Saturday, February 11, 2006

Whooo are Yooooo?

In the class the other week, after we made that stupid collage, we were to pick up a worksheet and fill it out. It was entitled "Thoughts and Feelings About Teaching."

"Number 1: Describe who you are as a person and as a professional."

I physically recoiled at the magnitude of the question being in that kind of context situation. Who am I? On a silly worksheet in a class about writing a teaching thesis? In less than two inches of handwriting? When entire volumes of printed word have been produced as an answer to this existential question?


Rolling my eyes, I did my best to focus and actually do the assignment, since bitching and moaning (aha! something to put on this sheet!) wouldn't help me complete it.

Here's what I ended up writing:
--out of classroom:
easy-going; laugh a lot; music on always; books close by; sometimes lazy

--in the classroom:
stern, high expectations; dry and sarcastic jokes; piles of papers and books; music on or nearby; loud

Like any good narcissist, I found this very interesting. It was not a revelation that my personality is different depending on my surroundings, but to lay it out in simple terms was fascinating.

I finally remembered to bring this up because this morning, instead of tutoring, due to the lack of students who showed up, several teachers and I helped hand out report cards.

In doing so, I adopted what I suppose I can call my "retail personality," in which I am very smily, very sweet, and very accommodating in helping people find their way. If a parent were to see me in my classroom after that, I imagine they would not take me seriously.

It wasn't too big a deal; I saw a couple of my students, and I smiled at them. That almost never happens during class, and only rarely during other times of the day (like passing or lunch or whatever).

It's just so weird. I totally have multiple personalities. I have successfully, as advised last year, "found my inner bitch."

What this means to me is that I can be very stern and loud and strict. It's totally NOT who I am. It still makes me laugh sometimes, that I can be that way. No one that I know in my "real life" or pre-teaching life would recognize me in the classroom. I think it's kind of cool. Certainly it reminds me that a huge part of teaching is indeed acting. Once I figured out how to act the part, then the students accept me in that role, and we can all proceed.

Occasionally, very occasionally, I laugh in class. It feels strange and inappropriate, since it happens so rarely. Sometimes a thought flits through my head: "What is this? Laughing? Smiling around students? Huh?"


My consolation is that the important things do continue, wherever I am. I love books, and that comes through in both teaching and civilian life. I am a music junkie, and my students will attest to that. [Even if they do think that Norah Jones is "country." (Gah! These kids have no taste!)] I play Enya, or Norah, or classical, even David Gray, while they are entering the room, and/or while they are reading. I haven't gotten complaints, and it makes me feel like the room is that much cozier. Who knows, though.

This all brings me to a related thought: Am I a good teacher? What have I actually taught my students? Do I keep too much control of the room, so that they don't have the freedom to learn and explore? Am I doing anything useful at all?

I breathed easy knowing I'm not a bad teacher, but am I just mediocre? One of my friends at school is an outstanding educator, and I've never even seen her teach. She's always doing interesting projects, and she has been able to control her classes since day one, and she does extra stuff with them too, like book clubs and one-on-one tutoring. She's really down to earth and just a fantastic teacher.

I hate to say it, but I get jealous of the people that I admire. How juvenile is that? I hear them talk about what they do, and it feels like I can't even compare myself to them, and I feel bad, and then turn it into jealousy, even if I don't show it or act it. I just feel inadequate.

There are lots of ways that I try to justify what I do or don't do. We had to teach out of a test book. We don't have that much time.

I do try, especially now that the test is over. I showed them how to write resumes, and I tried to help them take notes from research into graphic organizers, both to promote comprehension and sequence, but also to prevent that gosh-durned plagiarism. I allowed them to choose their own favorite author to complete this project. This week I decided to focus on words, so I gave them time to study vocabulary in class, and after reviewing parts of speech, they got to create their own MadLibs from their l!t c!rcle books. They seemed very excited about that.

But I feel like we don't do anything, you know? There are so many requirements and distractions and so little time and my brain isn't always fully in it. And I talk an awful lot, because again I'm a self-important narcissist and I always like to be in control. But I'm working on it. Back to the point: it feels to me like there's not much for the kids to really make connections with, take ownership of and develop a love of the subject. Though it's not much of a subject when we teach it this way (which can't be helped due to the city's administrative demands). It's like all of us, teacher and students alike, are just walking through the paces.


I want to, and do, take pride in doing my job well. And I know that I am not a bad teacher. But would I ever be considered for an outstanding teaching award? Don't think so. That makes me sad. And selfish.


your math teacher said...

Hey, we can't all be the mother teresas of teaching.. I stopped comparing myself to other teachers as soon as I observed a couple of them.. Everyone has their own style and extra crap they do. No point in working ourselves to death.

I think the teaching fellow & tfa mentality is that we have to change the education world in two years. But education is a stubborn bastard.

Have faith in yourself. You are da bomb, as the kids say.

Your multiple personality thing is hilarious, btw. I'd like to see this retail version of you!

As for the control thing, if your students feel safe in your classroom, they probably already feel comfortable enough to be creative and express themselves.

Nancy said...

If we had this conversation in person, I'd probably hit upside the head and tell you to snap out of it. You're doing a GREAT job. The thing about teaching is that the rewards tend not to be immediate. Just you wait. Someday, a few years from now, you'll find out what kind of positive impact you made on these kids. It's easy to feel like nothing is happening because teaching can feel so disjointed, so day-to-day. At the end of the year, when you look back over your lesson plans and things, you'll see that you actually did a lot.
As for being too strict, it's better with these kids to be too strict than too lax. Kids THRIVE on structure and limitations. You're doing their future teachers a favor by teaching them how to behave in a classroom, an important part of learning. Also, the fact that they are participating and doing the work means that you are engaging them in interesting, worthwhile work, so GO YOU!
Do I still need to slap you?

Miss Browneyedgirlie said...

I'm not even IN the classroom yet, and I already have the worries of "Will I be a good teacher? Will I give my students the quality of education they need (and more importantly, deserve)?

I think it's common for teachers to have these feelings.

But as long as you're putting all of yourself into the job - or to the extent that you can without sacrificing your personal sanity - I'd say you're a great teacher :)

Anonymous said...

From reading your Blog, I can't imagine that you could be anything other than an AWESOME teacher!!
Quit comparing yourself to others and what they are doing -- many times, the same people we are trying to emulate, are the same people who are actually envious of you and your special gifts.: )

He Who Can't said...

There are all sorts of good teachers, the ones who TRY but only one sort of bad teacher, the one who doesn't. Luckily they are very easy to spot, as the blogger you linked to did very well. The system does a very poor job of getting rid of bad teachers, and it impacts all of us. There is a teacher in my school who has become a real pariah. No one wants to share a room or class with him because he creates such a raucous, chaotic atmosphere that you cannot teach after he has been in your room. But he is tenured.
There is no perfect teacher, there is just you, whoever you are, trying to be the best teacher you can be.

Ana Maria Hurtado said...

Dear "Jules the Crazy",
I am an experience teacher (20 years) and teacher trainer and a very confident one too.

Your self-description made me feel about myself and how identified I find myself to your account.

I definitely have learned (the hard way) I cannot be as friendly and smily in the classroom as I normally are outside it. My students just would't take me seriously.

However, the "stiff protective layer" and front facade has at times to melt. Once you have the students with you, you can be genuine and show yourself as you are and express your feelings. They will appreciate that and you will be able to leave a long-lasting trace in them.

I am working on that and I encourage you to do the same.

Ana Maria Hurtado said...

While reading your self-description, I felt identified with it. I also tend to be more serious in class than the smily, crazy woman I tend to be outside it. I has to be like that or else our students wouldn't take us seriously.

However, as time passes and you get more confident about what you are doing, I think you can show more of your genuine self to your students and enjoy life both inside and outside the classroom.