Mississippi Teacher Corps

Friday, December 08, 2006

Reflections on a nearly completed first semester of teaching

The term will be over in 2 weeks, and the whole first half-year has gone much faster than I thought it would. My experiences were probably not all that different from those of any other first-year in Teacher Corps. I laughed, I cried, I wanted to bang my head against the wall, I got hopeful, I got discouraged, I felt like a failure, I felt that I meant something important to one of my students. Sometimes, all in the same day. Perhaps the most surprising part of this whole experience is the range of emotions felt in a single day; I had my share of great days and terrible days, and then the days that were a strange, rapidly paced mixture of positive and negative. I'm recalling a particular day when one student flipped me off, and another stayed after class to tell me that she liked me because I was different from all of her other teachers and I do cool demonstrations.

Throughout these past few months, I've spent a whole lot of time looking forward to my second year of teaching. It's taken me months of experimentation to figure out plenty of little details that can make or break a day in surprising ways. It took me a few months to figure out a good system for collecting and grading work. I only recently figured out that it is physically possible to use an overhead projector in my classroom, and now I use it at least a few times a week. I'm still learning how to best phrase assignments in easily understood terms. Some of these uncertainties come from the fact that it is my first year teaching, and some are about learning the ropes at my particular school. I'm not sure if there is any easy way I could have learned these things before starting teaching (aside from my school giving new teachers an orientation that dealt more with practical matters in the school instead of forcing us to listen to a speaker talk about how to use Bloom's verbs for 6 hours... but that's a rant that I'll save for a later date), since so much of my experimentation is about figuring out what works best for me. At any rate, the learning curve is steep, and I've spent so much of my energy figuring out the necessary small details that I couldn't devote as much attention as I would have liked to things like tracking individual students. Next year, I'll have a new group of students and will need to figure out what works best for them, but it sure will help to have the basics already down.

This past week has gone well in terms of teaching, and I saw some positive trends that I'm really not sure how to explain. All year, I've been encouraging students to come to me after school for help and to make up work. As it turns out, about 1 in 10 kids will show up to make up a test after being absent; the other 9 will never make it up and will earn a 0. I've really struggled with how to fix this problem; I tried posting lists of missing work, but stopped because it didn't help. I'm still having serious problems with this. However, this week, an unprecedented number of kids showed up in my room after school. Granted, not nearly as many as need to, but it was still something. And a few random kids that weren't even my students decided to show up, too! I've felt that students, in general, do not particularly like me, evidenced in part by the number of obscene notes I find about myself written on desks and in textbooks. Yet, all of a sudden, kids seemed to start liking me this week. A few came by my room just to talk to me about nothing in particular (speaking of which, today's memorable quote is, "Ms. Long Skirt Blue Jacket, you don't have TV?! Man, THAT'S straight gangsta! " They generally seemed more friendly and receptive to me in class, too. Don't ask me to explain this one, but it's definitely very encouraging.

The biggest problem I've grappled with these past few months in which I seem to be making no headway at all is academic performance. I've literally stayed awake at night worrying about the number of kids that are failing my class. I don't even want to think about the percentage or write it here because it upsets me too much. A small part of this concern is selfish; I may end up getting in some hot water with the administration, eventually. Mostly, though, I take it as a sign that I'm doing something wrong as a teacher. Why aren't kids learning enough from my teaching to pass their tests, and why am I not motivating them enough to even make sure that they hand in all their classwork and make up missing work? It is because of this issue that I still have trouble thinking of myself as a good teacher. After the first 9 weeks ended, I was hopeful. I failed a lot of students, but thought that they would start increasing their efforts after the first report cards came home and they saw that I wouldn't just give them the pass unless they earned it. I planned to prepare them for tests better, and to do much more frequent classwork grades, both to give them an opportunity to offset low test grades and to create checkpoints for understanding before giving tests. If anything, the problem is worse now, since the kids frequently just forget to hand in their classwork, or don't care enough to put it in the basket on their way out, or don't make any real attempts to do work that they could easily complete. Still working on this. Suggestions are welcome.

I'm still struggling with classroom management. Again, much of it is experimentation. I came into the year unafraid to call kids out, dish out the detentions, and so forth, and still keep on them. Yet, there are days and students where it feels like my diligence is fruitless. I think I came into the year with the idea that I would spend a lot of class time in the first month dealing with classroom management issues and then would be able to just teach, but I'm realizing now how unrealistic that is. I became very frustrated when I first realized that I would have to keep spending lots of time every day cracking down on infractions. Words cannot express how sick I am of saying, "Close your mouth," "Spit out your gum," "Turn around in your seat," and so forth. I'm becoming more used to dealing with these stupid issues, though, so I don't get as frustrated.

One of the most dynamic aspects of my first semester has been feelings about the administration. I came into the year impressed by my principal and what a tight ship she ran. It is her first year as a principal, and she started the year out strict and strong. It seems that, like me, she became frustrated when things didn't fall into line a month or two in, and I went through a very bad period where it seemed like the administration was burned out and frustrated. They were inconsistent in their support, and seemed to think I was doing something wrong to have so many office referrals and detentions. About a month ago, the principal told me that she was "close to letting me fly" (by which I assume she meant that she was close to withdrawing her support of me). She doesn't seem to be making that threat any more, and I've stopped worrying about it. I still feel that the administration is not being consistent in the way it deals with students, but are on better terms with me because they have realized that the discipline problems are school-wide, not just a problem that I'm having. We had a staff meeting this week to discuss school discipline, and it seems like there is almost unanimous frustration with student (mis)behavior. This meeting was strangely comforting to me because it reassured me that the administration wants to do something, and that the staff of the school is going to do a better job of working together to deal with discipline problems. For me, few things are scarier than thinking that I will be completely cut off from support within my school.

Now playing: Young Dro feat. TI- Shoulder Lean


  • At 8:29 PM, Blogger Prof. Seeman said…

    I understand! Best help is PREVENTING discipline problems.
    Go to:

    Regards, Prof. Seeman


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