My initial foray into the classroom didn't go as planned; in fact, it went the opposite of planned,* and my departure was an unhappy one. But once the tremors subsided, I found myself deeply missing those kids, and though I'm in no great hurry to run a classroom again any time soon (if ever), I wasn't ready to put that world behind me. I e-mailed my principal and offered my services in whatever capacity might be useful.
Now I'm back. I can't deny, when I first returned to the building, I was nervous, but my welcome was uniformly kind and gracious—and in some cases, riotously jubilant: my 6th grade girls, my homeroom class who, when I was their teacher, regularly drove me to the brink (unless you've experienced it first hand, you cannot believe the amount of sass packed in some of these teeny-tiny ladies), mobbed me like the-Beatles-coming-to-America, almost literally knocking me over.
So I'm just doing whatever needs doing: reviving the neglected computer lab, helping them sort out their student data, I'll probably do some math tutoring. But it gives me the chance to see my kids again, chat with them, find out what they're up to and what they're thinking about (which was always my favorite part of the job).
I have no idea if the volunteering will just be what it is or if it will lead to further Adventures in Teaching Land. I just know it's nice to be back.
* I believe I owe you a "wax analytical". (How much are they charging for an analytical wax at the salon these days?) I'll give it briefly, in fine print.
The Big Picture:So there have you have it—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Any questions?
Certainly, the Systemic Cards are stacked against any newbie teacher thrown, with essentially no training, into the hyper-challenging environment of the "high needs" classroom. Some make it work, but many don't. Good intentions and a college degree, unfortunately, aren't enough. Teaching is a profession (and an exceptionally difficult one at that), and it requires training. (Which is to say, good, legitimate, on-the-job training; not the sort of irrelevant cruft that seems to bloat many education courses. What little coursework I had was almost entirely useless, like throwing a drowning man a textbook on swimming and saying, "Here, read two-hundred pages by Tuesday.")
The Little Picture:
I discovered limitations in myself that made this trial-by-fire particularly problematic:
The Medium Picture:
- I'm too nice. I'm as-strict-as-I-need-to-be with my own kids, but I found it very hard to translate that to a room full of other people's children. And a genial rapport isn't enough when you're dealing with some students who need very firm boundaries.
- I'm a slow learner—slow and methodical. Once I get there, I really get there, but just starting from day one trying to sort out the dizzying array of names and faces and learning styles and curriculum requirements and instructional techniques and required documents and... Ack! Too much, too fast.
After the storm, the school became a charter, but for the first two years of its new incarnation, it continued to struggle woefully. (As mentioned before, our 4th-graders had the second lowest math scores in the city last year. Which is saying something.) Now, with a new administration and a largely new staff, we were trying to turn it around, but it was the charter's third year, we were up for review, and we needed to make dramatic improvement in test scores, particularly in math, or risk losing our charter and possibly being shut down altogether—a tough job for any teacher and one that, if all was as it should be, ought never have been tasked to a rookie. (My replacement is a force-of-nature veteran. It's a pleasure to watch her work.)