A Mosaic In Progress

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Dec 20 2012

Things I Learned – “Being the Boss”, “Intolerance”, and “The Newtown Effect”

It was bittersweet to find a note on the back of one of my finals saying, “We love you, Mr. L!” I had the chance to start reflecting on my first semester as a teacher during my long drive back to Indiana … eight hours of flat road! These were the moments that stuck with me the most:

Being the Boss
“What did I do, Mr. L??” asked RW. I responded that she shared her cell phone with another classmate and laughed while an exam was out. Because of that, I removed her trust card, which gives students special privileges during classes. Normally, this would not have been that big of a deal but this was RW, the de facto leader of 4th period Math. At one point, she had over 100% in my class. As a star basketball player and student known for her work ethic, I would have never thought about giving a consequence to someone like her at the beginning of the year. This is why my hand was kind of shaking … I felt like I was committing a crime!

If there was one thing that I wish I could have changed, it was consistency. It was too easy to pick on the same handful of students. In fact, I think they were getting numb to the consequences after a while. However, what precedent was I setting if I let certain students off the hook but not others? Yet this is what I was routinely doing through the majority of the year and I effectively let my students run the classroom.

Yes, it is the responsibility of the student to come in prepared to learn but it’s my responsibility to make sure that they don’t leave empty-handed.

Prior to becoming a teacher, my response to names or disrespectful comments is to ignore them and move on. Don’t think anyone would argue that being patient and calm in these circumstances is important but then I started to wonder if I should show a little more anger and intolerance. Yes, I cannot catch every little name that is uttered but is that reason for me to ignore a chance to tell someone about conduct?

As I was greeting students last week, an upperclassman yelled “SHING POW!” and speaking mock Chinese in passing. This reminded me of a similar instance that happened during summer institute when a girl thought it was acceptable to make her eyes more “slanty” by pulling them apart. Since I wasn’t comfortable with handling a situation like that, I just laughed sheepishly and, as a result, acknowledged that that type of behavior is ok. However, this time I was quick to pull this student aside and confront him. That twinge of anger was enough for him to know that what he did was wrong and he came to apologize during my prep.

What if I took that stand more often on behalf of my students? All too often, I was consumed with anxiety on whether or not I can get through what I needed to teach that I forgot that my students also needed to know how to treat each other. I remembered that ignoring brief moments of bullying led to one of my girls shutting down. I want to be able to show more intolerance next semester.

The Newtown Effect
Fridays are noticeably more relaxed that any other day during the school week. After the morning classes, I usually only have one more class in the afternoon to teach. Since the school does not block Facebook, I use that as my small window to the world outside Eastern Arkansas. As soon as I started reading my news feed, I immediately decide to go to the gym. I wanted to see my own students after seeing how groups of others were suffering in another part of the nation.

Sometimes I would have a student ask if he/she was my favorite student. I would always give the same response, “I love all my students.” But during December 14th, I learned how love is displayed through those teachers and administrators in Newtown. I don’t want to imagine a classroom without one of my kids and I could do a better job of showing that I feel this way. Watching a game of kickball oddly gave me a sense of relief.

On Tuesday, Miss R and I gave a final that required use of their computers. When class ended, we realized that there were a few students who had not submitted their exams. I decided to e-mail the teachers as well as the students to turn it in however I was ready to give up. Six missing exams. As I was telling my co-teacher about this, Miss R just said, “Can you go to the office to see what classes those students have? We can’t just let them get a zero especially if they’re going to fail.” To be honest, I was reluctant to go to each of the teachers but what I found surprised me:
• Two of the students did not even know where to begin. The next day I found that they knew the material perfectly as long as they just got started.
• One student had her computer taken away immediately by the office preventing her from turning it in.
• The remaining three just forgot to turn it in as they were rushed off.
And there I was ready to give a zero. While there are many reasons why I am thankful to have Miss R as a fellow first-year teacher, this was just the latest! Showing love to my students means not wanting to see them fail and she did just that.

What a long semester but I am looking forward to the break. I hope that with a little intolerance and love that I can improve next year.

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