Saturday, September 19, 2015

You Know You're An English Teacher When... (A List by Rachel)

You know you're an English teacher when...

#1) get together with your friends to talk about lesson ideas and books you're reading (I do this with my fellow interns every day).

#2) decide to sleep in on Saturday and set your alarm clock for 7:30.

#3) wake up on that same Saturday at 6:40 and can't go back to sleep, but it's OK because you've still slept later than usual.

#4) head for the teachers' lounge at lunch like a dying man in the desert going for water--not because you're hungry, but because you are about to enjoy 25 minutes of sophisticated conversation using grown up vocabulary.

#5) start grading exams and fifteen minutes later you've memorized the answer key.

#6) can get up in front of a class and make them believe that you think the four sentence types or the elements of fiction writing are the MOST EXCITING THINGS ON THIS PLANET.

#7) see a poster that says "Every time you don't capitalize the letter "I," a Unicorn dies" and end up doubled over laughing.

#8) want to laugh just as hard when one of your students does a peer edit and exclaims, "I've killed so many unicorns!"

#9) dream about your upcoming class trip to the school library (not kidding, this happened to me last night).

#10) discover that it is possible to want to hug and to strangle a student all at the same time.

#11) care about your students so much that every failing grade, every misbehavior, every blank look of confusion makes you sad, and sometimes makes you wonder what you could have done differently.

(As a related tangent, this is, I feel, the glass half full-glass half empty dilemma of teaching. Most of your students will get it the first time and be engaged and be learning, but a few will not, either by choice or by nature. Every teacher has to choose whether to look at herself as a mostly success or a bit of a failure. It is so easy to see only the part-time failings and forget the success. Tangent over.)

#12) pray for 130 thirteen year olds every night.

#13) ...there's room in your heart to love them all, even (or perhaps especially) the ones who resist and misbehave and won't let you reach them or help.

#14) wonder how on earth you will ever make a difference in the lives of these kids when you yourself make so many mistakes.

#15) ...a student tells you about the book they're reading, the story their writing, the reaction they had to a class activity or short story... and suddenly everything else--all the grading and outcomes and behavior intervention and planning and worry and stress--is worth it.

Confessions of a Junior High English Teacher

It has begun. Exactly one month ago today, I became a student teacher, and my life changed. Never in my life have I felt so frazzled, so pressured, so crazy, so exhausted--and never have I felt so grown up, so desirous to do something good. Never have I questioned my career goals so often, yet never have I felt so confident that I can do what I have chosen to do. Here is a little of how it has been so far.

I began student teaching on the first day of school--August 19th. Those first few days were overwhelming in the extreme, trying to find my footing and sort through the barrage of classroom procedures, student names, colleague names, lesson plans, and things that were expected of me. Mr. Ryan, my cooperating teacher, taught that first while. The first two days of the next week were testing, and then it was on me. There were 30 kids per class looking up at me, waiting to see what kind of teacher I would be, some wondering if I would be fun or exciting, others wondering how far they could push my limits. I remember having new teachers and student teachers as a junior high and high school student, but at that age it never occurred to me in the least degree how much I might intimidate them. It was a nerve-wracking moment.

As in many new endeavors I have attempted, I surprised myself. The instant I got up in front of my students I realized that I needn't have worried. As soon as I started teaching, the worry dissolved. It comes back a little when I had to work on unit design and figure out learning outcomes and start learning about the administrative end of teaching. But when I am in front of the class and doing my thing, all of that disappears and I am the teacher, and I love it.

And the students--oh, heavens above, the students. They are a great enigma that I am constantly trying to solve. My classes are standard English, not honors, so in every class I get all types. There are the kids who don't care about assignments or homework and are content to fail. There are the kids who don't do work but will come asking me later why they have a bad grade and asking to make up their assignments (having not learning, it seems, that it is much easier to just do it right the first time). There are the kids that panic if their grade drops to a B-plus. There are the kids that do their best work and get Bs, and that's totally OK--I don't expect all of my students to get As, that would be ridiculous. There were the kids who actively resist any assignment or attempt at learning (yes, child, I can tell that you didn't read or think about a single answer on this exam. You marked answer D on a true-false question). There are loud kids who will say what comes to mind no matter who else is talking. There are chatty kids, smart kids, quiet kids, video gamers, sports fans, future authors, readers, reading rebels, you name it. And every one of them requires something different from me.

Every day I get little glimpses into who they are, and every day I see them a little more clearly. In their writing, their comments, their actions they show me. They show me single parent homes, battles with cancer (not exaggerating), hopes and dreams for future careers, despair at their own abilities. They show me their personalities, from the girl who groans every time I ask her to work with a group or partner to the boy who will chat with any girl sitting within a two seat radius of his person. They show me their interests, their loves and hates, from a student last week presenting me with my name written in Georgian (a language I didn't know existed) to the boys who, when told they must read something of their choice outside of class, insist that they have never read a book and hate the lot of them (an oxymoron if I ever heard one). Even in their misbehavior they show me a little more of who they are, and I learn a little more how to be their teacher.

It is still an emotional roller coaster. I can go from loving my job to wanting to bang my head against the whiteboard and cursing myself for not doing theatre in all of two minutes, then back the other way by the end of the period. I've been told by more seasoned teachers that this roller coaster is simply part of the career. On the days when I am hitting the lows, I remind myself that teaching need not be forever, but is something I am doing now. I remind myself that I am new at this and need not expect perfection all at once. I remember the days when the students have shown progress or have given me little hints that I might be making a difference.

One of my students asked me a few weeks ago what I would be teaching next year. I told her I didn't know, that it would depend on which school hired me on. She told me that I ought to teach 9th grade there at Diamond Fork so that she could have me as a teacher again next year.

I remember those moments, and it feels like I can do anything.