Brick City

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Oct 31 2010

Halloween Update

Hello all!  I haven’t blogged in a really long time… I was just rereading my last post and thinking how full of optimism I was after my first year.  Oh, boy.  The past month or so has been the most challenging time of my short teaching career.  Maybe some of the most challenging times in my life.

It’s not because of the kids… or because I’ve forgotten how to teach… or really because of any one person.  The bottom line is that scheduling is really messed up in our school, and my classes still aren’t stabilized.  I had to pick up two creative writing classes to relieve overcrowding in other electives, and teaching a new class is challenging enough in itself.  To top it off, I was given zero notice (and I mean zero, as in, I was officially told about this less than 24 hours before my students arrived for class).  One of my creative writing classes has 39 students, and I’m teaching it in an instrumental rehearsal room (no board… instrument lockers all over the walls… kids using music stands as desks).  In my English I classes, new students are coming into my classes every day.  Every day.  New kids.

I recently compiled my assessment data for the first unit.  Of the 50 kids who took the test the third week of September, only about 20 are still my students.  I’ve since gained about another 80 students in the time since the test.  This is nuts.  I’m really struggling with how to plan lessons, assess learning, and be optimistic when we are nearly 25% of the way through the school year, and kids aren’t even in the right classes.

On a much happier note, however: my kids (even though they aren’t the same group from day to day…) are really phenomenal.  They are bright, inquisitive, and respectful.  I don’t just mean a few of them.  I mean nearly all of them.  Even though their schedules may have been changed five times in the past month, many other students are running through the hallways, and most teachers are inconsistent about school rules, in my class my kids are really focusing on doing their work.  I rarely have to assign detention.  We recently did a narrative writing project, and 100% of the kids turned in their assignment.  I had a few who refused to present to the class because they were too shy, and a few stories that weren’t as long as they should have been– issues we’ll work on.  However, at this time last year I was barely receiving projects from 60% of my kids.

So what’s the difference?  Partially, I thank previous teachers, and families for raising kids who are respectful and value learning.  I also think that part of the difference is just me: with one year of teaching under my belt, even though my school seems to be imploding right now, I’m much better equipped to deal with the craziness.  Lesson planning is faster and easier with a foundation to build on, and my management skills are sharpened from the challenges I went through last year.  My classes are almost always the highest point of my day, no matter what I was dealing with on the administrative end.

In a way, the disorganization that’s happening this year is teaching me more about education than I ever thought existed.  I came into TFA thinking that teachers were the primary problem.  Honestly.  In a way, poor teaching in the classroom is the direct problem facing students: but really, any teacher could easily become mediocre if they worked in this kind of environment long enough.  Somehow or other, we’ve come to a point where there are literally thousands of people working in this district, nearly all of them with the best of intentions, and yet the result is just mediocrity, mediocrity, mediocrity.  Simply trying to be a good teacher (never mind an excellent one) is like fighting a riptide.

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