Sunday, January 14, 2007

Teaching Vs. Babysitting

If you’re wondering why I haven’t written in a while, well, I don’t have much of an excuse. The past few weeks after Christmas break have been buckets and buckets of the same: I’ve seen the new principal twice, had a couple windows punched out in my classroom, one more good kick and the classroom door will need to be replaced. And I haven’t been teaching much.

I’m responsible for teaching my homeroom class two periods of ELA a day, Global Studies, Biology and music classes…ELA I sneak in first thing in the morning, and in music (where I have no skill) I show a lot of musical films, global studies is normally hit or miss depending on who shows up each day, but Biology is really suffering. I’ve been trying to teach the same chapter on viruses and bacteria since the end of November.

There’s two ways I feel about this less than par teaching. The first being slothful, I don’t spend as much time planning lessons, making worksheets and creating new ways to teach and motivate. On a good day I can teach 20 minutes out of a 45 minute period, I have less than a 50% chance of having a good day. I get the sense that most teachers just teach what they can and worry more about keeping fights out of their classroom, and trying to keep students in the classroom and not smocking blunts in the bathroom. So maybe I am just babysitting these kids, sometimes I don’t mind setting aside the curriculum and just hanging with these interesting young people if I know no one expects any better from me. Yes, I know I’m supposed to elevate these kids and somehow make them more ready for their future, prepare them for college…but there is very little I can do if I’m the only person rowing in the canoe. I’m still waiting to see what direction the new principal takes us…The old principal was very much in favor of academics in her ED school, which may have lead to her getting booted out.

On the other hand I’m uncomfortable giving up what I consider my job: teaching. I am a TEACHER, I should be giving info to the brains of my students, packaging the information in ways the students can grasp. But after “teaching” four months I can see why the teacher burn-out rate is so high, what I expect from myself doesn’t seem possible in this setting. I consider it a good day if I don’t lose my cool with the students, or let them get to me. I should be considering it a good day if I can get the kids to learn something. If I lower my expectations for myself, I’ll be more comfortable with how little I actually teach, but I’ll be giving up so many ideals I internalized when I thought about teaching. I knew teaching special ed was going to be tough, but it’s really bonkers.

To be honest, the days I enjoy the most is when I have most of my students sitting, and we’re all engaged in conversation. It’s not academic per se, but if they are all seated, and not hitting each other, or spitting…and I feel involved it feels like a small victory. When a student says “please” or “thank you” or picks up a piece of garbage when I ask them, or knocks politely on the door instead of pounding I feel pretty good about my job and my students. But is that enough?


Anonymous Schoolgal said...

First let me say planning is essential, but the fact that you don't have a mentor speaks volumes also.

There are many blogs devouted to teaching special ed that I hope you read and can get advice from.

You first wrote about how important this job is to you. Well maybe teaching is something you want to do, but not in this area. You need to decide early in your career if special ed is for you.

Also I am surprised you are teaching areas that are not your specialty, or is science and social studies your specialty. Get yourself certified in an area you know you will enjoy teaching. Start thinking about it now because if your principal doesn't think you are ready, it could lead to a U rating and that could lead to being fired. Your para will probably also be questioned by your principal, so make sure you plan lessons minute to minute instead of period to period.
You may need to change the activity every 10 minutes, but do plan something.

Sunday, January 14, 2007 9:22:00 AM  
Blogger Ms. C said...

School Girl, you bring up a good point; starting out I was very excited about the teaching aspects of the job...but the location I am in isn't so keen on teaching, I feel.

In the one time that anybody looked at my lesson plans or watched me teach a lesson I got an S. Truth be told I usually have a written lesson plan for each day, or I use one lesson plan for multiple days. With constant interuptions from students from other classes coming into my class, or students throwing the overhead projector I find it damn near impossible to teach. And since seemingly nothing is done by security or administration about such basic issues like kids smoking up outside the school building, or students who refuse to stay in class and just cause trouble in the hallways...I get the sense that my school isn't serious about education.

Yes, I've thought about switching to a new school...but I'd rather exhaust all other options before facing all the paperwork and changing grad schools.

You mentioned not having a mentor. I do, and I don't. The department of education assigned me, and all other first year teachers with a mentor. Mine is nice, I saw her more often when the school year started, but only see her about 20 minutes once a month.

I see potential in myself to teach, and to teach emotionally disturbed kids...I've learned over the last few months and I'm putting those lessons to good use. But I'm at the fork in the road, and I can pick the hard way--fighting the current in my school, or I can just sit back and act like I'm trying my best.

Sunday, January 14, 2007 5:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Schoolgal said...

I would hate to think all schools are like this. Is it because you are a Fellows you can't switch schools?

If this is the area you want to be in, then I give you credit. Yours is the hardest job of all, and your passion still shows.

You may get a kick out of this blog. She no longer teaches in the city schools, but her posts about teaching special ed in a city school was eye-opening too. Read her old posts and you will see you are not alone.

Sunday, January 14, 2007 10:02:00 PM  
Blogger Jules the Crazy said...

i think you've found out the biggest thing about urban teaching that no one talks about--most of the time, it's just about survival and plain old stubbornness. just grit your teeth and don't give up. especially your first year in this city--and exponentially multiplied with special ed!--it seems like it's guaranteed to be shit. but you've already made it through the year, and the difficult part, too. do what you can, and just keep at it. those little things you mentioned, maybe keep a tally of those, so you can feel success each day.

Monday, January 15, 2007 6:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Paul said...

Being a teacher is about teaching, I agree. You are always teaching, and you are always teaching by example. I feel like your success will be in teaching kids what they most need to learn. With the students you have, I feel that they most need to learn what it is to be a student, and how that can be a good thing. If you get them sitting and talking, that's a lesson in what can be - a lesson they no doubt desperately need.

Your kids need to be taught things that, by and large, 'normal' students internalized in 1st grade. If you're getting that done, you are making progress, and making a positive difference. They are better for your effort, and that's the essential goal.

Don't give up your ideals, but also don't let them make your expectations of your kids, or yourself, impossible. That's a fast road to burnout, and once you burn out, you won't be able to help these kids at all.

You're doing a hard job that landed on your head. You're doing it with very little training or support. That you are succeeding at all is impressive. Give yourself credit for the work you have done, and trust that as you learn to be a better teacher, you will be able to do more.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007 10:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Schoolgal said...

Paul is right. Social skills are very important, and unfortunately not stressed enough. Even kindergarten no longer has centers. Makes you wonder just where the priorities are--of course, it's testing and nothing else.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007 1:24:00 PM  
Blogger Ms. C said...

I really appreciate the support!

Sometimes I feel like I get farther along with the students who had worse behavior in the begining. Mid year I now have a semi-civilized teenager instead of a kid who would only call me "white bitch," I get "yo" a lot more now...but I see that as some semblance of change.

Today we played connect four and guess-the-vocab-word during my bio class 1. because I only have 3 of my own students, and 2. it's like pulling teeth to teach these kids science.

If I've learned anything it's to over structure the kids and post EVERYTHING on the walls. So they know what they have to do, when.

I think you have the right idea, Paul...teaching social skills rather than trig to these kids. But then, why all this focus on their impending RCTs? I'm getting mixed signals about what the school wants from my kids.

I mean...I don't even know if any of my students will make it to college, so wouldn't a social graces class be a bit more effective than Biology? Not to deprive my students of an education, but shouldn't we keep in mind who we are trying to teach what?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007 1:39:00 PM  
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Saturday, January 20, 2007 10:35:00 AM  
Blogger SouthCentralLA Teacher said...

Don't give up! Here is a link to an article I read when I was in the TeachLA program at UCLA. It discusses phases of first year teaching, but it really should be about teaching in urban environments in the 21st century. I come from an education background (mother, godfather, teaching) and my fiance has a PhD in educational psychology and NONE of them believe the things I tell them about my teaching experiences.

Here's the link - Keep your head up, do something good for yourself and thanks for motivating me to create my own blog! You do good work! :-)


Friday, January 26, 2007 8:35:00 AM  
Blogger CaliforniaTeacherGuy said...

Congratulations on appearing in the line-up of significant teacher blogs in the February issue of NEA Today. You can find your words of wisdom in "The Many Moods of Teacher Blogs" here:

Sunday, January 28, 2007 9:15:00 AM  

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