Advice from a Therapist: It’s Not You

I never had problems with my mental health until I became a middle school teacher. I majored in education, but I never had desires to be a public school teacher. Ironically, I began my teaching career because it seemed like the easy way out. It was easy to find teaching jobs and get interviews. Teaching felt secure. Little did I know what I was getting into.

I applied for several jobs. My dream job would have been a high school photography teacher, but there were no openings for that in the area. I interviewed with several middle schools. I decided to sign with the school I did because I liked the faculty, the commute wasn’t too bad, and I was told I could teach photography the next year. I was scheduled to teach 4 different classes across 3 different grade levels. I would be teaching various engineering elective classes. Then principal called me a month before school started and asked if I could teach a fifth class, keyboarding. I naively agreed. They say if you can teach middle school, you can teach anything. I accepted the challenge.

So I start my first year of teaching. Honestly, it didn’t even take a month before I started experiencing waves of anxiety and depression. College and student teaching did not prepare me for the profession. During my student teaching, I never had to contact parents, I never had to prepare for more than 2 classes, I never had to be on a committee, I never had to advertise for my classes for the next year, I never had to purchase supplies, etc. In short, it was a reality shock. At the time, I was dating my future husband, so I kept telling myself I’ll get married and plan all summer and then I’ll be fine for next year. Except my principal told me the photo class didn’t carry and summer was terrible because I would have nightmares about teaching, which paralyzed me from planning. I got some things done, but not nearly as much as I was hoping.

Now I’m in the midst of my second year of teaching. I keep pretending to like my job, but the depression has only gotten worse. I started seeing a therapist. Coincidentally, this therapist taught 6th grade for 3.5 years and then quit because he couldn’t handle it. He went to grad school and became a therapist. More importantly, he became happier. I met with him for ten minutes the other day, and his advice was: “It’s not you.”

Teaching is rough. There are so many unrealistic expectations, and it’s impossible to fulfill them all. So I just have to keep telling myself, “it’s not you.” Because I’m doing my best. To those new teachers struggling with anxiety and depression: It’s not you. You’ll never make it through if you take it too personally. Learn to laugh at yourself, take time for yourself, and leave school at school. You can do it!

By | 2017-12-13T02:29:16+00:00 December 4th, 2017|Life, Slider, Teaching|5 Comments


  1. Maryn December 4, 2017 at 6:20 pm - Reply

    Mega props for your transparency! I’m slightly terrified to teach (not because of your post)… so I really appreciate your honesty about how tough it is. Love you! You got this!

    • Michelle Harris December 4, 2017 at 7:36 pm - Reply

      Thanks! Yeah it has been an interesting journey because there are definitely parts that I love about teaching, and I wanted to try it for sure, but it is so stressful! They also say the first three years are the hardest, so I’m trying to decide whether to stick it out or call it quits.

  2. Louise Hiatt December 4, 2017 at 11:58 pm - Reply

    Thanks. I needed this today. I absolutely love teaching middle school but I had to get to the point where I realized I could only do so much. It’s like the saying you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink! I need to remind myself of that again and again and again. It isn’t my responsibility to do the work for them so that they pass. It is my responsibility to give them all the tools they need.

    Teaching in China has added a whole other layer! Now, there is a communication barrier between different languages not just between different ages! Yesterday was a rough day but — I didn’t lose my patience so I am calling it a good day.

    • Michelle Harris December 5, 2017 at 1:55 am - Reply

      I can only imagine adding another language to the mix! It truly amazes me that there are people like you in this world who have stuck through this career and keep teaching year after year! I love hearing your updates 🙂

  3. Tanya December 7, 2017 at 6:59 am - Reply

    I used to substitute teach, and middle school was the hardest. I feel for you. It’s true. So much of what gets you down is not you. Don’t let the @#$*s get you down! And thank you for being a teacher. We need people like you 🙂

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