Stir Up the World

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Aug 12 2011

for lack of a better word: numb.

I’ve felt so completely overwhelmed for the last few weeks that I’ve lost most of my ability to FEEL anything.  If I had stressed out over everything there is to stress out over, then my head would have exploded by now.  I simply don’t have the emotional capacity to feel any more stress.  It’s probably a blessing.

I had district professional development all week, and let me tell you, it isn’t exactly riveting.  It’s way better than most of my TFA sessions were, but it’s still pretty dull.  A lot of our training this week was to fulfill the 60-hour requirement for our liscensure.  So because we have to have 60 hours of professional development each year, we have to kill a LOT of time with inefficient meetings, which is silly and stupid if you ask me.  But I really don’t know very much about it and I can’t change it, so I’m moving on.

Last night was Open House, and I really enjoyed it.  It was reassuring to meet some of my kids and their parents, and to get a feel for what 7th graders are like in general.  Some of them were so little! And all of them were sweethearts.  I handed out my recently-obtained business cards (thank you!) and tried to sound authoritative and impressive.  I think I made a good impression.

Apparently it’s cool that I’m from California; my department head overheard a student saying “I hope I get the math teacher from California!”.  If my students are impressed and that will give me any sway with them, then I’m going to let my California flag fly.

I’m sure this is a universal new teacher thing, but I feel SO out of the loop.  If I only knew about things that people told me directly, I wouldn’t get anywhere.  It’s tricky because I don’t want to be obnoxious or jump the gun, but I need to know these very important things that I still don’t after hours and hours of professional development.

As it stands:

  • I have my classroom mostly cleaned, organized, and decorated.  New teachers have a lot of work to do in this area.  I’m sure this will be SO much easier next year.
  • I don’t have my room key or a building key.  I have a key to something, but I’m not sure what it unlocks.  Cool.
  • My class numbers right now are: 2, 25, 16, 24, and 2.
  • I don’t have a phone or printer in my classroom and don’t know if I’ll be able to get them.
  • I can’t log into edline yet.
  • I’ve discovered the joy of laminating.
  • I’m teaching a class called “E-lab”.  I’m not really quite sure what it’s about.  And I don’t have a class list.
  • I do have a mailbox which I check about 5 times a day, unnecessarily.
  • I haven’t explored or toured the school, really.
  • I have no idea how to work my SmartBoard.

My life feels completely out of control.  It’s all of the little things that add up.  Things like my sunglasses being broken, my car being filthy, not having electricity in several outlets in my house, driving on a spare tire from a blowout earlier this week, being completely sleep-deprived, having a messy and cluttered bedroom, having a completely empty savings account, having several TFA emails to answer that I haven’t answered yet, and having a chipped molar that I’ll probably have to miss school to take care of. I occasionally have flashes of panic that break through my numbness, especially when I look at my bank accounts.

I’m having a hard time being decisive about my classroom policies/procedures.  One of the downsides of having read so many teaching books is that I know a gazillion ways to do things, which makes it that much harder to decide which method to actually use.

My biggest dilemma right now is about my “teacher persona”.  I know I’m going to be relentlessly strict in enforcing my rules, right from the first minute of class, but I’m wondering: should my demeanor be stern or enthusiastic?  I feel like TFA has given me contradictory advice on this one.  They say to be stern and strict, but then we’re supposed to sell our students on these really cheesy Big Goals and class themes and all of that stuff — how on earth do you do that without being enthusiastic?

Right now I’m leaning towards warm and friendly but slightly reserved, and definitely strict.

My school is on an AB block schedule, which means I have 3 classes one day and 3 different classes the next day.  This kind of throws a wrench in a lot of the ideas I had, because I’ll only see my kids every other day at best.  BUT the good part of it is that I’ll essentially have 2 first days of school.

So, so much to do.  I thought that I’d be (more) ready for school to start at this point in the summer, and I thought that I’d be able to relax this weekend.  I’m going to force myself to relax a bit on Sunday, but other than that it’s going to be my usual work work work.  Hopefully I get everything done.

One good thing about the last few weeks is that I discovered that I do in fact have a work ethic.  My struggle, I think, will be restraining this mule-like work ethic of mine so I don’t burn myself out.  I’m already almost burned out, and school hasn’t even started yet.

I think things will be better once school starts.

6 Responses

  1. Wiser Now

    Oh, my heart goes out to you. I am a 2002 dc alum, and I remember those first days of set up so well. You probably won’t follow my advice, but I’ll offer it anyway.

    1) Stress will kill you, and 95% of the things you are worrying about will be meaningless in two months. Being a new teacher in a tough area is TOUGH, no matter what you do.

    2) I worked around-the-clock in the weeks preceeding and after the first days of school. My planning and obsessing made T. no less likely to throw a pencil sharpener at a student and run out of class. It did not help me break up fights. And it definitely did not help me be a good teacher, which I wasn’t until two years later.

    3) If I could speak to my former self, I would say to work LESS, not more. I would say to eat balanced meals, get eight hours of sleep every night, do something fun and or relaxing every single day, take 1 day a week to leave as soon as you can afterschool, and work no more than 10 hours a day for the remaining days. Exhausting yourself does no good. You’ll be ready to quit in October, and IT WILL NOT MAKE YOU A BETTER TEACHER.

    I teach special ed math and science at the middle school level. You’ve lucked out, as math is incredibly easy to teach, compared to other subjects. And the first six weeks should be traditional, so the kids respect you as someone who knows what they are doing. NO MANIPULATIVES, NO SMALL GROUPS, NO GAMES. These things are tempting, and you will do it anyway, because you want your class to be the fun! one. But it will destroy your classroom management. Do things traditionally, with a TEXTBOOK, for at least a month, and then you can branch out A BIT. Gary Rubenstine (sp.) says the same thing.

    • els

      You’re right — I really want to do the traditional, very straight-laced thing for awhile, but I have a set curriculum that involves manipulatives and games from the start. Also, TFA would probably get mad. It’s like they’re setting us up for failure. I’m going to try to be as strict as I can and drill procedures to the ground the first week. Yikes.

      • Alum

        Just act true to yourself. If you’re very strict in real life, act that way. If you’re not, the kids will see right through it. You can be firm and caring at the same time if that is how you want to act. And don’t worry about following exactly what TFA says- they’re not the ones that have to be in that classroom day in and day out, responsible for those students. You will get to know your kids and what will work for them. Stand up for them, you are what determines if they receive an education this year.

  2. Hey,
    Just wanted to say hi and tell you we’ve all been there. Be careful and take care of yourself; you’re going to be as ready as you possibly can for the school year and the rest of it you’ll figure out along the way. And don’t forget to laugh about it all!
    If you need to bounce anything off anyone, email me [email protected].

    Rooting for you!


  3. Erin

    Hey, I don’t have time to write a full comment, but as for the SMARTBoard, here’s an online tutorial that could be helpful! There are also many other videos on youtube that could help.

  4. Katie

    Totally agree with Wiser Now’s point #3. As I told you, I was ready to quit teaching in October of my first year after 14 hour days and two full days of work on the weekends. In teaching, you can always do MORE. DON’T feel like you have to. Work smarter and more efficiently rather than harder and longer.
    Tomorrow’s your big day! Looking forward to hearing all about it. In the meantime, I hope you’re RELAXING!! :)

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August 2011
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"If one desires to 'stir up the world,' it is easy to be impatient with work for the sake of work. Yet no story's end can forsake its beginning and its middle." -Joshua Wolf Shank on Abraham Lincoln