Friday, June 25, 2010

Onward

Monday will be my last day teaching at P.S. Throwing Chairs. Even though I've been waiting to say that for, oh, three years now, leaving will still feel bittersweet. The old adage about how "whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger" has never run truer than in my teaching career. In my first year of teaching, I taught 400 students in 19 different classes on six different grade levels, in a school where I knew no one. I taught English Language Learners and special needs students in CTT and self-contained classes. I taught English Language Learners who were special needs students in CTT and self-contained classes. I had no curriculum, no mentor, and no bathroom key. I wrangled entire grades in the auditorium all by myself during mass preps and our school's most notorious troublemakers in the suspension room. By the time the year was over, I knew I never wanted to be a cluster teacher again, but I also knew how to walk into a room full of strange children and command respect (or at least a few moments of suspicious silence).

My second year, I provided small-group academic intervention in reading. My roster shrank from over 400 students to under 60, but for the first time I was subject to the same intense scrutiny of my teaching (not to mention my ability to sift through sanity-crushing loads of data) as everyone else. I survived weeks (months, even) when it felt like I was testing more than teaching and other weeks (other months, even) when it felt like I was covering other teachers' classes more than teaching. When the year was over, I felt I had finally developed a niche as a reading teacher...only to have my principal decide to place me in a classroom of my own.

At the beginning of this year, I had a running debate with myself over whether this year's start was harder or easier than my first year. In my first year, I didn't know a soul; at least this year, I had a support network of other teachers. In my first year, though, I got to flee the classroom after 50 minutes; this year, I had to stick it out with my most challenging students all day.

Was it easy to deal with William and Julio, to battle the Not-So-Magnificent Seven and my apathetic literacy coach? To teach an above-average size class of 28 students with zero push-in support and hold in my pee for hours on end? Of course not. But did it strengthen me as a teacher? I have to hope that it did, otherwise my three years here were in vain. And I can't bring myself to believe that.

Recently, with my classroom still in a shambles after Julio's most epic meltdown, I spent my prep on the phone with the parent of one of my students who's been diagnosed with tic disorder and will probably qualify for testing modifications and occupational therapy next year. He's a student who's been frustrating me all year, because despite his intelligence he bottles all his frustration inside him and prefers to work independently (very, very independently) rather than with anybody else. So this mother and I were talking, about the ways in which testing mods wouldn't give him an escape hatch from hard work but rather ease his frustration a little bit, and his mother very sincerely said to me, "You're describing my son exactly the way I see him." I can't even tell you how gratifying that is for a teacher to hear -- not "You're the best teacher in the world," or "You have changed my child's life forever," but simply, "You're describing my son exactly the way I see him" -- You know my child. You understand him. You may not always be able to get through to him the way you hope, but you continue to strive for him.

Later that week, she phoned our IEP coordinator and mentioned how happy she was to have me as her son's teacher, that she wanted to visit the school and tell the principal how much she appreciated me. Seeing as my principal hasn't acknowledged me since I notified her that I would be leaving, I don't think she's feeling particularly appreciative of me at the moment, but it was still nice to hear. Then I got an e-mail from my new principal, whose tone in addressing his staff seemed so cordial and genuine. It made me feel hopeful. I've been so happy in my personal life and yet so miserable in my professional life for so long. This time, maybe, I won't have to kill myself quite so much to become stronger.

4 comments:

photomatt7 said...

Just came back to your blog after awhile. I admire the courage you have to not get set in your ways and to seek other places for employment. I also grappled with a similar decision this year, but ultimately have decided to stay at my school. Lots of luck as you start the next chapter of your career.

mcaitlin said...

happy last day!

Anonymous said...

what was the point in taking the job if you didn't seem to want it from the start or as you said, were trying to leave from the moment you started?

Just curious.

miss brave said...

Anonymous -- when I was hired at my school, I didn't know I was being hired to teach the writing cluster. I had gone for an interview and done a demo lesson and was subsequently offered a job; I assumed it was a classroom position. And even after I found out I was in a cluster position, I wasn't automatically anti-cluster. It wasn't that I didn't want the job from the start; it was only after I started teaching that I was unhappy with the position and with my school.