A Journey to the Unexpected

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Feb 15 2012

Sometimes being awesome is nothing personal…

I feel like in the last few weeks I’ve had a running list of “Reasons why teaching this semester is a hundred times better than teaching last semester even on the worst days, aka, reasons why last semester may have been the worst six months of my life thus far.” I tend to be dramatic, so it’s possible that there have been a worse six months… but it’s definitely at the top of my list of “Times not to relive.” Obviously, I’m big into lists.

Here is my latest list, though–a list of those little student successes offering rays of light that I see this semester and didn’t the last one. I’m discovering that some of them, despite all my best and varied efforts, have little or nothing to do with me, and actually, I’m ok with that. They still make my day. Though maybe the fact that I’m here to see them happen is not entirely irrelevant, for example…

Mr. S. The list of inappropriate things he’s done and said in my classroom and to me is, literally, obscene. The only advice I could get last semester was “Keep writing him up so they can force him to go to the behavior unit, he’s not going to learn anything anyway, just be thankful for the (50+ of 80ish) days he’s absent.” This semester he finally got a court order that he has to come to school, and I’ll be honest, my heart sank. Yes TFA, I’m one of those teachers, standing there in morning duty trying to seem happy to see him, when the math teacher says, “He’s so likeable, it’s just such a shame he gets in so much trouble.” I’ve said that about some students–not this one. My jaw may have physically dropped. So she pulled him over and the three of us had a chat about his behavior in my class–come to find out the reason I haven’t gotten to know this teacher better is that she’s ALWAYS with her students–and the difference has been night and day. Some of that could be because he’s in school consistently enough now to actually get into a routine. Some could be because I unintentionally “mobilized an influencer.” Maybe I’m slightly more consistent. Whatever it is, I’ll take it–he may be six years below reading level and have a list of behavior and learning disorders a page long, but he’s one of my most attentive students in that class. Is he always appropriate, respectful, or on track? No. But it’s something.

Miss D. She got her schedule changed because she kept getting in fights in her old classes. She’s my lowest female reader, and had an attitude that literally demanded failure. No, she’s one of the ones who literally demanded that I fail her, just because they know they can spite the system and still go to high school. When I called the foster mom, she asked me if I had any suggestions since she was at her wit’s end–you might be surprised how often that happens, by the way. Anyway, remember how I said she switched classes? Maybe it’s that, maybe something changed at home, but she’s now pulling a high B, brought in a Langston Hughes poem just because she “ran across it” online and know I love him, and barely lets me talk to anyone else because she’s always checking to see if she’s doing things right. Will she still be spending the next week working from the office after beating the snot out of another girl today? Yes. But it’s something.

Mr. P. He has not been the way you want to start the day. He’s come in every day groaning and moaning, refused to work, quietly cussed out other students, and informed me at every opportunity that he hates school. My MTLD came in and worked with him for 20 minutes while I was teaching last week, and I heard Mr. P-WHAT?-thanking him for explaining things so well! He came in the next day, high-fived me cheerfully, and informed me that he’d decided to work hard. Friday was a little bit of a rough day too (he woke up in the middle of a dream that he’d gone to hell. Some days are rough :)), but today he found me in the hall to ask if there was any make up work he do (yes, with a 58% in my class, I have hounded him with make-up work before!) Could it be that his dad is out of prison, or grades are about to come out, or he’s just on a temporary upswing? Probably. But it’s something.

Finally, Mr. T. The horse kid. Mind you, he’s the one who brought the horse up to school–I have literally pulled my hair out over this guy, and he has spent months in detention from my class… and yes, he still does his darndest to skip it and is failing miserably. But after I wrote him up for skipping yesterday, he came in slightly miffed but sat down and got to work for the whole period–and it was one of my roughest classes as a whole that I’ve had in months. Does that mean anything? Maybe not. But maybe, just maybe, it’s something.

I could sit here and type about the kids I’m really worried about–the ones I haven’t seen any change in, or I’ve seen slipping away to negative peer pressure, fighting, bullying, drugs, potential pregnancies, attitudes–you name it. I’ve cried twice this semester–once over Mr. P’s success, once over another promising student’s poor choices and following suspension. I don’t have any guarantee that the positive changes I’ve seen in the last few weeks are going to “stick,” but I’m discovering once again, in the words of the poets, that hope IS a thing with feathers, and, like weeds and wildflowers, it DOES grow back. And even better is this– I’ve had very little, if anything, to do with it. They tell us that we, as teachers, have the greatest impact possible on our children, and honestly, that’s a pretty awful feeling when you are a cranky, burnt out, frustrated first year teacher. Take heart, dear teachers, 120 grades may be at your fingertips, but the world is not entirely on your shoulders. In the final words of the great poets of High School Musical, we’re all in this together :)

No Responses Yet

    Post a comment