Closing Chapter Two

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My second year of teaching is officially over. The pieces of my classroom are huddled in my garage, awaiting a dubious fate. I was informed that because enrollment is up, there isn’t space for two Spanish classrooms. We may get one room to share, but we will still have to schedule creatively and will be on a cart most of the day. It has been so wonderful having a room, and Spanish-on-a-cart sucks (or in my case, the Spanish Bag Lady.) However, if I could manage it last year, during the hell that was my first year of teaching, I think I can suck it up. And even half a classroom would be better than none.

I am grateful that I have a job for next year, as all my public school friends are being laid off or having their hours cut. Who knew that teaching in a charter school with no unions and no tenure (and no contracts, this year) would be the more stable teaching job?

This was not an easy year. We are not working in an easy city or in an easy profession, and even so this year threw us a few unusual wrenches. When we met for our inservice last August, half the administrative team had been fired. Auditors began picking through the rubble left by past leadership. We were homeless, and met in a community center until we got into our big empty office building, halfway transformed into a school. The weeks before the students arrived were a jumble of more firings, boxes haphazardly making their way from trailers into empty classrooms, while glitches in the alarm system kept us half deaf and perpetually on edge. Some of our students transitioned with us. New families trickled in, along with previous families who waited for the dust to settle before coming back. A few months into the year, we got a principal. We changed the name of our school. We almost lost our charter, but managed to keep it. We squeaked by and met AYP. We heard a rollercoaster of rumors about a variety of mythical delights such as our contracts and working classroom computers, which never materialized.

It wasn’t an easy year, but it was my second year. Last year felt impossible almost every morning, though in the end it was not. This year I had a classroom. I knew most of my students’ names as soon as they came in the door. I knew the coworkers I could vent to, or have a beer with after work. I knew I had many coworkers who I could rely on even when we lacked any other leadership. Instead of just surviving, I felt like I could grow. I tutored 1st graders after school and got a crash course in teaching reading and math along with Spanish. I gathered courage and extension cords and brought laptops into the classroom for middle school research projects. I mucked around with website creation and discovered an (unfortunate) affinity for Excel spreadsheets that landed me in charge of all the scheduling. I tinkered around with a plethora of classroom management strategies – and will tinker further next year, I know. I waged war against tattle epidemics and budding homophobia and taught a little Spanish in between.

In the end, no matter how green my pedagogy is, I got to work another year with my students, and that is why I’m doing what I do. I taught a ton of Spanish to the primary grades (thank god for the Critical Period) and taught a few social skills to the 5th graders, if nothing else. Sometimes I tricked sullen adolescents into having fun learning about language or culture. We conjugated verbs, even though we hated it. We made calaveras out of sugar and paper, Guatemalan worry dolls, and acted out the Battle of Puebla with everyone from kindergarten to 8th grade. We never collected enough paper tubes to make rainsticks, but our discussions of cacti elicited some accidentally scandalous art. Grades are long submitted, but for me these are my benchmarks.

In a way (and from a safe distance,) having a hellacious first year was very valuable to me. I cried a lot last year, on my desk and in the bathroom and at home and occasionally in an empty office between classes, because I was overwhelmed. This year I cried a lot too, sometimes after ridiculous parent phone calls or in the face of unspeakable things going on in my students’ lives outside my classroom, but I managed to keep it confined mostly to my steering wheel. More importantly, I learned that a job that brings you to tears is not always a bad thing. For the most part I cried because I got to see some of my most challenging middle schoolers get up and read poetry at the poetry slam, or absolutely kick ass at teaching a younger class about the Aztecs, or be unbelievably compassionate towards a struggling classmate, or forget to maintain disinterest and get really into Frida Kahlo’s paintings.

Not only do I have a job next year, I have a job that gets me mushy and misty-eyed and totally involved. I don’t know how to express how blessed that makes me feel. I am trying to hang onto that through this summertime expanse of anxiety that always seems to overrule relaxation.

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4 Responses to Closing Chapter Two

  1. Patti says:

    Sara,

    this is a beautiful reflection. I am glad to have the chance to read it and share in your life. It sounds like you are really coming into your own…growing up, learning while teaching. You are beautiful!

    Love,
    Aunt Patti cake

  2. annadefenestrated says:

    I can’t believe it’s only been two years. It seems like a lot longer, and I wasn’t even there with you!

    Also, I LURVE this post, and the way photograph feels exactly like the post and the way they work together is LURVE.

    Awesome, amazing, gorgeous.

    Un abrazo.

  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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