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  • David Sipos & Masha Pavlova

“Maybe This Isn’t for Me”: Walls Teachers Recall Steep Learning Curve

In his first weeks as a teacher, Walls math teacher Gabriel Webster considered quitting. Teaching is difficult for everyone, but particularly for those new to the profession. Several teachers expressed how difficult teaching was in their early years. Walls has many veteran teachers, all of whom have persevered through initial doubts and emerged with a renewed love for teaching. 

“I wasn’t that good of a teacher yet … the first couple weeks I had thoughts of quitting,” said Mr. Webster. “I wasn’t sure if I’d become a good teacher, the right person for the job,” he explained. 

Mr. Webster was able to adjust to teaching after a few weeks. But for fellow Walls math teacher Carole Philip, it took years. “I was this rookie teacher and I thought ‘okay, maybe this isn’t for me,’” she said. “I came back the next year and I thought ‘okay, let me try it one more time.’ And it took me 5 years to decide that I really really wanted to be a teacher but from that point forward I never regretted it.” Today, Ms. Philip is in her 37th year of teaching, her fifth at Walls. 

Physics teacher Harrison Davis is in his fourth year of teaching, having started the career at Walls right out of college. He said that many days can be “overwhelming,” explaining that often “there’s not enough time to do all of the things I need to do during a regular day and if I want to stay ahead, I need to work outside of school. And I don’t want to do that because I have a life to live.” Mr. Davis said that “when I started, I heard from pretty much everyone I knew who’s a teacher that the first several years would be very stressful,” just as Ms. Philip experienced. Thinking about adjusting to teaching, Mr. Davis said, “it takes a little bit to really figure out a routine and figure out ‘does this work for me?’ I think I’m still in that period.”

Music teacher Chris Alberts has similarly experienced rough patches throughout more than 20 years as a teacher, recalling “moments where I questioned if I should continue.” But he said that “what kept me going was the belief that music education is transformative, and I could make a positive impact on my students' lives. The support of my students, their enthusiasm for learning, helped me persevere through challenging times.” 

Mr. Webster’s passion for teaching math has likewise kept him in the teaching profession. “I think that it’s a very neat thing to know, and I want to help other people experience and feel that, and to benefit from it,” he said, attributing his sixth year at Walls to this fact, and adding “that’s why I come back every year.”

Mr. Davis recognized that difficulties often come only periodically. After a difficult stretch, “you sort of come out the other end, and you’re like ‘oh, actually, things are not that bad… those periods pass and you kind of return to normal.’” He added that finding a distraction from rough times has helped: “when I’ve felt very overwhelmed with school, playing volleyball has been very helpful.”

Despite its challenges, Ms. Philip has not once found teaching students boring or tedious. “I like to see growth and I still like it. Somebody said to me the other day ‘well, you can retire,’ and I was like “What?! Retire? What am I going to do?” I still love teaching,” she said. Through long days and tiresome requirements like standardized MAP testing, Ms. Philip has remained focused on teaching students.

For the thousands of new teachers who struggle to start their first year — many of whom may be Walls alumni like Mr. Davis in 2020 — Walls teachers know the feeling of being in a sink or swim environment. Unlike many graduated office jobs, “in teaching, what you’re expected to do starts on day one,” Mr. Webster said, but added “that’s what’s cool about it.” Recalling his initial doubts, Mr. Webster would tell his inexperienced younger self,  “Stick with it, you’re going to be a good teacher someday.” 

In Mr. Davis’ first year, he often sought suggestions from fellow teachers, which he found helpful. Now, he’d suggest to himself to not attempt to “reinvent the wheel” in teaching practices and to “avoid… perfectionism.”

“If I could speak to my younger self starting at Walls, I would say: Embrace change and growth. Teaching is not a static profession, and you'll constantly evolve as an educator,” Mr. Alberts said. He added, “don't be too hard on yourself” and, “most importantly, cherish the connections you build with your students, as those relationships are at the heart of teaching and will endure for years to come.

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