Pulling it together.

I am taking my last personal day off today, so that I can go to the (potential) new school and check it out during the school day, and perhaps teach a sample lesson. So yesterday in between final grades and driving to tutoring, I threw together sub plans.

Any teacher knows how tricky sub plans are. This was especially daunting at the beginning of the year for me. In my preparation at the university level I have learned how to write out meticulous lesson plans, propped up by standards and objectives, but trying to tell someone in writing what to do with my classes seemed impossible, especially after my first few months at this school. I learned quickly that nothing would go as planned, that nobody at the school really cared what lessons I taught as long as I kept the masses under control, that nothing was guaranteed, and that whatever I spent all night planning could very easily be destroyed by one temper tantrum, one broken projector or copier, one collective mood swing, one misplaced assumption of previous knowledge, motivation, or interest. That’s what teaching is about: a balance between spontaneity and planning.

I’ve learned a lot this year. I have put together an entire curriculum for grades K-8- although not entirely well articulated or in a board-presentable form yet. I didn’t have books (sometimes didn’t have paper), but I’m okay with that. I can put together sub plans in a half hour instead of in three hours. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some amazing teachers, and I have learned so much from them. Even the incompetence in the administration isn’t as terminal as it seemed a few months ago, because I’ve learned how to be independent. My sixth graders still can’t speak much Spanish to save their lives, but my fourth grades can describe themselves and their friends in complete sentences, and my primary classes can respond to nearly entire classes in Spanish. I’m feeling warm and fuzzy and proud about many of my classes (while at the same time wanting to throw myself out a window during others.)

Last week I wrote up a 6th grade girl for being disrespectful (she’s the one who called me “sweetie” previously, the author of the spontaneously novel insult “african-licker,” and in this instance she whooped at me before cutting out of the classroom). I called home and sent her to the office with all required documentation, first thing in the morning, and not surprisingly found her still sitting in the office at the end of the day. It is common for referrals to sit for days on the disciplinarian’s desk (and I have to resist using any other more descriptive yet profane terms for this woman). I had the girl’s mother meet me in the office, and when Ms. Disciplinarian came out of her office to talk to another student, I confronted her and said that we were ready to talk about this now, please. The girl got suspended, and Ms. D. was only marginally condescending to me.

This feels like a victory in itself. My first week at this school – my first week of teaching, ever – I broke up a fight in the seventh grade boys’ class between a kid bigger than me and a kid bigger than my dad. I don’t even remember whose fist it was that connected with my jaw, but it was a reality check. Another check was later in the disciplinarian’s office when I listened to her rake me and my classroom management over the coals for a half hour.

That was before I knew my fellow teachers very well, before I got uppity during the weekly meetings where this same lady put down my entire team, before I knew whose office was okay to cry in, before I knew that such-and-so is on the basketball team and the coach can usually have some sway with him, before I knew that such-and-so’s mother died a few weeks ago and so don’t threaten to call her, before I had certain kids’ home numbers in my cell phone.

I am coming down to the final days of my first year of teaching, and while it has been challenging and far from ideal, I feel incredibly blessed that I have been able to learn so much. I’m sure I’ve learned far more than I’ve taught. One of my fellow teachers was asking me about my first year experience, and in essence said “Don’t give up on the profession just because this is so challenging.” I assured her that I wouldn’t. That’s the thing: this year hasn’t changed my desire to teach. It’s just taught me a lot about my abilities to do so. Whether or not I am at a new school next year, I know it will be easier. Not easy, of course, but that would be boring.

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6 Responses to Pulling it together.

  1. Wendy Kennedy says:

    Amazing summary of an amazing first year! This should be read by every ed school student (and professor!) before they set foot in a classroom.

    You done good.

  2. Pingback: Closing Chapter Two « Vino y Queso

  3. Pingback: Appropriate Focal Range (for my Third Year of Teaching) « Vino y Queso

  4. Pingback: Year Five: Becoming a Better Teacher vs. Becoming a Statistic | Me importa. Me importas. Me importan.

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