Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Sitting Next to My Principal on the Train

They say that necessity is the mother of invention, but I am prepared to debate that it is instead despair that inspires downtrodden souls to make any attempt to better their situation.

Ok, I’m not quite downtrodden…Let’s say I’m down, but not out. Assessing the situation I notice I’ve made it in the teacher world for over three months, and have less than three weeks until X-mas break. Fabulous; at this rate I’ll be prematurely grey before I’m 25.

My principal sat next to me on the subway train after school today, and she’s new enough to not disdain chatting with a teacher while off the clock. “Ms. C, do you laugh enough?” she asked me. I pondered over the term “laugh” and wondered if bitter laughter counted. I obviously don’t, and I find very little funny about students who will spent the next 4 years in the 9th grade before dropping out, getting pregnant, getting high, getting shot.

I was having a big issue with a female student in my class: young, pretty, a great fighter and liar…and full of so much potential that I can’t help but take it personally that she’s failing. I get the sense that if this girl put an ounce of effort into actually staying in class and not promenading the halls scratching girls and taunting boys she’d be passing all her classes.

By the grace of god I got this chick alone for a minute in the hallway, and really set my mind to giving her a piece of my mind. I only had a minute because she was cutting class and her cronies were dragging her out of the school. I tried to impress upon her everything I was feeling; from taking her failure personally to my ENORMOUS faith in her inner strength and intelligence. I told her I wish I had her strength when I was her age, I told her nothing could make me happier than her success (and meant it); and all the while I received a blank-eyed stare.

“Miss, I’ll stay Thursday after school, I promise. Just let me GO!” I sighed, wished her a good afternoon and went into my classroom to collapse at my desk.

My principal’s reaction, when I came to the end of the story was very simple…To appreciate the moments when my classroom is peaceful and rest assured that eventually, over time, that sort of message will get through to the student. And if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.

I felt, then, the true despair of youth; when you’re too new to fully know your limitations, and too inexperienced to appreciate tiny triumphs.


Anonymous School Teacher said...

Even though my principal is an approachable and light hearted kind of guy, I still find one on one conversations with him to be somewhat awkward.

BTW, where did you get that photo? Can I "borrow" it to place on my blog? I absolutely love it.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006 1:35:00 AM  
Blogger Ms. C said...

Yeah, it's hard to forget that someone is your boss, right?

The sign came from www.customsign.com, and feel free to borrow.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006 4:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Schoolgal said...

It's okay to be optimistic, but also be centered in reality. In your type of work, you need to appreciate baby steps.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006 3:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Paul said...

There's an article in this week's New York Magazine; it's about burnout. linky: http://nymag.com/news/features/24757/

You're going through the conditions that lead to really damaging burnout. I'm not sure what advice to give you besides that what the principal is telling you is true - appreciate the good, try not to take the bad to heart, and try not to get your expectations too far out of line with reality.

I still think teaching is a great thing to be doing. I hope the program doesn't dissuade you of it. I've heard Yonkers is a much better district to work for, so you could still be within an hour of the city, and be making more money with easier-to-handle kids.

Friday, December 08, 2006 9:24:00 AM  
Blogger NYC Teacher said...

I think it's good you had the chance to chat with your principal. That's the best thing you can do is get to know her away from school.

I know that you want to save the world... I've been teaching for a few years and still want to. It's hard when you're in a low SES community and you see the potential in kids that they don't see in themselves. Too often our kids are told they're dumb or worse by their parents. Just the other day I heard a parent tell one of my kids (his kid) that he was lazy and a pain in the a--. Nice. Right in front of me. We're really competing with parents... don't lose hope, but don't beat yourself up if you can't change the world, okay?

Friday, December 08, 2006 4:01:00 PM  
Blogger Pissed Off said...

I too thought I can save the world when I first started teaching. But believe it or not, you do make a big difference. I've had kids that didn't seem to have a clue run into me years later and thank me for what I did for them. You might only be teaching this kid to trust adults but that is a start.

Try not to take the job too personally. It's hard, but lots of us make it through. I'll be retiring soon, but not because of the kids. I still love them, even the ones that drive me crazy.

Saturday, December 16, 2006 7:45:00 AM  
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