Sunday, May 24, 2009


I am very excited about having a three-day weekend. The class and I had a very rough week. Two students in particular are just ridiculously disruptive and unrepentant. Happily, two other difficult students are showing steps toward progress. They both did very well on quizzes late in the week, and when they saw their grades, they crowed with pride. I love that. Those are the ones that I think I'm getting to. They are a pain in my ass, and I'm a pain in their ass (because I don't let up), but they have started to like and respect me (and I, begrudgingly, might be loving them a little).

This has been my modus operandi for the past five years, actually. It's kind of hard to explain (I don't even know if I tried to articulate it during interviews last spring). You know, I just chip away and chip away at a kid, and just about always they start turning around. Sometimes it's only a little, and it's not like the kid suddenly gets an A in the class, but their attitude and their work start improving, bit by bit. By the end of the year, they totally love me, even if they would never admit it, and I totally love them back. (And it's taken me nearly five years to understand that about myself.) I don't think it's a great method and I think it's probably played a part in the gray hairs and insomnia that pop up here and there.

Dammit, this is why I want to leave teaching, but then say, wait, maybe it's not so bad. Gah! The day-to-day kills me. I have so little patience and I often tease instead of show kindness. (But I tease out of a good place, I promise; it's not malicious.) (The kids mostly get this. I think.) The never-ending overwhelming pressure to plan plan plan plan PLAN plan keepplanning PLAN wears me the hell out. I dread making parent phone calls--will someone answer? will the parent yell at you? will the parent threaten the child at you? will the parent be completely impotent? will a voice mail reach the intended parent or guardian? will a child care at all that a call was made?

Bonding with a kid is pretty cool. Seeing a kid who cares about the work, without prompting or begging or bribing, is pretty neat. Seeing a kid laugh at your stupid jokes is definitely cool. Watching a kid get a little better in school is fantastic. Getting a hug out of the blue is amazing.

Seeing how many kids do no homework sucks. Hearing kids cuss each other and you out, day in and day out, sucks. Looking at the quality of work done makes me want to die. Watching kids refuse to change and improve makes me want to throw them out the window. Hell, it makes me want to throw myself out the damn window. Especially when it's eleventybillion degrees in the classroom and we're all feeling smothered by humid, adolescent-tinged air.

There's always something wrong--not enough materials. Too many kids in the room. Things go broken or missing. Never enough books. Never enough parent involvement. Never a completely competent administration--you're lucky if there's one good one out of the bunch. Too many tests. Too many stupid inconsequential things like bulletin boards. Never enough hard-core discipline support that actually works. Never enough useful meetings--the development either isn't professional or doesn't develop anything. For god's sake, why is there no recycling program in NYC schools??

I've never been able to shut these out. I can't help the righteous indignation--goddammit, we shouldn't have to deal with this! Why can't something be done? Why can't we do this instead? Why don't we get more notice for events? Why can't the systems be logical, for crying out loud?

I've now worked in a handful of schools. None of them have the answers. All of them have problems, and though the schools themselves are sort of different, the problems are all essentially the same. The job is always essentially the same.

I really don't know if I'm cut out for it, and I really don't know if I *want* to be cut out for it.


cupcake said...

It's as if I've thrown my voice and it's coming out of you.

I'm only in my second year of teaching, but I came to it in my 40s, which I think helps with the patience thing. But the rest of your frustrations are ones I battle every day.

When I start to feel like you do (which, let's face it, is just about every day), I tell myself that the fact that I care enough to care means that I'm where I'm supposed to be. One of my Geniuses asked me last year, "Why do you care?" I mumbled something and then said, "I don't know. But I do." He comes to visit me two or three times a week and even told me where he hides "things" that are best hidden from faculty members.

Look at it this way: those kids you reach may not have been reached by another teacher. And that's a pretty cool thing.

Oh, and the teasing with kindness? I do that too. When I start to think that my teasing either has crossed the line into being bitchy or that they think it's bitchy, I say, "I kid because I love. Love in the heart!" They think it's goofy and embarrassing, but they relax a little.

Schoolgal said...

The power you have as a sub is that you can pick the schools you want to work in. Next year you may want to find a new school with more support and better working conditions. You have never experienced that. And maybe that's what you need to get a better handle on your future choices.

Magical Mystical Teacher said...

I echo what Schoolgal says. I have FINALLY found a school where I am valued and treated as the adult that I am. The admin isn't constantly looking over my shoulder or into my classroom to catch me doing something wrong. I am trusted to do my job. As a result, I have thrived at my current school. There's a school out there like that for you too, I promise. Be patient. You'll find it or it will find you. You're a teacher!

dramamath said...

My mom had a gift for reaching the unreachable students, and her technique was exactly as you describe it. I just had a discussion with a parent on Friday (first day of least she didn't wait until the VERY last minute). Her kid was surprised at just how much I really liked him. We butt heads often and we both get frustrated. I think I got through to him. We will see how he does on his exam today.

By the way, it is obvious how much you care, which only goes to show what a great teacher you can be.