Friday, February 02, 2007

Manic Depressive

Sometimes teaching makes me feel a little...not so normal. Let me give you some examples.

Last night I was thinking about my day. First, I brought some colleagues to the book room. As we descended the staircase, I noticed that the door was open and the light was on. Someone else noticed the lock was nowhere to be found. The little hook loop on the doorframe was mangled, so that the flip-bar thing on the door wouldn't fit over it. The book room itself looked pretty much the same. I didn't see any new piles or new messes, and there was no giant gap of goods taken from a shelf.

Nevertheless, I felt violated and defeated. Everyone knows that I have the key, and the lock (which I had to buy and put on) was to protect all the hard work that's gone into improving it and making it a valuable resource for the teachers once again. And someone decided to (or ask someone to) break the little padlock off? That makes me feel like the work is not valued and that makes *me* feel not valued, since I was doing the work. So if things disappear or giant piles of miscellaneous crap start appearing, I give up.

Next, common planning. Like I've mentioned before, at times, instead of inspiring me, meeting with my colleagues makes me feel inadequate. We have bulletin boards due on Tuesday, and I have no writing projects going on. Others have already begun or planned small projects, or have had the kids writing about their media work the last week or two. Me, not so much. We've been working with vocabulary and worksheets, helping the kids see what kinds of questions they need to ask themselves to be critical viewers of media. So then I had to realize that I've been slacking and my kids haven't really been learning and the stupid bulletin board has to go up and the work will be shit and I'm not doing my job anyway so who cares?

To boot, I have this kid. Somehow, I have heretofore refrained from posting about him. It's a blood-boiler issue for me, so I try not to think too much about it. Every time I do, I feel the anger and indignance rise up and go nowhere. The kid follows no rules and constantly harasses the class, verbally and physically. He throws paper. He crawls on the ground. He threatens other kids. I have made calls. All go straight to voice mail and nothing ever changes. The admin tell me that they have called home many times as well, and the parents have never responded. When the kid has been suspended, he shows up to school anyway. When told that he can't return without a parent, he comes back anyway and no sign of either parent. This child clearly knows that he can break the rules without punishment, and his misbehavior has continued to escalate since the first day of school. (Yes, on the very first day I saw he was going to be trouble. But for awhile, he was cooperative and tried to work and participate. Slowly, but very surely, that disappeared.) I have submitted all kinds of written documentation, to the dean, to the AP, all to no avail. The kid is still in class every day, and he bothers the entire class on a daily basis, on various levels of severity.

All of this really, really bothers me. And I've done more than my job in attempting to deal with it, and the rest of the students in the class are the real victims here--their rights to a comfortable and safe learning environment are violated every single day. And no one is doing anything about it.

I must stop writing so I can stop thinking about it. I can't get worked up again.

I've also been just a tad behind on grading homework.

All this had me feeling very down and blue and frustrated--with myself and what I'm doing, and with the school system in general.

Thankfully, today was a pretty good day. We had a half day for periodic testing, so I didn't have to teach. I graded nearly all of the grammar worksheets I'd assigned earlier in the week. I was reading newspaper articles to use in next week's advertising work.

I was feeling a little re-energized and rested.

After a lunch break, we had a department PD. And it was a treat. We met in grade groups and discussed how the year has gone so far. My colleagues and I had a productive and interesting discussion, and we came up with some things to tweak for next year.

It turned out that all the grades were thinking about the same themes. One teacher mentioned that reading has become cold--they have to read a book alone regardless of their reading ability, and turn in a book report. Reading is not fun or passionate anymore. Several of us agreed and mentioned ways to start turning that around. The Reading Rainbow book talks I mentioned, and other teachers have done that as well has creating a "Books We Love" display for students who need something to read. Another group mentioned having classes all read one book together. One of my friends has been doing that--even using the dreaded round robin reading! She has found that they are doing really well in comprehending the book, as well as enjoying it. The kids like to read!

All the groups also mentioned vocabulary, and how those basic skills are so vital for the kids, in their reading and writing.

Someone mentioned a particular reading program they'd done in summer school, and how effective and exciting it was for the students. My grade definitely sees many kids who are below or far below level in reading. All the reading workshops in the world will not improve someone's reading ability. So the idea of once again having reading instruction is very exciting for us.

My AP is fantastic for many reasons. One is that she was an EL @ teacher for eight years and is still very much in the mindset of being a teacher and supporting teachers. Thus, she is very open to these discussions and suggestions. She welcomed us to use these "new" (traditional) methods to help the kids increase their reading levels and excitement. And she's going to see what can be done on a funding level to help with that. Wow!

To have a department all on the same page, and a supportive administrator, are some of the best things a teacher can have. It gets me worked up--in a good way, thinking about fun projects and new ideas to inject into our existing curriculum.

Then I start evaluating what I've been doing for the last three years, and I realize once again that I feel ineffective. I told myself that I would do vocabulary and grammar every week. A colleague of mine actually has one day per week set aside to do that. I wanted to, but I've never been able to. I end up feeling time-crunched and pressured to do so many things at once. I try to "share" lessons during the week, but inevitably we get behind, or have an assembly, or I just get lazy.

And once again I become depressed, convinced that the other teachers are better than I am, that my kids aren't really learning anything, that I'm not really doing my job, that all my plans and excitement never end up actually happening, that I am a failure and I am failing my kids.

I go through varying cycles of this all year. The summer is mostly three months of manic thinking and planning (and by manic I mean excited and happy and fruitful), and at least three to four times a year I sink into a depression of truth. Maybe it's winter blues, maybe it's dehydration, maybe I'm homesick maybe I'm stuck in a rut. All the stupid and awful things we deal with every day and complain about? Are never going to change. Ever. What's the point of anything when it's just so pointless? Each week I find myself counting the days until I don't have to work. On Fridays, I'm not happy; I feel physically relieved, like I can finally relax. The sad thing is that during the week I don't seem to work that hard.

I'm tired. Not like burnout, and not like fatigue, just worn out with all the aspects of this impossible "profession." I put that in quotation marks because only people in this profession consider it a profession; everyone else seems to think it's mindless grunt work. Whatever. Right now my mind just isn't there.

It's definitely time for a mental health day.


Anonymous said...

This is the first time I've read your blog. I think the way you are feeling is just kind of a natural cycle to teaching. Just hang in there.

Also, I'm not sure the "bells and whistles" teaching that we do that seems so great to each other (and Ed. professors) is really what drives student learning anyway. You might be surprised at how much your kids are learning if you are doing worksheets that you actually developed.

Good luck!

Ms. H said...

Oh, wow. I completely relate.

Dr. G. said...

I'm a teacher in Georgia and have been reading your blog sporadically for a more than a year. You are about the age of my daughter. The feelings you have are normal for a young eager beaver teacher. If you didn't care and weren't improving, you wouldn't notice your deficiencies. You'd just be a happy slug. The passage of years does help you gain that all important wisdom that goes hand in hand with your education to make you a master teacher. I don't know if you can get to any conferences where you can hang out/ go to lunch with noted, highly successful teachers and listen to their strategies or not. When I was about your age, those people saved me. I just walked up to conference leaders and said, say, can I take you to lunch? Usually they asked me to tag along with them and five other bigwigs and I learned tons of stuff--more than I had learned in college and grad school. Latch on to a mentor or two. If you ask, they will take you on as a project.

Have patience with yourself. I enjoy seeing what you are doing in the classroom and think you are doing well. The work is a meat grinder. Make sure you have time for yourself that allows you nurture yourself. They work will never make you happy. The happiness is in the personal relationships you are developing. The people will be your joy.

Buy another lock for the bookroom. Find a way to get that kid out of your class.

Sorry for going on so, but I like you and you looked like you need a word of cheer.

Dr. Homeslice said...

You've been added to the union bouquet!