The story of how I got into teaching is somewhat of a long one (maybe I’ll tell it someday), but suffice it to say, I’m in this job by divine intervention. Therefore, I’ve thought it fitting to say a prayer every morning in the school parking lot, before I head in to start the day. My standard prayer is something like, “Dear God, please don’t let me get my butt kicked today,” and sometimes I’ll throw in the “please let the day go well for the kids, too.” Almost never, though, do I ever stop to ask for God’s opinion on anything. Today, I did. (It’s Spring Break, but I was still
worrying thinking about school.) This is what I got back:
My primary fear in teaching is that I’m going to screw up up my students’ lives. I won’t teach well enough. I’ll grade too hard. My tutorial times aren’t convenient enough. I expect too much. I’m too serious and will alienate them. I’m not simultaneously teaching and nurturing them as people. I’m not good enough.
Sure, I know the stories about how God has chosen the underdog before to do his work. He chose Moses, a stutterer, to boldly proclaim to Pharaoh that he should let the Israelites go. He chose David, a scrawny teen at the time, to defeat the giant, Goliath. He even chose Paul, a Christian-murder, to become, arguably, the greatest apostle and spreader of the Gospel. They were all good enough for the work God chose them to do. I guess I’m good enough for the work God chose me to do.
But that has not permanently comforted me. What if I’m still doing something wrong?
It is no secret to the people who have known me longest that I fancy myself to be Anne of Green Gables. We both have large imaginations. We’re both idealistic to the point of naivete. We both have red hair (mine’s dyed) and button noses. We’re both teachers. There’s one other striking similarity, but I can’t tell you here, because it might reveal my identity to the creepy strangers of the internet.
Last Monday was my one-year anniversary at my school. Even though this school year is my first one as a full-time teacher, I was a long-term sub for a senior-level physics class last year. In my first days at my school, I was going through a real Anne of Green Gables craze, and so I was rereading the books. One quote from Anne of Avonlea stood out, and I’ve said it over to myself many times throughout the year:
“We always love best the people who need us.”
In the context of the book, and in the context of my life, too, it means that the bigger a mess somebody is, the more that person needs help and somebody to mother them, the more I love them. For as much as I can’t stand battling my students on basic classroom rules and procedures, it is not, surprisingly, my “good” students that I like best. No, my favorite students are the ones who find themselves somehow at the center of the chaos each day. The ones with hideous grades. The ones whose parents I’ve gotten to know pretty well because of how many phone calls home I’ve had to make.
I have half a day off work because my daughter (read: dog) has an eye infection, and I have to take her to her optometrist (read: vet) appointment in a while. I am, of course, using this half day of freedom to stew.
The feeling of guilt is strong with this one, Darth Vader.
Earlier today, one of my students reminded me (again) of how unsympathetic and totally-not-understanding I am because I keep telling him that I can’t answer his scads of questions all during class time. There are other students who need help, and there are other lessons to be covered. He needs to come to tutorials. He thinks this is ridiculous.
Report card grades locked in at the beginning of this week, which kicked off a new round of me contacting parents to discuss their children’s grades. Unfortunately, due to the large number of students I have, I only have time to contact the parents of students who are failing. Many of the conversations I’ve had so far, however, go something like this:
Me: “Hello, this is ___________, and I wanted to contact you to let you know that your child is not currently passing Algebra I.”
Parent: “Oh yes, I know. I can’t motivate him to do his homework or care about class. I just don’t know what to do about him. He’s so different from his brother. His brother is getting an A in calculus, you know.”
It’s scary to me, how one family can turn out such different children.
Before I go any further, I want to say two things:
1) This blog is not a critique on anybody’s parenting style. It’s also not my arrogant advice on how to parent.
2) I don’t believe there is any such thing as bad children. Kids are kids. They all have good things about them, and they all have things that could be improved.
I do, however, believe, without any doubt, that every parent has some idea about what they want their child to be like. Maybe they want their kids to get good grades. Or be good at sports. Or be popular. Or be morally conservative. Or be mentally healthy. Whatever it is, every parent wants something for their child.
But the fact is, from everything I have observed, parents do not control how their children turn out. Continue reading
Since my past three posts have been about the stress that comes with being a first-year teacher, I thought I’d do a nice one.
One of the ::many:: surprises that has come with teaching is how much my students need me. Not all of them need me, but a significant number are actively seeking my approval, interest, affection, etc. It’s not in a “they come from bad homes and have no other positive adult role model” sort of thing (I don’t think)… It’s just that they really like me and want me to like them back.
This was a surprise for me for two reasons:
I saw this image on Pinterest the other day, and it really got my goat. I’m not sure if Michael J. Fox really said this (I hope he didn’t), but somebody said it, and that somebody had the wrong idea about teaching.
People who have never been teachers, or who haven’t been in the classroom for a while, seem to think they know more about teaching than the teachers do. Oh, just teach the way kids learn? Why have I never thought of that?!? Thank you, Michael J. Fox, for pointing out that totally-not-obvious idea.
Teachers are trying to teach the way kids learn. Continue reading
I dropped my laptop on my toe when I was dragging it (the computer, not the toe) out of the closet to start this blog. I hope it’s not an omen.
If you read the “about me” page (but let’s face it, you probably didn’t, because blog readers are reckless creatures who like to read, and live, on the edge), then you know I’m halfway through my first year of teaching. I teach grade-level Algebra I and geometry at a pretty nice high school in a pretty big city.
In terms of demographics, the student population at my school is about 70% affluent (mostly white), and 30% in poverty (mostly African American and Hispanic). I teach the 30%.
I like “my kids” a lot, but the year has been rough. Most evenings have seen me at home, stressing out about how my students are failing and scouring the internet for any hint of what I might be doing wrong or whether this all is normal.