Wednesday, June 27, 2007

First Thoughts on the End of the Year

These are my initial, fragmented thoughts on completing my first year of teaching. I promise to write more and expound later, but right now I want to capture a complicated feeling.

-Everyone is nicer at the end of the year, other teachers are more friendly, first names are thrown around, and people chat more. I learned first names of some teachers for the first time this week gone past.

-I have invested a seed of friendship with many people in my school…and really didn’t think about missing those folks until today.

-What am I going to do with two months of paid, free time? (Aside from summer classes)

-Oh my god, I made it. Relief. I haven’t started true reflecting yet, but I can say I made it.

-Damn, teaching is really hard. Harder than I thought. This one year felt like six. I gained 20 stress-pound and lost 15. Goal for next year: take better care of my body and don’t let stress control food consumption.

-Taking the classroom apart really sucks. And those barren walls and empty bulletin
boards are ugly.

-I hated throwing away student work, and resented my students for not taking it home. Then I felt pity that they weren’t proud enough of their academics to WANT to take them home.

-Note to self: Write a blog post later this week about how teacher parties really rock.

-After teaching ED (emotionally disturbed) students for a year, I feel pretty ED.

-I locked myself in a bathroom and sobbed like crazy when my last student left around 11 this morning. Tears built from a complicated mix of pride and fear for this student’s future. I don’t have any kids of my own, but I imagine having a child must be a little like this.

-The RCT math results came in last week…and my school did really, really bad. But two of my students passed. I called one student last week and left a voice mail where I must have sounded insane, screaming and getting emotional about how proud I was. That student called back today a little after my crying jag…And I got to tell him to his face (To his voice?) how impressed I was.

-Proctoring exams for ED kids is torture. It broke my heart to see them struggle so hard to stay seated for 3 hours at a time, and get frustrated with only answering a few questions on their scantron.

-I’m a teacher. I teach in Brooklyn. This is real. Teaching made me feel alive. I can do this for another year, maybe I could do it for 20.

-Already I miss the awesome air conditioning in my classroom.

-How do you go from seeing people everyday for 10 months…and then not at all for 2 months?

-Thank the lord I had the good sense not to pursue teaching summer school this year. I don’t think I’d survive the coursework, teaching, and getting ready for next year without burning out mid September.

-I feel like a real adult, building networking relationships with other adults.

-There will be new, first year teachers starting next September. I look forward with morbid curiosity to watching another person travel that same road I just traversed.

-This year has been hell on my emotions. I’ve cried like a sissy in joy, frustration, despair and fear. I’ve brought anger home, and gone without sleep. Am I still me? Am I a different me?

-Teaching poverty level minorities has really made me more sensitive to the everyday prejudice that goes on. (I went to a Mets game yesterday and saw an usher escort a white family to their seats, brush the chairs off and pleasantly remark to enjoy the game. I saw the same usher merely point in the general direction of seats for a black family. WTF?)

There will be more later, and it will be more cohesive. I can’t really focus on more than the weird sense of loss and accomplishment…and the fact I get to sleep in tomorrow.

Congratulations all new teachers.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Writing On The Wall

There is one student in my classroom who I trusted enough to tell that it was my first year teacher. I don’t know why, I think I just needed one student to know. Or I needed to know that someone knew that I may be inexperienced, but I’m doing my best.

Anyway, she never betrayed me to other students who would abuse the knowledge. (most students were intuitive enough to know that if it wasn’t my first year, it was damn close) And knowing that she knew the truth lent us a bond where I could ask her how I was doing, or how I could change stuff and generally take the temperature of the class through her. The student was honest and helpful, and at times trying and cross…and today while she and I were taking down classroom paraphernalia I looked over at the blackboard and saw this:

The writing on the wall wasn’t just a message of thanks; it was hope for the upcoming year.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Final Exams are Making Me Bitter.

Regents have started, and the principal is very gung-ho about the percentage of students that must pass the math regents in order for her to look good. I hate to sound bitter during my first year, but it makes no sense when the administration acts incongruent with their expectations of the student body.

On one hand the principal rallies the teachers during weekly meetings to encourage kids to go to the after school tutoring program so they can increase their chance of scoring higher, offering gift certificates and prizes for students who attend, and on the other hand the principal could be overheard in a public part of the school (i.e. not in the privacy of her office) in the following casual conversation

Student: “Can I get a $5 McDonalds gift certificate if I pass the regents?”

Principal: “Of course! If you pass the regents I’ll give you a $25 gift card.”

Student exits.

Principal: “It’s not like he’s going to pass anyway, it’s the regents.”


Principal: “Ten minutes in and he’ll be done.”
And I'm left wondering what purpose demeaning students serves. (No, I'm not perfect and I have awful days where I curse student's existence...but still, I try not to vent where other students and staff can hear. I appreciate a good beer out with fellow teachers.)

In other news, I proctored my first test alone today. It was a regents where you have to get the kids to put the test booklet back in the envelope and cover it with the big rectangle sticker. You know, where the test preparer counts everything eight times and threatens your unborn children if you lose anything, or don’t put the test booklet numbers in the window.

It was great fun! Except because it was such a big deal everyone and their mother was calling me, or banging on my door, or needing something from me. Why does that always seem to happen?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

YOU'RE FIRED! (Or, why I haven't written lately)

To make a long story short, the new principal tried to fire me. Don’t worry, I still have my job…I just wanted to let things cool down before I wrote a post about the fiasco. (I even contemplated glossing over the whole debacle and not mentioning it at all)

The principal was very friendly when she pulled me into her office (i.e. smiling, complimenting the top I wore) so I didn’t automatically think I was in trouble. When I heard the news, my face fell.

“You don’t really fit my vision for the school,” was what the principal said, citing that my classroom management needed polish, and that I may be too young to teach the population.

After her spiel she had the grace to say I looked surprised. Since I had gotten S’s in all my observations, and no one had remarked on my management skills before, needless to say I was very shocked. Diplomatically, she offered to score me an interview with a principal from her old middle school, since I’d “work better with younger kids.”

I was choked up. I spent my whole year working hard, getting better, and learning…and only to find out that the principal wasn’t willing to give a first year teacher a shot at putting what I learned into practice. Who expects a teacher to be perfectly on game the first year they teach? I was told from everyone I spoke to that the first year was the hardest…but it really broke my heart that some people “weren’t willing to wait.”

You may ask why I didn’t stop the meeting, get up, and get my union rep in the room. My only excuse is that I didn’t know I could leave a meeting, and I was also terrified. But you can bet your sweet behind that I went straight to the union after I left that office.

My chapter leader was ready to fight, and told the principal so. However, the next day I was asked to meet with the AP. I grabbed the union rep, and was told by the AP that the principal had “reconsidered” and that I could keep my job. It’s my theory that the principal assumed I would just cut my losses and go to another school…roll over and die without trouble.

But I like my job, and I love my kids…I’ve built relationships with people in the building. I know who to go for to get quick copies and who to sweet-talk for extra supplies…But it took me a year to build that.

In the few weeks that passed it’s been like nothing had ever occurred. On the one hand, I’m relieved and happy to know I have a job to come back to in September. But some of the joy has gone out of the work, as I imagine I’m being watched closer. What happens if the administration really wants to get rid of me, and they start a paper trail early next year? I feel like slogging through the political muck is harder work that teaching ED students!
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