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Archive for September, 2010

Tears…and not from the kids

September 30, 2010 3 comments

This hasn’t been a great week.  I thought yesterday was bad, when I had to stop the math lesson after 10 minutes because the students’ behavior was out of control.  Then today it got worse, as I came into my classroom from the overwhelming Language Arts planning meeting to find a new child in my room.  Then it kept going downhill as I got so flustered by the new kid that I ruined the Writing Workshop routine and the students responded by being chaotic for an hour.  Then, still flustered, I tried to start my Reading lesson but ended up in a stand-off with last week’s new student over a hat – her third stand-off with a teacher that morning.  As the rest of the class watched, awestruck, the literacy specialist decided to march her down to the office.  The office tried to blame it on the student not knowing English, but the specialist was very clear: “she knows exactly what she’s doing.”

I had been looking forward to the kids being away for an hour at art, but instead of having a chance to calm down, I realized I had no idea what my afternoon math lesson would be and didn’t even know how to make a plan for it.  I slowly pulled myself together and managed a semblance of a plan and sat in the dark in my room, crying, while I drew 17 happy face and frowny face charts to use for sorting in groups of 10.  Then about 10 minutes before I had to pick my kids up from lunch I checked my email and saw that the guy I hit it off with this weekend – the first guy I’ve liked in over a year and a half – doesn’t think we should see each other again.  On a good day I might have felt disappointed.  Today, I literally sobbed in the corner of my classroom until it was time to pick the kids up from lunch.

I know I wasn’t crying just because of him, or even just because of a crappy week and a crappy morning.  I was crying (then and now) because it was the nth day of feeling completely overwhelmed at how unstoppable and inescapable my current life choices are.  For better or worse, this classroom is my life until the end of June.  No matter how I feel each day, I have to keep getting up and coming in.  No matter how often I feel completely overwhelmed and lost and like I’m failing the kids and overmatched as a teacher, I have to keep coming in.  Even if I become a kind of teacher I never wanted to be and never thought I’d become, I have to keep coming in.  It doesn’t stop.  The days don’t stop coming and the kids don’t stop talking, moving, and needing.

And I know I cry because as I struggle with everything that school is and does, I also struggle to figure out my non-school life.  I’m good at entertaining myself, but I had this glimpse of what’s possible on Saturday and, man, I want it.  I want smart, funny friends to hang out with and a guy who thinks I’m awesome.  I want to feel some sense of possibility for a future that includes a husband and a family.  I don’t want to keep waking up, for years of days of end, just getting through to tomorrow.

I knew that the first year of teaching would be hard, but I thought it would be hard like student teaching was hard – setting high standards for myself and my kids and doing what it took to meet them.  Instead, this is hard in so many ways I didn’t even know would exist.  I told myself during student teaching to hold on to that feeling of “rightness” that I felt when I was with the class.  I felt so often then that I was doing what I was born to do.  Right now though I just feel like I’m barely surviving.  Right now, this isn’t the work I want to be doing and it isn’t the life I want to be living.  I’m hopeful that something will shift and I start to feel better about my choices, but right now I just feel overwhelmed.

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Ways of being social

September 28, 2010 Leave a comment

I have little drive day-to-day to leave my apartment and hang out with other people.  I enjoy my own company, rarely feel lonely, and often feel stressed by arranging and following through on social engagements.  I almost always have a great time once I’m out though.  On Saturday, for instance, what started out as an regional alumni club happy hour from 5-7 p.m. ended up with me going out to a new part of the city with a bunch of younger alums, most of whom I’d just met.  I had a great time and really enjoyed their company.  I didn’t think too much of it though until I was telling my brother the story and he said how impressed he was with me for being so open to new situations.  I’d never thought of it as being something that was different about me, but I guess not everyone would have gone along on Saturday.  So this weekend I learned two things – I still love people from my college and I’m not quite as socially helpless as I often think.

Finding my place

September 22, 2010 Leave a comment

I still don’t feel in control in my lesson planning.  Transitioning from a fully independent, 4-week unit approach to a team-planned week-at-a-time approach has been very hard on me.  In math, especially, I feel out of step with my team and with the specialists.  I want to start out much slower, emphasizing number sense, problem solving, and understanding.  The team values these goals too, but our planning tends to bypass hard conversations in favor of daily activity planning.  To me, the end result feels random – a collection of things to do rather than a careful building of mathematical understanding.

Oddly, I started out writing this post because I was feeling better about our math planning.  In today’s meeting I brought some ideas to the table, pushed for us to focus on foundational skills, and got at least one co-worker on board with my thinking.  At this point, I’d say I’m still feeling a little lost and out of control, but I also feel like I can find ways to carve out space for my own math curriculum within my classroom.  If I want to use ten-frames and I can find the time, no one’s going to try to stop me.  If I’m being really ambitious, I think my next step would be to plan out my idea of how the next several weeks should run, propose these ideas in our meetings, and implement as many of them as I have time for.  It’s a little exhausting to think about doing that much independent planning on top of the school day and my freelance work, but I think it would make me feel more confident and competent.  Teaching math was one of the highlights of my student teaching experience and I’d like to get back the feeling that I can really teach kids to think and to have fun with math.

Life experiences

September 21, 2010 Leave a comment

During math today we made a chart of yes/no responses to the question “Have you been on an airplane?”  As child after child came up and put their name under “Yes,” one of the kids still wavered, uncertain whether he had flown before.  A classmate saw his confusion and exclaimed, “Everyone’s been on a plane!  It’s how you get to America!”  He responded, “oh yeah!” and put his name in the Yes column.

Categories: Location, Teaching Tags: , , ,

Can’t beat that daycare training

September 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Today during Reading Workshop one of my students threw up on our rug.  For some teachers this might be a noteworthy event, but I’d forgotten about it until halfway through a conversation with my sister.   Leigh laughed and said this was the daycare training, and I think she’s right.  Years with dozens of toddlers have simply inured me to bodily fluids.  Do I love the fluids?  Definitely not.  But do they faze me?  Not much.  And at least six-year-olds, unlike one-year-olds, will listen when you tell them to stay away from the throw-up.

Six-year-olds can’t tell time

September 15, 2010 Leave a comment

Today I remembered that six-year-olds can’t tell time  and that I can totally use that against them.  Tired of asking the class to stand up, line up, or go to their tables and having them meander, divert or ignore, I decided to spend most of our morning meeting practicing standing up on cue, sitting down on cue, and going to our tables on cue.  The first time we practiced standing up they were simply awful at it.  Three kids remained sitting until I specifically called them by name, while one kid wandered away.  By the time they were all standing I was exasperated.  Hands on hips, I decided to make things up: “That took at least 37 seconds!” I exclaimed.  “We should be able to do it in 15 seconds.  I think we need to try again.  Do you think we can get down to 15 seconds this time?”  A chorus of six-year-old voices yelled “YES!”  So they sat down and we practiced standing up again.  “Hmm…a little better,” I said, “we got down to 22 seconds.  But I think you can do it faster, don’t you?”  And so we went, up and down, up and down, enthusiastically racing against the pretend clock.

At no point in this exchange did I actually time them.  Safe in the knowledge that they have no concept of time, I made up whatever numbers I thought would motivate them.  And it worked.  They stayed fully engaged, racing against the times I called out as they practiced moving around our room.

I know some teachers say they love upper elementary school students because you can do so much more with them, but I don’t think anything beats the cheerful, eager-to-please cluelessness of a six-year-old.

On the benefits of small communities

September 13, 2010 1 comment

My school (and school district) are by far the largest organizations in which I have ever worked.  I find it a little overwhelming.  It’s hard to get to know the rest of the staff and I expect it will be relatively hard to make myself known to them.  When I’m in an organization I like to find ways to be valuable – taking on a special project, becoming an expert on a particular topic – and it’s important to me to be recognized for my expertise.  While I never expected to become a leader in my first year of teaching, the sheer size of the staff (and their remarkable quality) make it hard for me to envision a leadership role down the road, either.

I also doubt I’ll get to know very many of the 750+ kids in the building – eventually I’ll probably learn a lot of the first grade, but the other 5 grades?  Highly unlikely.  As much as I like my school and respect the work of the teachers in building a strong, loving community, I wonder how much anyone can really do when a school is so large.  How do you build community when you’re too large to gather together?  How do you ensure that students feel known within the community when they rarely see staff beyond their own teacher?

I’m not sure if there are small schools in the U.S., at least not in places that I’d like to live.  But I suspect that if I stay in teaching, eventually I’ll seek out a smaller place – a place where the school is small enough to come together in one room (even if that room is the gym), and where it’s possible for staff to know staff, staff to know students, and students to know each other.  I like the sense of belonging, of shared commitment, that comes from feeling connected to the rest of the people in the building.

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