Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Look on the Bright Side

"You can't stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you.  You have to go get them sometimes". ~A.A. Milne

As a little girl, I spent the majority of my time being babysat by my sisters.  I was still in diapers and they didn't want to change them, so until I was potty trained, I spent a fair amount of time in the bathroom, sitting on a toilet, swinging my legs, with my sisters reading me Winnie the Pooh books.  They always called me Pooh Bear and hopefully the name has instilled in me a bit of optimism that eventually, everything is going to be ok.

I've been preparing since last week for my new job.  I've been hired by the Oklahoma City Public School system to teach 7th grade English at one of the middle schools. I start tomorrow and the students come back from summer break on Monday, August 1st.  It's a Title I school, meaning that the majority of the students are on free or reduced lunch.  The population of this middle school, which houses about 500 students in grades 6, 7, and 8, is mainly children of Hispanic heritage.  This is the first time that the district has tried year-round schooling.

A myriad of questions have swirled around in my head.  How many English teachers are there? How many students will be in each of my classes? How many classes will I teach of what and what's the schedule like? Do they have a curriculum? Because I'm great at curriculum.  I've spent the last week chatting with teacher friends over lunch and coffee and reading the books they gave me. Thanks, Shelly and Alicia; I needed that! I met with one of my committee members about teaching in an inner-city public school and he gave me advice too.  Everyone has great advice.  Which I need.  Despite having been a teacher for the greater part of a decade, I have never taught in this situation before, in a public school where I have to play by someone else's rules.  Frankly, it's disconcerting.

My friend Bonner called me today too.  He's taught in the same district and he loved what he did.  He gave me some rules to play by; advice that he was given, discovered or read about and implemented into his teaching world.  Much of what he said echoed from Shelly, Alicia and my professor's words too.
1. Leave at lunch.  Every day.  Get away from campus.
2. Be a hard ass.  These kids are going to be tough.  Being the kind sweet person I want to be will only get me eaten alive. Pushing kids to succeed will help them in the long run.
3. Attend student functions and volunteer to help.  They will notice and it will help.
4. When you go home, as you walk out the door, say out loud "I am leaving work now."  Leave your work at work for fear that it will consume your life.
5.  Your life will be changed. These children will change you forever. You will change them too.

The last time my life changed forever, it was from teaching in the prison.  I felt bitter and frightened after dealing with a large institution which sought to oppress an entire group of people- many of whom probably wouldn't have been there if they could afford a decent attorney.  I'm a little older and perhaps a little wiser and I'm certainly not alone in this endeavor.  But oh, my, oh my.  These are the same rules I lived by in the prison system. Alicia, Shelly and Bonner also said this would be worth it and that I would love what I do.  I'm holding on to that hope.  In fact, I am certain that my fears are unfounded and that hope will win out. Yes, hope will win. What would Winnie the Pooh do? Find some hunny, that's what.

So friends, as I contemplate- as I begin- this new journey, I will keep writing.  We will work it out together.  Maybe you can read me a book and I will swing my feet.  Do me a favor though, and leave me a little comment today. Give me your favorite teaching tip.  I would like to have what my friend Britton Gildersleeve calls a beginners heart.  If you're not a teacher, tell me your best coping tip- how you deal with stress and how you stay positive.

"Those who are clever, who have a brain, never understand anything" ~A.A. Milne


  1. Well....my best advice I ever took was that I didn't have to know everything and my class wouldn't look down on me. People want to use their experience. Young people are used to video games and 80 pieces of feedback per minute, so keep things varied. And the more senses you tap in to, the better the retention.

    And everyone wants to do/be better...they just need the right motivation.

    Oh...and the first day, you have to kill someone or make them[THIS POST EDITED BY BLOGSPOT STAFF FOR LEWD CONTENT]

  2. I'm not a teacher Mindie, but I've worked with adolescents in a psychiatric hospital for the last nearing three years. I agree with the "be a hard-ass" part because they'll punk you if they can, but also make sure they know you give a damn about them. Usually when they figure out you care, they don't mind you being a hard-ass. At least that's how the gang members etc. that I've worked with have been. PEACE


  3. Embrace change, the one constant in our lives. The thing that drives us to make the world a better place. Our lives are constantly revised, and realizing this has been my greatest coping mechanism. I think perhaps writers can cope with change better than most since we are constantly revising stuff anyway ;) Good luck M <3

  4. The only thing I have ever taught was swimming. It was the most rewarding job I ever had. It was me & another lady. She handed off the slow learners to me. The kids that were afraid of the water. The most important things I learned were that each person learns differently & at a different pace. Patience is a must for those few who seem to sit still & never move forward in learning. They can be moved, but only if they find something to move them. If one thing doesn't work, don't retry it, try something different. Find out who they are & what they love & use that. Also, be a hard ass. In swimming instruction you can't be soft or they will literally drown you. Don't expect to be perfect the first time around, but make sure you pay attention & learn from what works & doesn't work quickly or they will drown you. That being said, there is nothing like helping someone learn something they didn't have before. Find comfort & joy in every little step you make. Concentrate & focus on every positive moment, especially when things get rough. I think you'll be amazing.

  5. You're fabulous :)
    - Ivy