It’s been about two full weeks of teaching for me at my placement. If my calculations are correct, I have already spent more time teaching than I did my entire summer institute. The irony is that I probably have less confidence in my teaching abilities now than I did a couple short months ago. Of course, I’m still a new teacher and you can’t please everybody but honestly whatever momentum I had going into the school year has stopped. Perhaps it’s because I had a team of teachers with me during the summer and now I’m by myself. Perhaps it’s because I’m teaching classrooms that have 3x the classroom size now. It’s pretty easy to blame the difference in circumstances.
Here in rural Arkansas, I’ve started to develop a routine. Get up shortly before 6 AM. Take up my bags and coffee mug and rush out the door to school. Throughout this whole time I dread losing a piece of student work (I can always be more organized). I swing by the copier to gather my materials while I grab a mug of coffee. Before the 7th grade storm in my classroom, I’m sure to take one last swig … after all I need it! I have two classes with my 7th graders back-to-back totaling over three hours. It always seems to go by fast … sometimes, too fast! After class and then an advisory period, I always take a few minutes to sit, eat lunch, and enjoy the silence.
When I am finally collected, I wander to our teacher development room and I find Mr. W sitting behind a computer. Even though it’s his first year at the school, he’s our mentor teacher and he comes in with a wealth of experience from the past. I usually find myself stopping there for those reasons plus he’s just ridiculously witty and fun to talk with. Those few minutes I trade with him are probably the most valuable for me as I have come to realize. “How was the morning?” he usually says. Among the things that I’ve said over the past two weeks:
- “One of my girls grabbed my yard stick and used it as a back-scratcher. Without really thinking about my role as a teacher to get her on-task, I say, ‘See C, this is why we can’t have nice things.’ The class erupted in laughter.”
- “Blah I’m so behind. J came to me today and said he was struggling with converting fractions to decimal. After explaining it to him, he counters with, ‘Mr. L, is there an easier way for you to explain this? I feel like you are putting things into my head but it just stays empty.”
- “Definitely not doing that activity again. Just came to realize that I tried playing a game without discovering that a lot of my kids don’t know what these numbers mean.”
Mr. W is a colleague but I’ve been seeing him as an older friend of sorts. It’s something that I never had while I worked at my previous job. After swapping stories, I usually rush over to my room to get ready for my afternoon class. Until today, I didn’t think too much of it. During today’s stop, Mr. W tells me, “Well it’s good that you’re reflecting. I’ve been having a lot of bad days myself.”
So much of the summer was dedicated to striving toward a vision that we set up for our classroom. What about reaching a vision for us as teachers? Amidst working on developing a “teacher voice” and condensing the introduction of new material, I started thinking what if I’ve been devoting too much time to trying to improve incrementally. Maybe I can start to realize who I should be as a teacher. Is it possible that I’m just not an authoritarian in the classroom? Is it possible that I am just not wired to come up with a fun activity at every bend in my teaching? Unfortunately, I don’t think TFA can come up with an effective session on something you have to find out for yourself.
I am very thankful for the few minutes that I get in passing. I just wish I only had that before my first class on Mondays!