Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Nov 03 2007

teaching is full of inconsistencies…

I’ve taken to giving a fairly neutral response when people ask me how my day was. There are very few days that would genuinely qualify as “good”, but generally there are not a lot of “bad” days either. Most of the time, they’re just… days. On any given day, I’ll have one class that is relatively well-behaved while another class makes me want to pull my hair out (out of frustration with myself as well as with them). Hardly anything remains constant: not the number of students in each class (so many of them miss class on a regular basis that a class might have 25 students one day and 15 the next), not the amount they understand, not the amount they talk. It makes me wish I could remember my own high school classes better – was I just as easily distracted by other things going on in my life or in the classroom? I know so little about my students’ lives outside of class (for better or for worse)… it’s hard for me to know when the students are acting the way they are because of signals they’re getting from me or because of something else. Two of my students were kicked out of their mother’s homes this week… and they’re both staying with other family, but I can’t even imagine having to endure something like that. I’m amazed by their resilience and ability to focus even a little with the challenges that many of them face in their private lives… challenges which are wholly unknown to me.
On my end, things are improving little by little. Classroom management is still my biggest weakness, but at least I’m starting to feel a little more organized. I’ve got some new systems going that make things slightly easier, and I’m learning to manage my time better on the weekends so that I can get as much done as possible. It’s just tough having to accept the fact that I could literally work from 8-8 each Saturday and Sunday and still not get everything done for the week that I need to get done. I have to remind myself that each worksheet I write now is one I won’t have to write next year, and that I chose to do this because I wanted a challenge and something that would truly keep my nose to the grindstone. I’m constantly exhausted during the week, but not quite to the extent I was during institute (it’s sad but true that I can say “at least I’m getting six hours of sleep” and be grateful for those two hours more per night that I get now and did not have at institute). I’m starting to fix some of the mistakes I made last quarter (little by little), and that’s making a big difference. This week I discovered that very few of my students consistently do their homework, something which somehow escaped my notice last quarter. I started giving them zeros for those assignments, so when I gave out progress reports for my class yesterday, about 50% of my students had a D or an F due to missing homework assignments. We’ll see if that improves next week now that they know they’re not going to get away with it. Homework is really quite a frustrating issue because when 75% of the class didn’t practice the material from the day before, 75% of the class is not going to know what’s going on the next day, and I’ll spend my time telling students what words mean or explaining conjugation for the 50th time when they should really have all that down by now. There are also still students who, despite having to do this in EVERY SINGLE CLASS THEY TAKE, cannot seem to come into my room and do their warm-up activity within the seven-minute time frame I give them. They get a zero every day because they can’t stop talking, even if I call out the amount of time left each minute! There’s only so much I can do about that.
I still don’t feel defeated or discouraged beyond hope, but I can say that it’s easy to see why even the best-intentioned teachers aren’t able to completely bridge the achievement gap for their students. I will always be held back, if nothing else, by the fact that I am unwilling to sacrifice my life outside of teaching in order to effect the kind of change that needs to take place. I simply cannot spend every minute of my life thinking about teaching or doing something that directly impacts my students. I have to take some me-time every weekend in order to have the emotional strength necessary to get through each week… and each week is hard because I don’t get enough work done… it’s a vicious cycle. But, I just try to stay positive and look ahead to the end of this year, when I’m convinced I’ll be able to look back on these months and think how far I’ve come. I just have to get through the “Disillusionment” phase on the 1st Year Teacher’s progression line, which starts… in November.

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