I have horrible memories of February 1997 - or rather, I have suppressed most of this era to the deep recesses of my inaccessible long-term memory, right alongside the times Chris Jobert secretly stole my math homework in third grade.*
* I got a C- in math that year, and was shamed for irresponsibility. One day I even discovered the homework ripped up in the bottom of the garbage can by Jobert's desk - and I remember thinking, "When did I rip up my homework? Why did I do that? I'm in so much trouble..." Things turned out okay: I ended up with a degree in physics, and Chris ended up with an arrest record. Suppression time again. Toot toot, here comes the happy train!
What was so awful about February 1997? It was the depths of winter in Chicago during my first year teaching. I had been (figuratively) beaten down for six months, with end of the school year not yet close enough to fathom, and in an inextricable downward spiral in relationships with my students and my colleagues. Parents had complained about me so much that the school brought in a special mentor just for me - never mind that my middle-aged, "experienced" co-teacher needed mentoring or a good kick out the door far more than I did. Students had been as successful in their smear campaign against me as Russian trolls were with Hillary Clinton - colleagues and administrators believed whatever negative things students said about me, no matter how outrageous, no matter how untrue. My principal (who somehow, unfathomably, still has a job) once even sat by silently and allowed a parent to berate me for 45 minutes about claims that were exaggerated, spun negatively, or simply false.
I've said before - I really don't know why I stayed in this profession.
I'll bet this sounds familiar to you. Everyone was a first year teacher; some of you are right now. I hear versions of this story so, so often in my workshops, in conversations in the physics lounge. You feel like you stink at this. Teachers and administrators offer condescending, unsolicited, and out-of-touch advice; the colleagues you observe seem to be holding classes and lab exercises every day that you might be capable of running once a month if you prep for hours. You wonder why you're wasting your time and your life in a Sisyphean job in a hostile work environment where you're not appreciated.
Take a long-term view. It is a sad, systemic indictment of our schools that we allow and almost expect first year teachers to be beaten down. Yet things do get better.
It's practically impossible to change a classroom culture in February.* That's as true in your 24th year as in your first year. So don't try to work miracles! If your students seem hostile in class at this point of the school year, all you can do right this instant is keep calm and carry on.
*Impossible to recover from a negative culture, yes, but the good news is it's also impossible to bring down a positive culture once it's well established.
Build what relationships you can. Aim your teaching at the subset of students who are NOT hostile, who wish the loudmouth haughty disrespectful arses would shut up. Consider that these students feel as helpless as you - and they've likely had to deal with the arses for many years, in many classes. Develop your relationships with them. Hold your head high for them. Keep on working hard for them. Think about them when you arrive home each day. They do and will appreciate your efforts and attention.
Make plans for next year. Though it's tough to change a classroom culture right now, you can consider how to pre-empt negativity from the beginning next year. Some of that advice that seemed so disconnected from your current reality might work well if implemented next August. Your initial idealism about this job has been blunted by hard-edged practical reality. The positive spin on this is that you know what you need to do for next year. Make plans. Write plans. Edit the activities that didn't work, and do so right now before you forget. Keep everything you've done in soft copy; plan some time this summer to organize those computer files so that you have something to fall back on when you need a last-minute class idea. Make notes about things you wish you had done or said that might have established a better tone. Consider how you could have dealt better with the first kid's complaint, such that the second complaint was less likely to happen at all.
Epilogue. I wasn't hired back at that first school.
The students found this out right after spring break. And a couple of days later, the headmaster found a petition on his desk signed by the vast majority of my 60 students requesting that he reconsider his decision. The headmaster never said anything to me about this - the bastard - but the students did. Many students. Some students who I thought hated me. Some who had been angrily silent at the stupidity of their peers. Some who had been friends to me from the beginning, though I had been so depressed I almost had forgotten. Some who suddenly became vocally upset that there wasn't a place at their school for a teacher like me.
Point is, even in what were my darkest professional times, the students whom I had tried to care for cared back. They noticed.
Their petition was hopeless - since when can students get an administrative decision overturned, plus I had to politely explain that even if the headmaster changed his mind, my relationship with him and the school was irrevocably damaged. Yet those students gave me strength and hope that perhaps I could succeed in this business. Sure enough, I went on five interviews and had my pick of two good teaching jobs. The next year, even at a new school, was far smoother because I didn't make the same mistakes twice. (I made new mistakes, but I learned from those, too, in the long term.)
I still have occasional sleepless nights in which I seethe in anger at something school related. That never totally goes away, unfortunately. I wish that I weren't a permanent outsider to not just my current school's culture, but to that of every school in America; I wish bullies - both adult and teenaged, both deliberate and accidental - didn't exist; I wish that successful teachers garnered the same public respect as successful football coaches or singers. I wish frogs had wings so they didn't bump their arses on the ground when they hop.
If you still believe you can help your students learn physics, I hope you'll stay the course. Teaching can be overwhelmingly rewarding.