Friday, September 7, 2007

Despair: 1, Miss Brave: 0

Things that would probably make my teaching experience a heck of a lot more bearable:
1. a key to my office
2. a key to the library, where my office is
3. a key to the bathroom, for Pete's sake, I was not meant to hold it all day
4. kindergarten writing paper
5. first grade writing paper
6. second grade writing paper
7. a curriculum (i.e., a reason for my existence)
8. a staff member I could ask about all these things without feeling stuuuupid
9. the mentor I was promised all new teachers would receive; now is the time I need her, not January when all this is just a bad memory
10. my health benefits to kick in so I could get some Prozac or something

Things I always suspected I would dislike about teaching that I do, in fact, dislike about teaching:
1. feeling isolated from everyone over the age of 8
2. the sense of crushing despair I feel after unsuccessfully attempting to implement every single be quiet and stay quiet signal known to teacherkind
3. the sense of crushing despair I feel when I try to comprehend the enormity of differentiating instruction for the second graders who can barely write their own names
4. having so much planning to do outside of school
5. behaving like an ogre to wriggly, chatty small children who don't get a gym class who are behaving like wriggly, chatty small children who don't get a gym class
6. school politics

Things I dislike about being a push-in cluster:
1. Frantically running from class to class
2. Working with about 350 kids so there is zero chance I will really learn all their names (classroom teachers: where are the nametags that are supposed to be on their desks?!)
3. Having to carry my own supplies from place to place
4. Not having any of my own supplies to carry from place to place
5. Not knowing what any of the regular classroom routines are and thus being unable to implement them with any consistency
6. Seeing each class for only 50 minutes a week: all of the challenges of teaching with few of the rewards that come from getting to know a group of kids really well
7. Not bonding with any other teachers on my grade level
8. Being viewed with less respect, authority and adoration by the kids
9. When the classroom teacher needs to step in and tell her kids to shape up because they're not behaving for me; the word "embarrassed" comes up frequently in this situation, when really I'm the one who's embarrassed
10. Realizing that the only thing worse than being in the "challenging" classrooms for 50 minutes would be being the full-time classroom teacher

Today was a tough day. Over the past few days I've gone from thinking, "I can't do this for the rest of my life" to "I can't do this for more than a few years" to "I can't do this next year." Today for the first time I thought, "I can't do this at all."

My kids aren't violent. They aren't dangerous. Most of them aren't even openly defiant. There are teachers out there who are getting injured by their students on a daily basis, who face exhausting, hellish conditions every day, who don't have any supplies or desks at all. There are teachers out there who are facing ineffectual principals, illegal overcrowding, and hostile work environments. There are teachers out there who would probably kill to work at a school like mine. Those are the teachers who make me think: I'm not thick-skinned enough for this. I'm not tough enough for this. I'm not dedicated enough for this.

I like working with kids one-on-one and in small groups. But teaching to the whole class -- it's getting to me. There's the pressure to make sure everyone is listening, all eyes are on me, no one has their hands on anyone else. What behaviors do you nip in the bud? What behaviors do you choose to ignore in a futile attempt to pick your battles? There's the pressure to address the needs of 25 individual students in one 50-minute period. How much time do you spend with the kids who are busy writing away, and how much time do you spend with the kids who are staring blankly at their empty sheet of paper?

My 50-minutes co-teacher told me that at the end of her first year, the principal suggested that she re-think her choice of teaching as a career. Five years later, she's still teaching at our school. I'm not strong-willed enough for this, I thought; if at the end of my first year, someone tells me to re-think my decision to teach, I'm going to re-think it. Then I realized that someone already has. During my disastrous first student teaching experience, my cooperating teacher's parting words to me were: "Don't teach first grade."

I thought I had something to prove here. But what if I just made a terrible mistake?

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