Tuesday, September 4, 2007

My first first day

...because tomorrow may be just as challenging, but at least it's not the first day!

My first day. It wasn't fantastic, but it wasn't miserable, and since I feel like I'm teaching in a vacuum it's hard to say whether I'm in trouble or whether I'm just being hard on myself.

First there was the unanticipated schedule change; my afternoon kindergarten class was (surprise!) switched with a special needs second grade class. I wasn't expecting to teach second grade today, and I wasn't expecting to teach this particular second grade at all. OK, I thought; you hear about this happening all the time, this is your first big challenge, roll with it.

It was a little rocky. I'm definitely thinking Too Big at this point, and I need to scale back my lessons, big time. They say that on the first day, you should over-plan...by which they mean "have more things ready for students to do," not "try to make students accomplish a project that's beyond them." I have 50 minutes with them, once a week, and I think I've been wildly over-optimistic about the things I'm going to be able to accomplish in that time. I still don't have a curriculum to follow, nor is there any sign that I'm going to get one, so I need to be proactive and write my own...and it definitely needs to be less "think conceptually about how you feel as a first-grader and then write about it" and more "first-graders put spaces between their words when they write." Today was the first day, so I tried to make with the big introduction, and it kind of fell flat. Memo to Miss Brave: Think small. After all, it is called a mini lesson.

I take comfort in the fact that I'm not the only new teacher who looked just the slightest bit shell-shocked at the end of the day. When you watch a great teacher teach, it all looks effortless, and then when you're up there yourself, it's like your brain is screaming a hundred different things at you: Have the supplies ready! Can all the students see? Should I reprimand that student who's looking a little unfocused? Don't be fumbling to reach those markers! Firm up the tone of your voice! And because I'm rushing from class to class, keeping one eye on the clock and trying to do the time in my head is really hard. I'm sure every teacher can tell you that things you think are going to take a long time happen really quickly, and things you think should be quick take forever. And it's not like I can steal a few minutes from the next subject if I want to; I have to be out of there and ready to go.

I'm still on a cluster-teacher seesaw. Sometimes I think, Further along in the year, this is going to be pretty sweet! No matter how challenging each class gets, I'm outta there after 50 minutes. I have all these extra prep periods. I don't have to worry about attendance, fire drills or all the other paperwork the classroom teachers have to deal with. Other times I think: I am never going to learn all of these students' names, and they're never going to respect me as much as they do their classroom teacher. The classroom teachers are going to judge me as a teacher when I'm in their rooms, and at least they have a curriculum to work off of! And I'll always feel a little bit lost about my place in the school culture. And even more troublingly, I think: I don't know if I want to be doing this next year.

But there's something about teaching that keeps teachers coming back. I never would have thought that after my disastrous student teaching experience, I'd be back in a classroom. I read and hear teachers' countless complaints about their profession, and then I see them return year after year anyway. And all the things that challenged me today are things that, in time, will improve...I hope.

At the very least, I'm going back tomorrow

Troubling anecdote: One of the students on my roster of small-group after-school students was a no-show. His classroom teacher pulled me aside and whispered the reason: Last week, his mother killed him and then killed herself. "He's not here. He's dead," she said flatly. There are no words.

Hopeful anecdote: "YOU DID A GREAT JOB! even if you did a shitty one, you're doing a great thing, and thus deserve to be congratulated." --Inspiring words from my friend Catherine. Thanks buddy!

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