Three Months Later, Three Months Wiser

I still have a week left of this quarter, meaning celebration that I haven’t gone off the deep end yet isn’t exactly warranted yet, but I’ll go ahead and give myself that accolade.

Many of my ideas for posts ended up in my journal and never made it to the interwebs—for that I am sorry, but not really sorry because I routinely choose showering over blogging. For some of you, you say “no excuse,” but personal hygiene’s quite important to me. I will do better next year, when I am not in the “survival”— and at my current– “disillusionment” stage of first-year teaching (according to this.)

For those of you who have been following this blog here and there, this is a place for thoughts on social justice in education. I just happen to have a job in one of the lowest performing charter schools in the city, not to mention the entire state. This is my first year of teaching. I teach 7th grade through 12th grade English, as well as a Creative Writing class. We take any student who needs credit recovery and has been expelled from any other viable school. We graduate students every year who would have not graduated because of their past behavior and failing grades. Because of graduating these students and providing them a support system through the agency that is connected to our school, these students would never have the chance at entering the workforce in a field that requires a high school diploma.

I get a new student in my classes on the average of one a week. Students leave the school on average of one a week. The transiency of these students makes doing any classroom activity that requires depth very challenging.

In addition to this, many of them have been in and out of the justice system. Many of our students are in foster care and group homes. They’re good kids who make bad choices. For many of them, school is the brightest part of their day. When they have to graduate, many of them don’t want to leave the school, because they are successful here.

We have an urban agriculture class that has plots of land that they garden (in addition to small gardens in our parking lot). We also have a chicken coop in our parking lot that the kids take care of. The chicken waste, as well as the garden waste, is in a compost pile in our parking lot. The compost helps fertilize the garden, which helps feed the chickens. The kids will start selling eggs soon to help pay for supplies for the garden.

I hope that gives you a good run-down of our school and what kind of environment I’m in every day.

In these first five months, I have:

Not cried. (Which I am surprised about).

Gone through training that shows you how to de-escalate students and use physical restraints

Canoed with students who had never been on a river before

Learned a heavy amount of rap lyrics I wish I didn’t know

Learned how to teach students who, right when they walk in the door, say “I ain’t doin shit today” and flop down in their seat and put their heads down.

Learned about how the justice system works

Wondered if I should just go to med school instead, because that has to be way easier than this

Realized that I will never be as exciting as a cell phone to a group of teenagers

Become incredibly thankful for the amount of support I had growing up

Understood how and why many kids have to grow up so fast

Taught Poe’s “Tell Tale Heart” to a group of inner-city kids.

This list could go on forever. I’m sure by the end of this year, it will be even longer. No, medical school isn’t for me, and probably will never be for me, but at one point this school year I considered it. I am realizing that being a teacher in a tough environment is draining and I have to take care of myself. I can only do so much in so little time—I have very little control over the lives of my students, and can never make sure they come to school ready to learn. But once they get here, I do all I can to help them succeed. For the students who are here every day, the ones who have a home life that encourages coming to school every day, I can tell they are making learning gains. It’s great to think that I have a part in that.

But I still have so much to learn.

You who are in your first (or second, or third, or thirty-fifth) year of teaching: What have you learned so far?

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4 comments

  1. I have learned…
    -that my job as an inner city teacher isn’t in threat. At my current rate of performance, I will never lose my job. I will never lose my job because no one wants my job. Some days I don’t even want my job.
    -to troubleshoot before the trouble happens.
    -to sprint down the hallway when I hear the words, “Hit me again! Hit me again!” Today I did that with a pair of scissors in my hand. Not my wisest decision ever, but what else was I supposed to do?
    -if you treat people like prisoners, they will, without a doubt, act like prisoners.
    -to request that the students write and speak in complete sentences and to use their manners. Except I forget to uphold this concept every single day. But maybe next year I’ll remember to do it.
    -that students will feed off my energy level. If I don’t have a lot of it, I lose that day.
    -to cherish adult conversation.
    -to utilize non-fiction and current event articles (www.tweentribune.com makes it super easy).
    -ignoring students when they call out is good for you and good for them. Make those kindern raise their hands!
    -when my boyfriend tells me to take a break, I need to listen to him.
    -that there is no magic silver bullet to teaching. There are hundreds of things that make up a good teacher. You can sit in the classroom of a good teacher for hours and hours and still not know everything that goes into developing one or two fabulous moments.
    -when the vending machines at school don’t work, I get way more than unreasonably infuriated. It’s kind of ridiculous and I should get that under control.
    -to buy classics in graphic novel form. Kids read them during their silent reading time. Heck yes!
    -if I find a text boring, then I should never, ever, ever bother with trying to teach it.
    -Norah Jones calms me down. This week, at least.
    -to have a balance. I don’t really let myself do this even though I need it. Still working on that. Dr. Fuller would be mad.
    -the students have giant flipping egos. Seriously. They need to check them at the door. Think you’re too good to turn in your essay on time? Fine, here’s my phone. Call Mom and Dad right now and see what they think. Bet you’ll have your essay next class period. I did this 15 times today. FIFTEEN TIMES TODAY ALONE…
    -…sometimes you have to let a kid do nothing one day in order to get him to do something the next.
    -that I won’t grade something if I don’t have time to. Which is weird. Grades aren’t a priority to me. I could assign grades that accurately marked their learning based merely on class performance and work ethic if I had to. I’d prefer it.
    -routine, routine, routine, routine. No matter what it takes to be and do the same things, be and do them.
    -never to bribe, but to honor or award unexpectedly.
    -kids need recess.
    -that administrators don’t care how tired I am. Neither do my kids.
    -that if that mofo in Connecticut didn’t kill himself, I would have done it for him. Teachers don’t work 60 hours a week for you to wake up one day and decide to blow them away. (http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/14/us/connecticut-school-shooting/index.html)
    -other people believe in me more than I do and that support is important.
    -Pride and Prejudice on repeat is never a bad thing.
    -“ratchet.” Fool, you ratchet. Sit down and read.

    Miss you, S.F., and think of you often!

    [to read more, I point you to my post “Things Student Teaching Taught Me” from 12/2011: http://whatsamanthaknows.weebly.com/2/post/2011/12/things-student-teaching-taught-me.html ]

    1. Sam: Wonderful, wonderful. Your words have been taken to heart—keep reflecting! Any time you want to collaborate on m’blog, let me know, I’d love to have a similar but different perspective. Happy Holidays to you!

  2. Hello there! I could have sworn I’ve visited your blog before but after going
    through many of the articles I realized it’s new to me.
    Anyhow, I’m definitely happy I stumbled upon it and I’ll be bookmarking
    it and checking back frequently!

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