At 39, I found everything changing about my life. My 17 year marriage was ending, my father had passed away, my dog had died and suddenly I was having to make some major decisions about how I was going to take care of my family. My days as stay at home mom with a part time job were over. I decided to go through a local fast track to licensure program and teach. What I didn't realize was that this was absolutely the worst time to go into teaching. I despaired that I would never find a job, but finally I did, teaching English at an urban school. So here I am starting Week 6 and this is what I have learned so far:
1. My school is safe. First of all, don't call my school, "ghetto". Just because my kids are minorities living in a lower income area, doesn't mean harm is lurking around every corner. The first week of school before the kids arrived, I cornered the SRO (School Resource Officer) and said "Give it to me straight, am I in any danger?" He assured me I was not. They are just kids--kids with quite a few challenges, but still kids. By and large they are all talk and respond well to anyone who seems to actually care.
2. 90% of them really do want to learn and have goals. Does that mean they behave in class all the time? No. Do they always get their work done, bring their books to class, or study? Absolutely not. But many do, and truly out of 140 students I can really only think of about 3 who have no chance of passing.
3. I liken teaching a class to writing, producing and starring in a one woman show each day. The difference is the audience didn't willingly buy a ticket! I have to sell, sell, sell it and even that's not enough. Its hard not to take it personally when my lesson plans, which are the result of hours of research and creative brain power, go over like a turd in a punch bowl.
4. Kids will do anything for stickers and candy. My 3rd week of school after one too many classes where I felt like Ben Stein saying "Bueller? Bueller? Anyone??" I told my students to get out a piece of notebook paper and write "Extra Credit" on it. That got their attention. Basically, they get a sticker for participation, good behavior, or whatever else they are DOING RIGHT. At test time, they will turn their paper in for extra credit points. I also give candy out at the end of the day to the student with the "Extraordinary Contribution of the Day". Suddenly, my half-asleep students became competitive little monsters vying for stupid little stickers like they were gold dubloons. That said, some days, even that doesn't work!
5. C.Y.A. In particular at my school, it is very important to document everything. Document phone calls, letters home, poor behavior, work that wasn't turned in but that you gave them 5 chances to come in and make it up...all so that when Mama calls demanding to know why her little darling isn't passing, your butt is covered. Another teacher clued me into a system she created through our Edline (school computer system). Its beautiful in its simplicity. I created a series of codes for what each child is doing in class that day. I printed out a class roster with multiple columns, put down the date at the start of class and as I walk around, I make notes (which I later enter into the system) as I observe my students. SLP= sleeping, DIS=Disruptive, REF= Refusal to Work, GP= Good Participation, PA=Positive Attitude. It takes all of one minute tops to enter into the Edline system and it goes directly to their grade report. In addition to seeing their test grades, parents and students see details of the student's behavior each day.
6. Beware of Bitching I learned back during student teaching that the teacher lunch room is ripe for all kinds of complaining and general venting. I get it, but I'm not participating in it--and after about a week of teaching, I realized that listening to it only depressed me. Sure, I am still in the--as my Department Head gently told me last week-- "Idealistic Phase of Teaching" (although I would argue that all fantasies of me being like Michelle Pfeiffer in "Dangerous Minds" went out the window the first week). That said, I save my bitching for my husband, my friends (especially my teacher friends in different districts) and my sister. Week 4, while in my cubby during planning, another teacher was venting about her frustration with the principal, only to have the principal WALK BY RIGHT AS SHE WAS TALKING. I know he must have been standing on the other side of the file cabinets listening for quite awhile. I almost threw up! Nope, my attitude is "happy to be here; happy to have a job" and my only complaining comes in the form of "This is what I am experiencing, how would you handle this?"
7. Damn, my feet hurt! As usual in life, everything that my Type A personality obsessed about prior to teaching, ended up not really being an issue. I bring work home, but rarely and not that much (I am a master of using my planning time effectively), I am doing pretty well with lesson planning, classroom management is a challenge, but not impossible, I love my colleagues, and to be honest, I love my kids, even the one who looked me in the eye last week and said "I really can't stand you" (my response? "Well, you have a B in this class, so I'm ok with that."). No, the biggest issue is fatigue, especially my feet. Getting up at 5:45 is no picnic, although I am getting used to (somewhat). The cute little ballet flats I bought before school started are no good. My ankles ache and I have done something where I can't put my left foot down flat until I am up for about half an hour. This is why I spent over $400 on 3 pair of shoes at The Walking Company last week. I love my Danskos! I felt like angels were kissing my feet the first day I wore them. I felt significantly less tired after 3 days in good shoes.
I want to end this post by saying that these opinions are mine and in no way a reflection of my county, the school, or the school's faculty or staff. It is meant to be an anonymous vent and an outlet (see #6), and maybe along the way I can help some other teacher who will think "Wow, I'm not the only one!" or "Maybe I will try that!". Beyond that, if you know who I am and are offended, I apologize-- and if I work with/for you, please don't get me fired. Thanks.