So here we are, October 2, 2010, and I have been teaching since August 23rd, 2010. This is only my second blog post, when I swore I would post at least once a week. Looking back on it, in so many ways I was so naive. I heard stories from TFAers that were friends from high school and college, from transition team leaders and 2nd year orientation volunteers and I don’t know why I didn’t listen. Everyone kept saying that this would be the hardest thing that we have ever done in our lives, and that we would be depressed by October.. etc. etc. etc. But for some reason, I thought that this did not apply to me. I mean, I knew it was going to be hard.. really hard. But I thought, I was a Biochemistry/Forensic Major.. I mean I got into a program that accepted 50 students out of 500 and I stayed in the program when only 21 of us graduated. I took Analytical Chemistry, Biochemistry, Physical Chemistry and Mammalian Physiology in the same semester and survived. I headed up the Dance Team, countless sorority roles, and volunteered as much as possible. The things I did were ENDLESS and the time I had was scarce. My boyfriend and I barely got to see each other last year due to our busy schedules and living situations. So for all of these reasons and more I thought, “That won’t be me.” I knew I would be busy, or BEYOND busy, but I really, really did not think I would be depressed. Overall this summer I had a good experience. Only on the REALLY bad days would I resent TFA’s constant sessions and deadlines, and only on 1 hour of sleep per night would I really feel exhausted. Everyday this summer I was excited to see my kids and teach the lesson I had worked so hard at. Only once did I feel overwhelmed by their behavior, and only 3 out of 21 ended up failing this summer. I only cried once, and it was in week 5 out of 6. So needless to say, this year I went into it thinking, “Well this is going to be hard, but I got this.” I was even EXCITED to be the only Chemistry teacher at my school, so I could plan as I wanted and did not have to abide by their specific plans.
WHY WAS I SO NAIVE? Now I am coming off of the two worst weeks of this year thus far, and I just wish I could go back and listen to the things people had kept saying. 2 weeks ago the behavior in my classroom hit an all-time low. My 4th period class, especially has gotten more and more out of control. I told administrators again and again, asking them for advice or for help. Luckily the Deans and disciplinary staff have been an integral part in helping me get a co-teacher for my 4th period class. I would talk to teachers, but a of people at my school is a 2nd year teacher (TFA, DC teaching fellow) or a first year SPED intern, so they are busy too, when could they help? So it became worse and worse. So my co-teacher came 2 weeks ago and on Friday the behavior was ridiculous; everything I promised myself it would NOT be. On week one I came in so stern and downright tough. No you may not stand up. No you may not swear. No you may not do this, this and this. BECAUSE we have so much to do and learn this year, and it is far too important. I came in with a borrowed binder system, participation tracker, sign in sheets, etc. etc. etc. I think I started on the right foot, although each day I was forced to plan for the next day, as I am the only one teaching my course. But then it is easy to let things slide as you slip further and further into habits and trying to stay afloat. SO the behavior got worse and worse, except in my 3rd period class.
So finally enough was enough and my co-teacher and I re-worked the entire class and this past Monday, came in no-nonsense. The students lined up at the door, were not allowed to enter without their uniforms, and entered the classroom one by one to find their new assigned seat. The entire class period the students had to follow along with the explicitly explained rules, and then do a rules and procedures worksheet that was handed in for accuracy. I framed the entire day on where they wanted to get in the future (I teach 11th and 12th graders, who mostly want to go to college), and how this classroom atmosphere was not going to get them there. 6 or 7 students were removed due to the extreme pushback, and I have not seen some students since. However, the rest of the week gradually became better and better… But not without me first crying on a daily basis, and telling my boyfriend that a) I could not do this for 2 years and b) That I did not want to go to work.
I also reviewed rules in my 2nd period class as well (not as extensively, but I highlighted rules that were not being followed or enforced enough and have begun to re-enforce these rules). These include, no food, cell phones or ipods completely out of sight, raising their hands to sharpen pencils, etc. I received much pushback from my highly-opinionated teenage girls in that class, but I’ve learned that pushback fades. Students like consistently and the minute you change something up you can be sure there will be a revolt.
But I teach 18-week course, and this week will be week 7. We are 1/3 through this semester, and you better believe I will stick to my guns on these rules and expectations. Furthermore, next semester will be very different, and I will stay strong from the beginning. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of positive incentives too, but you need a mix of both for sure.
SO this is my update for now, I could go on and on more, but I will try to continue to write so you can see how it is going.
P.S. I have decided that people are mostly inherently good instead of evil because:
A) my parent interactions have been fabulous and
B) I have had numerous companies donate a boat-load of Science equipment to my classroom. Now If I could figure out what to do with it, and if my kids can handle it!