustrate me
And I’m going so crazy
No sane person would want to date me.

But I’m here to stay
It takes a lot to break me

And that’s why I say
No matter what it takes me…

This year
Is going to make me.

Sign Up for the Disillusionment Power Pack

Sign Up for the Disillusionment Power Pack

The Disillusionment Power Pack is a free one-month series of emails meant to help teachers through the hardest part of their first year.

It gets better. But until then, these emails should help.