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?