Overheard during whiteboard time
D.: *sigh* “This class gets more and more organized every day.”
Let me be real for a moment. I mean really real, not kinda sorta real, like I usually am when an acquaintance asks how TFA is going to be polite. Teaching is hard. This past week has been hard. This past month has been really hard. I’m so constantly busy that I haven’t even had time to put in my dry cleaning or clean my room in the last three weeks, much less do the things that I enjoy, like jam with friends or go to the gym or read a good book. Let’s not even get into spending time with God and reading my Bible. I’ve taken naps in my classroom, at the TFA office, and in my car in order to ward off drowsiness as I fight the losing battle to conquer my to-do list. On more than one occasion, I’ve lesson planned all the way up to the bell for Math Lab, only to realize that I’d forgotten to make copies Algebra 2.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love teaching. The five or so hours that I get to spend in front of my students every day bring me more joy than anything I did during my college years. I have no classroom management issues (I’ve given out one consequence in two months), and my students are making tons of growth (according to the data and anecdotal feedback). Students regularly come to hang out in my classroom when they have nothing better to do after school, and they’re now comfortable enough with me that they’ll share what’s really going on in their lives if I ask. Almost all of my students are invested in at least our first big goal of scoring 80%+ on the end-of-course assessment, and they applaud themselves and each other whenever they reach another milestone toward that goal. So many of the things that I envisioned happening in my classroom at the beginning of the year have already come to pass.
Still, I am clearly not being as efficient or effective as possible. In order to sustain the growth that I’ve seen, I have no idea what I need to keep and what I can throw away. My students love having lesson packets, but is it worth the time to make one for every single day? I believe in pushing the rigor, but should I continue spending hours looking for relevant NECAP and Regents questions for unit exams when my curriculum already provides summative assessments from the book? Questions like these paralyze me, because while I know that I have a ton of learning to do as a first-year teacher, I’m so afraid of making a mistake or lowering expectations or releasing too much responsibility that I don’t have the heart to change anything I’m doing right now.
And yet I must. I am emboldened by an experience from yesterday, when during Guided Practice, in a moment of overwhelmed frustration due to ten different students calling out my name at once, I spontaneously told everyone who was already done to get up and help classmates who were still struggling. I had no idea if it would work—frankly, I thought it would be a disaster, based on similar experiments at Institute. But it worked. Oh, how it worked. In an instant, I had ten of my best students standing next to ten of my weakest students, explaining how to do the problems in Spanish. We got through Guided Practice twice as quickly as we usually do, and I ended up giving the class free time at the end of the block because I had nothing more planned. The moral of the story, I think, is that I need to trust my students to be mature and stay on task, even when I’m not guiding them step-by-step. Stay tuned for updates on this endeavor.
On the non-academic front, it appears that the more my students get to know me, the more confused they get. Which is perfectly fine by me; better to be confused than to know me too well, at least in the beginning. Muaha. The first layer that confuses them is my educational background. I’ve been asked the following question, in various permutations, more times than I can count: “You went to what school? You got a what on your SAT?? You majored in what?? Why are you teaching at this school?!” Usually, all I can respond with is “Because I love teaching, and I love you guys. Now get back to work.” The second and more perhaps more baffling layer is the contrast between my personality and my exterior appearance. I tend to dress very professionally to work, usually donning a two- or three-piece suit and/or a peacoat, and on top of that, I’m very no-nonsense in the classroom. Yet I make extensive use of the exit slip puppy (shameless borrowed from Ms. Tung), my classroom door is covered with tare panda, and I like to draw adorable “math monsters” for Guided Practice. The boys in my classroom are especially confused. I love it.
Before I get back to grading quizzes, I want to return to the topic of being too busy for, well, life. I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with being extremely busy and working diligently for a good cause. However, through all of that, it is crucial to remember the Apostle Paul’s exhortation from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”). The greatest work in the world is in vain unless it is given up to the glory of God and offered alongside rejoicing, prayer, and thanksgiving. Food for thought as I roll into the long week coming up ahead.