Thursday, September 02, 2010

something old, something new

When I decided to take the elementary teaching job last summer, I was really nervous about going into a new school situation, after the horrors of my first charter school experience.
I wrote:

This wasn't an easy decision, and I know the year will be fraught with new challenges. I won't be going into the year as innocent and naive as last year, but I will be going into the year with goals (first--patience, second--a life outside of school, third--creativity) and realism.

Big caveat to the job: if I'm miserable, if I'm crying, if I'm losing sleep--I will leave. I've definitely learned that lesson the hard way this year and I don't want to or need to go through that again.

But I do want to do a good job in a new environment, and enjoy teaching all the subjects, and get to know and love the students.

In the interview, I told the principal about three things that I needed: professional development, colleagues/teammates to work with, and curricular materials. did it all pan out?

Well. The professional development was a bust. The summer parts especially. We listened to a bunch of speakers and experts...who had clearly never been in an urban classroom. We had to do an entire day of physical labor to help the school get ready.

Not like I could have used the time any better, because our materials took forever to arrive. I don't think we had any of it before the kids arrived, not even books for a classroom library. The math curriculum came first. We got a Lucy Calkins writing set later (HATED IT and so did the kids). Science must have come a bit after that, and eventually we got a very paltry package of library books (but I'd already brought in a lot of my own books). The reading curriculum was last to arrive--we got that in LATE NOVEMBER. No social studies curriculum at all.

The teachers at this school were amazing--fantastic people, and great educators. I loved being a part of their team. Of course, I barely saw them. Elementary teachers basically never get out of the classroom, and there was no teacher break room in which to rest and chat. After school I was always sequestered in my room alone for several hours. My grade colleague had been at the school for the last two years and was great at planning and teaching too--but she never had time to stay before or after school to meet and talk to me. I really, REALLY needed someone at the beginning of the year--I felt completely overwhelmed and in over my head. I needed someone to work together with, bounce ideas off of, and talk to. And she just couldn't be there for that. Midway through the year she ended up leaving and I had a good month of being the 'stable' member of the grade team. We ended up with a great sub taking over the rest of the year, but he needed a lot of help in getting settled and figuring out how things worked. We were able to plan a little bit together eventually, but it was difficult finding time to do so on a regular basis.

So...those three things that I needed in order to have a successful year? Were not there at all.

I'm kind of amazed that I did as well as I did, considering. I don't really consider it a 'successful' year, in terms of achievement and learning, but in terms of survival, well, I did that.

How about my personal goals?
Hoo, boy. I was super patient for about three weeks. I don't even know how I did that with the group I had. But then I found myself back to losing patience. Eight hours is a LONG day, y'all, with a bunch of rowdy, difficult boys who don't give a shit about learning or anyone else learning either. (That's basically who my class was all fall.) I tried so many things. I reached out to so many people. Some helped (some colleagues, some of the parents) and some did absolutely nothing (parents, some admin). I don't know how to be patient enough for these kids. I wasn't good enough to them, for them. All of my kids, even the rough ones, needed SO much from me, and I couldn't show enough patience, love and understanding to them, even though I felt it.

A life outside of school:
Didn't happen at all the first part of the year. Once again the 11/12 hour days kicked my ass during the week and then the weekend was about recovery. I was better about relaxing and trying to do fun things on the weekend, though. At Christmas, my mom came to visit and we went to visit the boy's parents in his hometown.
In January I started a photography class, specifically to give me something other than school to do during the week. I really enjoyed it. I started a second one in April.
I guess we didn't do anything for February break, but I did a weekend to DC with friends in March, and of course we did travel for Spring break, to Costa Rica! Had a fantastic time getting engaged, exploring and having adventures.
Once daylight savings hit and it was light after 5pm again, I was over school. No more being stuck inside in the dark for so many hours. I left by 5.3o or 6 for most of the rest of the school year. Still didn't have much time or energy to do fun things during the week, but continued to try for things on weekends.

The weekends were my absolute favorite them. I loved them. I LOVED any time not spent teaching. It didn't take long for me to notice that and think about the meaning and ramifications of that.

So-so. I definitely had some high points with lessons I created. Not sure if I remember any of them. (I wish I'd had more energy to record things on this here blog!) We all loved doing grammar with School House Rock and erasable sentence strips. I coordinated a bunch of field trips for my class and the other class in our grade, which was my favorite part of the year. Oh, and teaching my class the states and capitals and different language greetings--I was proud of that. Overall I could have done a lot better. I had the kids do some cool projects that combined science, social studies, art and reading. I created a couple sweet powerpoints for one of our ancient culture units. I tried to do a biography/research project, which kind of failed and fizzled. The problems were twofold--a lot of kids didn't do the research as assigned over February break, and then after some great in-class practice (taking notes, and then using those notes to create paragraphs. I was actually really happy with these lessons.), the final drafts were still very much not in their own words. I HATE that and was so frustrated with the way that many of them seemed to be done or heavily guided by parents.

At the New Year, I made a goal to do more small group work. (My admin had been wanting me to, and I agreed it's helpful. It's just more work and you can't do a lot of new material that way, and in so many subjects we were pressed for time!) It took me awhile to get around to it. Reading groups, when I did them, went swimmingly--I did two different types. Sometimes I had them rotate in groups doing different activities and skills (like vocabulary, reading comprehension, etc), and sometimes I just had the groups stay in one place and read their small group book together and answer questions.
Math groups I didn't do as often. I definitely could have done better with that. Although maybe not, because in January we plotted out the next few months to cover all the curricular points we needed before the test in May. So we kind of had to book it along. I think I did a couple though, like with coordinate graphs where they had to make shapes and 'test' each other on the points. They seemed to enjoy that.
Lots of fun group activities in science kits! The best unit was on nutrition--we had AMAZING discussions and the kids were really into the experiments.

Remember, another one of my New Year goals was to find a new job. In January I was despondent, because I was sure the year would never end, or at least that my sanity wouldn't last. And there were some seriously trying times. (I would articulate some but my brain has long since forgotten it.) The biggest bully was removed from the class, which would have been a relief if not for the eight bajillion other problems still facing me. There was a lot of drama with my worst kid, and then three--no, four--other kids developed a shitload of drama, and the worst one got more worst, and ugh. I was like, oh my god, I can't wait to get this year over and done with! But wait, what am I going to do? Should I stay and ignore the insanity? Is it better to be broke and happy, or employed and crazy?

But in June when I found out that the school wasn't offering me a contract, it was still a shock. I had to remind myself that I'd already made the decision not to return.

In past years, I've usually needed some kind of processing time, or grieving time when a year (or teaching job) is over. In my favorite year, I think I cried even. I've always been happy to finish a year (god, I bet I was over the fucking moon at the end of my first year! what a nightmare year that was!), but I was also sad about leaving the kids and nervous about new ones.

But this year, I didn't give the end a second thought afterwards. I woke up on that Tuesday so happy, relieved, weightless. SO unburdened and carefree. It was wonderful.

As August crept on, I started seeing ads for back to school sales. Blog posts about schoolmares. Teachers writing about their plans. Pictures of classroom set-up. It's been very strange to not be a part of all that. The planning, the anticipating, the brand new planbook, the gathering of supplies, the copying of handouts, the writing of classroom rules, the wondering about the kind of kids you're getting, the stressing out about the first's all so familiar and so stressful, and while I'm glad to not have all that stress, I feel a little lost without it. Like, who am I without "teacher"?

That still remains to be seen. I'm doing my best to look forward, not backward, and go bravely into this unknown.


NCavillones said...

That whole last paragraph, that was me every August and even this past August, because I didn't find out I'd be teaching until September 1st. LOL.

Go slow, do whatever you feel like doing and don't be afraid to explore opportunities. These past two years off from teaching is probably the best thing I could've done for myself. Poor but happy, indeed.

Schoolgal said...

Now it's time to go explore your needs. You will find work that makes you feel fulfilled. But what you experienced is what is wrong with all school systems. It's not the teachers or the teacher unions. It's the lack of support. Charters are a revolving door, yet there is a movement out there shouting their praises while another movement is trying to destroy public education by putting blame on public school teachers...especially those with many years of experience.