Tuesday, August 2, 2011
The First Days of School
Monday (yesterday) was my first day teaching in a public school. Sunday night I had to grade papers for the online course I'm teaching. The grades were due the next day and students were just turning in their final papers. So I did that and got to bed around 1:30. Got up at 6 a.m., not enough sleep for me. I'm a total zombie when I don't get enough zzzz's. And I'm also a little bit cranky. So I got up, got ready and went to work, arriving at 8:20. It's a hike to the city and it also takes me awhile to wake up. I immediately found my schedule and realized that not only am I teaching 7th grade, but 8th grade also. It would have been nice if someone had noticed, let me know ahead of time or prepared me in any way.
After having a mild freak-out attack, I scrambled to get together some materials with which to greet 8th graders rather than 7th grade. Nothing. Both of the Assistant Principals and the Principal are new. They were busy anyway, running students like cattle through the scanners and sorting everyone into classrooms. There was a lot of bustling and a little hustling. I went to my classroom and had a mild freak out attack. Seriously, who tells you that you're teaching one grade and then sticks you with two different classes with absolutely no preparation? But there was little time for rumination as I had half an hour before I met my first class, which incidentally was eighth grade. They were a quiet group and full of stony looks. I watched them and asked them to do some writing. Cancel that- I made them do some writing. One of my students made insulting comments when she thought I couldn't hear. They mumbled on their way out the door.
My second hour class of 7th graders were just giddy by comparison. They talked easily and didn't seem to mind the writing. Nobody is overly excited about English but they are willing. My other classes are about average- poor kids, lots of potential, just becoming full fledged teenagers. A few of my students are parents. Yes, 13 and 14 year old kids. I didn't register any shock. After all, this is not the culture I'm accustomed to and I have no right to judge. I have to get my bearings and look around, see what normal is. See what kids these days do in this neighborhood. One of my classes had 37 students registered into it. Not all showed up, but we had to borrow chairs from the teacher next door. In my last hour class, one of the kids farted loudly and others swore in Spanish. I ignored the swearing and made the perpetrator sit still. My overall first impression was that either the kids have to improve their attitudes or the administration needed to step up their game where newbie teachers were concerned. Several on faculty noted that they had never had such a poor first day. It made me less cranky to know I wasn't the only one. As I was leaving, a co-worker handed me a copy of the curriculum that I would be teaching. So at least I had some curricular materials.
I went home and crashed at 7:30. At night. I have, to the best of my knowledge, never, ever done that. I've awakened at 7:30 p.m., but never gone to bed at that hour. And I slept until 5:30 this morning, when I made my lesson plan and got ready for work.
Today, Tuesday, was day two. It was much better. My first hour class decided not to do a group participation exercise so we did some writing instead. Next time I ask for students to raise their hands, I expect there will be more people volunteering. They talked today too. My second hour class came up with their own glossary words, which was way ahead of the other classes. My teacher heart did a happy dance since that was all their own idea. They sometimes seem upset that I walk around and talk to them, instead of hanging out at my desk. My butt only hits that chair during lunch or plan period. I had even more kids register into my large class- 40 according to my paperwork, though I am assured that ten were dropped. I wonder then why we had to borrow more chairs. I was assured that my class is back down to 30, though I find that number to be exceptionally large. I asked for that number to shrink. "It will", came the answer. I will wait and see. At least two of my students do not speak enough English to be in my class but I will have to wait for them to be moved too. In the meantime, since most of my students are bilingual, someone translates for them. On the balance, today was much better than yesterday. I met with my fellow English teachers to confer on our plans for this week. I gave a little emotional support to other new teachers and hung out in the hallway with the kids between classes. They are beginning to greet me back. Someday soon, they may even crack a smile. But don't get me wrong; I'm a hardcase as a teacher. Today I corrected the cursing in Spanish, thereby admitting that I knew what they were saying and prohibiting cross talk in a language they thought I didn't understand. Ah well, we play the cards we are dealt.
This inner city school is much different than a suburban or rural school. I still have to rely on my wits and problem solving skills. And as early as I get there, there are dedicated teachers who arrive an hour before me and who stay later. Many of my students write and read below grade level. They don't know what to make of a teacher who uses big words and takes time to explain what those words mean. Some look at me and see "outsider" and I look in at them and wonder how long it will take to change their minds. Some have behavioral disorders and others just cannot sit still for the life of them. I know they are trying. I know it takes something just for them to make it in the door in the morning. Yet still I am keeping my standards high. This will be a challenge. I have to somehow raise test scores and still teach what children need to know. They are children, too. And for the most part, they are well behaved. Not one has openly defied me, nor been disrespectful to my face. All of my instructions have been followed, if only half-heartedly by some.
Tomorrow is another day, and I am sleepy. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to teach, run up and down stairs twenty times a day and find things to enjoy. Because I will enjoy this. I can feel it. I am going to get attached to the kid that I pulled aside and talked to today about keeping himself in check. I later saw him in the principals office and stopped to offer him encouragement. I think he needs that. I think I have something to offer here.
Ah hell, I always wanted kids.