Saturday, May 31, 2014

Epic Post: First Year of Teaching

I keep thinking I should write, and then can't seem to think of where to start.  My big lull in blogging started about this time last year.  My grandmother passed away and I wanted to write some meaningful tribute to her, but it was just too overwhelming.  The rest of the summer flew by and then I started my Master's program in August.  It was only two classes, only two days a week.  It was going to take me about 2 years to finish, but life likes to shake things up.  Nine weeks into the program, a job opportunity opened up.  I interviewed for it thinking it would just be good experience for future position, but I was hired on the spot during the interview.

I was both ecstatic and terrified.  I mean, on the one hand we would finally have two incomes again after over two years living on one.  I mean, we had manage, but things would certainly be more comfortable on two incomes.  However, going into a high school teaching position with no student teaching experience seemed overwhelming (actually it seemed like way more than overwhelming, but I don't know a word for that…unless there is a word for hyperventilating and frequent nightmares).  I mean, I knew this was what I wanted to do and I was excited, but I knew it would be a serious challenge.

Coming in during the middle of the first semester is rough, especially when the class you teach only lasts one semester.  Also, teachers who come in mid school year don't get any kind of orientation to the building, many faculty/staff assume you've done this before and have some understanding of policies, and if you need anything (like desks) you have get it done yourself.  I teach at one of the largest schools in the state that has, in the last five years, gone through a lot of change (for the better).  I griped on here because there were times that I didn't know how to deal with difficult students, or the demands of taking class at night, teaching during the day, prepping for teaching, and attempting to also have family time.

I was grateful that we found a Montessori school near my school that Ellie LOVED.  I can't even express how much stress it took off me to know that Ellie loved going to school.  In fact, my school gets out at 2:05, and if I attempted to pick Ellie up before 3:30, she would cry.  She loved it there.  She made friends there, and has grown so much (not in size, she's still tiny).  She really came out of her shell.

Second semester was better, but not without its challenges.  At one point, around February (a particularly challenging month because it felt like we were all constantly getting sick), I almost called it quits.  For several reasons, the worst moment was a turning point.  My Assistant Principal was incredibly supportive and understanding, it made me feel like I could keep going.  Around that time I also volunteered to go on a field trip as a chaperone, and little did I know that a great friendship would come out of that, as well as validation that I was an effective teacher (if only on a very small scale).  I now had more reasons to come to work each day.

By the end of the semester, I felt more confident in my ability to teach, I finally felt like my classroom was mine.  I took ownership of it, started to rearrange and redecorate.  I took every ounce of feedback from evaluations to heart and sought out more experienced teachers.  I asked questions and kept a journal to figure out what worked and how to improve what didn't work.  I no longer felt lost and overwhelmed, I was learning.

It wasn't always fun, but there were some amazingly rewarding moments.  The first semester, I had a student who was intentionally failing.  She didn't like me, which she regularly told me.  This made me so angry, but after talking to another teacher she gave me great advice.  So I finally pulled the student outside to chat.  I explained that she needed to swallow her pride and get her work done because I wasn't going to put up with her attitude.  She passed my class with a B.  Second semester, I had a student whose life was a setup for failure.  Honestly, I don't know her whole story (and probably wouldn't share it if I did), but I knew that she had a lot on her plate; enough that would probably send most of us running to a corner crying with a big, fat "I quit." Instead, she was mustering everything she had.  She was always extremely engaged in my class.  She participated, and it was usually like pulling teeth to get some of these kids to participate.  She didn't love me at first, but on her last day she gave me a hug and said, "How do I do what you do?"  At first I didn't understand, and then I said, "You mean teach Psychology?"  And she said yes.

We exchanged contact information, and I told her to let me know how her first day of college goes (she's going for free thanks to a new state program, and a lot of hard work on her part).

I may have teared up when she received her diploma (and I might be a bit misty eyed just talking about her).

I didn't expect to feel emotional at graduation.  I didn't even wear waterproof mascara or bring tissues.  I should have.  I teach at an inner city school.  Some of these kids didn't expect to graduate high school, maybe their parents never did, many are new to this country.  Graduating high school never felt like a huge accomplishment to me.  College was the challenge.  High school was just easy and expected.  This was the first high school graduation ceremony I've ever attended that felt important, a genuine sense of accomplishment.  They had truly achieve something, and I felt that sense of accomplishment with them.  I had finished my first year.

Thank you to all of you who sent supportive and encouraging words during this past year, you helped me believe I could keep going.  I truly appreciate all of you!

Thursday, May 01, 2014

I probably should have put this up awhile ago:

Hoping to start updating again over summer break!