If At First You Don’t Succeed…Duck Into A Supply Closet to Cry

(That’s how that saying goes, right?)

Yesterday, while tooting my own horn (It’s true!), I asked you what you might like to read about in the coming days. Because Mrs. Mimi’s brain is tired. In the coming days, I will try my best to honor your requests for more advice, stories of Zen, stories of resounding failures and interesting debates (Which are really just me ripping up someone who had the balls to put something in the newspaper from the comfort of my own laptop). However, today, I thought I would start by balancing out yesterday’s I-am-amazing fest with a little tale of failures past.

Now I have blogged plenty about OTHER PEOPLE letting the ball drop (let’s see…here, here, here and here just to name a few), but rarely do I blog about Mrs. Mimi not being in total control. I guess I think about that like I think about leaving my house wearing head to toe denim. I just don’t do that. And while I still am unable to see the point or value in wearing head to toe denim, I do see the point and the value in sharing our little failures with one another. Because I am no Michelle Pfeiffer a la Dangerous Minds (I also have trouble with head to toe leather) and I am certainly not perfect. (Although I think I have Mr. Mimi pretty well fooled.)

This gem comes from my first year of teaching. I was at a charter school…a charter school that was going down in flames and from which I fled as fast as I could. (Cut to me in the office of my former school, slamming my resume down on the island in the office, asking to speak to the principal and perhaps, crying a little. It had been a rough day.)

I was thrust into my first classroom in January. I had been co-teaching/subbing in the building during the fall while I finished up my master’s degree. One of the second grade teachers had seen the writing on the wall, and quit before the school totally broke her spirit (and maybe her lip….her class had some tough kids). Fresh from my I-have-a-master’s high, I took over for her, thinking it would be hard, but knowing that I was ready to work harder, to take on the challenge, to master my craft, to TEACH.


I have so many tragic stories from that year. I’m sure they’ll call come out in due time. There are far too many to put together here (read: not enough cocktails….or mocktails…or therapists…in the world to get me to be able to pour it out all at once.) But…

Picture it. A basement classroom with NO WINDOWS TO THE OUTSIDE. NO. WINDOWS. The only source of ventilation is the giant hole in the ceiling from which I suspect there was a steady stream of asbestos raining down. A young teacher stands in front of her 28 students explaining her latest attempt to get them to like learning.

The art project.

For me, arts ‘n farts has always been a time of Zen. I LOVE coordinating projects for kids. I spent many, many, MANY summers running arts based day camps for small children and thought I had this one in the bag. SLAM DUNK!

Uh, no.

Within seconds, my plan to create a whole class mural where we would just all get along and love one another in the spirit of team work, had been shot to shit. The floor was covered in heaps of scrap paper. I mean, how does it pile up like that so fast and seem to just…multiply? Children ran around their desks in circles – some clutching scissors, some wielding paint brushes, some just screaming. You know, just because. JUST BECAUSE THEY WANT TO MAKE ME CRAZY!

When I look back on the chaos (and shudder….or reach for a sedative, whatevs), I realize that I had failed to set up rules in regards to the proper use and clean up of art supplies. I had failed to model their use. I had failed to ration them out slowly over time. Or talk about how we move about the classroom. Or how to share. Or how not to run around screaming like someone with in-patient status. My bad.

As I watched the insanity unfold in front of me, I was suddenly no longer able to bark orders, try the Teacher Clappy Thing to Get Your Attention, or really speak at all. It was almost like I floated up above the classroom – very out of body, very get me the hell out of here. Has that ever happened to you? Where you know you have totally lost control and you have no idea how to get it back and so you just kind of watch it all unfold? If you haven’t, good for you. If you have, I’m sorry. Or maybe I’m not. I think we can learn a lot by those spectacular failures.

Honestly, I have blacked out the rest. Totally blacked it out. I have no idea how I managed to pull everyone back together – or really if I was even able to. Maybe they all donned war paint, selected a leader and ran out of the building clutching scissors and paint brushes. I’m not sure I want to know. What I DO remember, however, is crawling into my closet YES INTO MY CLOSET at the end of the day and sobbing. And then I cleaned up, set up and came back the next day because first year teachers are suckers for punishment.

So there it is, friends. Mrs. Mimi going down in flames.

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  • It is amazing just how awful the first year can be. My very first DAY in my own classroom ended with my filling out a POLICE REPORT because of the fight that happened in my class during last period.
    It was awful.
    (And I didn't have windows, either.)

    January 19, 2010 at 3:48 pm
  • I went home in tears after my first day (also mid year in a windowless room – what is it with first year teachers and no windows?) My husband thought it was the end of me teaching. I cried for a while then dried it up and marched us to the teacher store to get ready for my new discipline routine the next day. Ten years later and I'm still teaching!

    January 19, 2010 at 7:00 pm
  • Speaking of ducking into closets to cry….I read your WONDERFUL book yesterday (yes, in ONE sitting – I loved it that much). I was inspired and rejuvenated to return to my PreK class in the "ghetto" where I usually love to spend time with "most" students (as you understand). NEVER in all my years of teaching have I experienced a severe "poo" incident until THIS morning – after reading your book and the poo story. Ironic. Thus my day begins horribly – not so much due to the "poo" but the drama of the parent. Crazy. The parent actually caused other students to cry when she was able to dodge the office staff and come to my room yelling and slamming doors. Quite the morning. As for the rest of the day – we are simply getting through it after a discussion of how people sometimes get angry and don't always handle their anger in the appropriate manner – even adults. But (insert pat on the back here), I handled this mother like a pro and came through with the kudos of the office staff, my colleagues and my principal. Anyway – thought I'd share b/c it nearly felt like a chapter out of your book unfolding right before my very eyes! Thanks for helping me keep things in perspective.

    January 19, 2010 at 7:00 pm
  • I am SO in the middle of that hell right now – minus the crying, though. I work in Denmark, so our working conditions aren't really the same, but I had one of those periods where you just stand there and let things unfold because no other options come to you. It SUCKS!

    January 19, 2010 at 7:00 pm
  • Priceless. You've got a great series going. I'm feeling these January posts!

    January 19, 2010 at 9:44 pm
  • My damn school LOCKS the supply closets… not a good thing for so many reasons.

    January 19, 2010 at 10:53 pm
  • take 2 on leaving a comment so sorry if it comes up twice. Just wanted to say it's a right of passage to cry a lot your first year teaching. Though I couldn't cry in my closet because it was too messy and I didn't have a chance to seriously clean it until year 2 haha

    January 20, 2010 at 2:10 am
  • Haha, that made me laugh.
    Sad thing though- my closet is WAY too messy for me to go inside and cry. However, I think it's a right of passage to cry a LOT your first year teaching. I sure did. Just not in the closet haha

    January 20, 2010 at 2:10 am
  • I too was a first year teacher in a windowless classroom. In my 2nd year I moved to a new classroom, also windowless. In my current and 3rd year I am in the same room, so I have never taught with windows. Weird and creepy? Yes.

    Our school building was orginially an orphanage run by the Catholic church, and there are rumors that the buildings are haunted. (We also have tunnels between all the buildings.) Later it was turned into a YWCA and my room used to be a raquetball court. (My light switch is in the hall.)

    January 20, 2010 at 2:10 am
  • I have totally had the out of body and OUT OF CONTROL experience. It happened and I moved on, reflected on it, and become the most awesome teacher ever. Riiight. =)

    January 20, 2010 at 2:10 am
  • My first year teaching I was a late-start replacement for the (a) the original science teacher who was a meth-head/under investigation for murder/used to take the kids (7th and 8th graders) to the mall, followed by (b) her long-term sub who was a stay-at-home-wife-without-any-college of an administrator who "wanted to pick up some extra cash" (my principal's words exactly). My first couple weeks trying to impose order on those classes are still a blur of teach-cry-teach-cry. I have no idea how I got through it!

    January 20, 2010 at 2:10 am
  • I am so glad I'm not the only one! I had a couple of those days during my internship (you know those days when everything falls apart, during an observation) and I had one subbing just last Friday (minus the crying in the closet part). The nice thing about subbing though, is you know that tomorrow's going to be different. I imagine if I knew I'd have the same kiddos, same classroom, same chaos the next day I'd likely crawl into a closet (or maybe run around the table myself with scissors just so I could become an "in-patient" and get away from the real chaos!)

    Actually, any advice about these…I've total lost them days? Mrs. Mimi, please give us a "how to get them back when you've lost them" post!

    January 20, 2010 at 2:10 am
  • I was conned by having a great first year. Sucker!

    January 20, 2010 at 2:10 am
  • I just found your blog recently. It's amazing, it's wonderful, it's fantastic. If I would have found this last year during my first year of teaching I think I would have spent less time crying in my closet at the end of the day. I had a typical first year…stressful, scary, upsetting and I thought there was something wrong with me until I read your blog. All of my colleagues pretend every moment is perfect in their classroom, but now I know the craziness I felt (still feel) is completely normal). THANK YOU 100x over.

    January 20, 2010 at 12:37 pm
  • So funny…so easy to relate to…another slam dunk…you just get better and better….

    January 20, 2010 at 12:37 pm
  • During my student teaching experience from hell, I once managed to drive to my mother's workplace before entirely losing my sh**, which involved "grown up" me climbing into my mother's lap and sobbing for half an hour. Yikes.

    January 20, 2010 at 12:37 pm
  • On my first day of teaching, I had a student go #2 in their pants. A fifth grader. What to do in that situation was not in the teacher's manual!

    January 20, 2010 at 2:08 pm
  • My "out of control" experience was after 15 years of successful teaching. I had experience in grades Kg through 4 and then walked into a 6th grade classroom.

    I lasted one year in 6th grade, with the help of colleagues, therapy and some very important medications. Now I'm back working with younger children and life is good!

    We all have our strengths…and teaching middle school aged students is NOT mine!

    January 20, 2010 at 2:08 pm
  • Your entry totally helped and comforted my fragile new teacher heart. I just graduated with my Bachelors in Art Ed. last December and until I find a perm. position- I've been subbing a lot which has given me a lot of classroom experience! More than I could ever ask for. However, since I've started in any teaching field experience, today was the first time where I had to take breath, go into the art supply closet and stare at different glittery things and found junk, in which I had a slight break down and asked myself, 'WHY won't these students shut up?!" And I cried. So, after today, I thought I'd try to find some solace on the interweb in regards to this "crying" being a normal happening. Thank you for consoling me. It was helpful to hear about your experience. Normally, I'm able to step back, reflect, breathe and then divide/conquer. Today was not the case. Teaching revolves around constant growth and learning experiences, and today just added to it a part of these learning scheme. Reading your entry makes me now more aware that I am not the only person who goes through bouts of loosing control/out of body experiences.
    Thanks again. <3

    March 4, 2010 at 2:29 am

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