Teach Houston

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Nov 22 2013

“Thank you for believing in me.”

I did it. I made it to Thanksgiving Break. I will not be back at school for nine days. As I packed up today, after the kids left, I couldn’t help but tear up in my empty classroom. I have grown so much. I have come so far. My world is so different now. 

I remember our first day of inservice, sandwiched amidst those stifling August days of humidity and heat and fear and sweat. I couldn’t breathe because it was too humid and I was too scared and I honestly don’t even remember what I taught those first few weeks. And here I am. It is late November. I made it to Thanksgiving. I am a first year teacher and I am almost halfway done with this year. We have three weeks between Thanksgiving and Winter Break, but one of those is full of STAAR benchmark testing. So only two weeks. Filled with happy hours and holiday parties, friends and family, and lots of experimentation.

Yes.

Experimentation.

I met with my dean today. I had my full observation on Tuesday (running notes, video, scored on all indicators of the rubric, etc.) and it went extremely well. According to him, I’ve pretty much grown as much as I can within the confines of the very rigid five-step lesson cycle, considering I’m a first year teacher. but my kids aren’t having fun in my class. They’re not engaged. They’re compliant and on-task and they sparkle from time to time, but there’s no joy. Time to break out the big guns.

My dean charged me today with breaking out of the five-step-lesson-box. “Experiment. Don’t worry about evaluation. Don’t worry about the rubric.” He’s right…my own fear is not a good enough reason to hold me back. My kids are going to sit in a circle. They’re going to find authentic, in-text examples of things. I tried a mini version of this yesterday and my students loved it. They couldn’t wait to show me their examples of hyperbole. There is still a teacher model, and guided practice, and independent practice, but it was just…different, somehow. It was the first time I have ever felt like an actual teacher. I see glimpses of what good teaching could look like in my classroom. They’re fleeting, but they’re there, and they’re enough to keep me going.

 

I think I’m in this for a while. I can feel it in my bones. No two-years-I’m-out. More than two. I can’t walk away while I’m still growing so rapidly. The farther in I get, the more sucked in I am, the more I want to be good at this. It is too deep and means too much to me.

 

I feel like I am finally managing to build a semblance of life for myself here. I went out for margaritas with work friends after school – a tradition our group has sort of fallen into – and all the Thanksgiving wishes of today have just made me feel so…a part of something. Like I belong. A handwritten card from my grade level chair. Sweet text messages and holiday wishes from my MTLD and instructional coach. The group text with some of my closest friends at school. That’s not to say things are perfect. This week I have had some negative interactions with students, and with parents, and things I wish I could change or take back. This week I felt 100% overwhelmed and 100% underqualified. This week I wondered what I am even doing here. But people are the most important part of life; things suck sometimes but it’s people who make everything okay. And in that, in the people I have met and who have become so close…that’s where the joy is. The people I’ve known for years, who have stuck by me throughout this crazy and beautiful journey, and the people I’v known for mere months, who have walked me kindly & gently through the threshold of life. I have so much to be grateful for this Thanksgiving, and above all, I am grateful for the people in my life.

I have two days here to grade and get some stuff together before heading home on Monday. I haven’t been home since before Institute. The way I think and act and dream has changed indelibly since I was last home. But what has changed most fundamentally about me is how I view myself. I have always been a relatively humble person – anyone who knows me well will say that – but this year I have learned to completely start from square one. To throw myself at the mercy of people who know far more than I do, who understand the system far more than I do. To trust that my feelings are fleeting and that feelings don’t make reality. To understand that I am years away from being the kind of teacher I want to be. And it’s okay. For the first time in my life, I’m being patient with myself, and it’s nice.

“When you realize how perfect everything is, you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky.”

2 Responses

  1. houstonheart

    This is great stuff! I think, from what he said, was that I can make smaller changes to the usual 5-step cycle but they won’t have as big of an effect as the one that needs to be had. This also is apparently a schoolwide issue (i.e. he’s moving all the other English teachers, including those who have been teaching for much longer than I have, towards a less rigid lesson structure).

    I guess this is the point of experimentation – figuring out what works, how much leeway I have, how much structure I need. I’m excited to see how it goes!

  2. Janey

    I hope you can reflect a little bit further on lesson planning. Can ANYONE grow as much as one can in terms of lesson planning, within the 3 month time span of September through October, in one’s first year of teaching. I have been teaching since 2002, and lesson planning continues to be an area where I see huge growth for myself each year. You learn and get better every single year.

    Perhaps what you mean is that you are looking for ways to improve your instruction in order to increase student engagement. There’s a big difference between lesson planning and instructional delivery. There’s also much to be said for the stability of a well-organized lesson plan when you are in your first year of teaching.

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About this Blog

Journeys, challenges, & writings of a first-year teacher.

Region
Houston
Grade
Middle School

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