The continued trials and tribulations of my first year of teaching. This time the musical theme of the subtitles should be easy, comment and let me know what you think it is. This is the fifth part of the story of how a military veteran, failed rock and roller, and single dad became a successful inner-city schoolteacher. This will become a book in the near future and I hope Steemit will help me strengthen this and prepare it for my co-writer and editor. Please comment if there is something you think I can elaborate on more, or if you think I am missing the mark, or if you have a question.
Dazed and Confused
I was also working a lot of hours. The myth of teachers working 6.5 hours a day for 9 months a year is a mistruth perpetuated by those who have never been in the profession. You cannot deliver material without preparation and a lot of work. It was not atypical for me to show up at the school at 6:30 AM (for an 8:00 AM start) and to leave the school at 7:30 PM (school ended at 4:35 PM). Later as I got more experienced I was able to cut a lot of those hours down, but I still came in an hour early and took a lot of work home. Eastend School had an 8.5-hour day and even as a very experienced teacher that meant an additional 3 or 4 hours of work (1.5 in the school and the rest at home grading papers and preparing lessons). So I was working 70 to 80 hours a week, every week. The more I struggled, the harder I worked. Honestly, from my military experience it was what I knew. If you aren’t getting the job done you are not working hard enough. Since school started the last week of July, by December I was going to be beat. I was then going to be looking at six more months. I knew I was in trouble.
Out On The Tiles
In early September, the Assistant Principal was promoted to a Principal position in another school system. A former elementary school administrator replaced him. Two days after her arrival, she called me into her office prior to the start of the school day. During our conversation, she told me that she had fired every “military guy” who had ever worked for her. I was taken aback; her comment came out of the blue and was unexpected. I went back to my classroom shaken. That evening I had a long discussion with Megan’s (remember I met her at the end of my year substituting) father, a former school administrator. He suggested I write the Assistant Principal a letter explaining how I felt about our interaction. I followed his advice. No comment was made about the letter until months after the fact and then she denied that she had said that, I was told I must have misunderstood. In October I had a formal observation. My performance was poor and my review was scathing. This was not unexpected; I knew I was struggling. In fact, it would have been shocking had I not been struggling. What was surprising was that I was teaching next door to another new teacher (Ms. B) and she was doing great, or at least that was the perception. She was using a lot of games to teach and students were engaged because they were having a lot of fun. Later I figured out that the games were long on fun and short in content. Students were having a great time in her classroom and I was dealing with a lot of drama.
How Many More Times
What was unexpected was the reaction of the school administration. I was given punitive counseling; I was essentially told that I was failing as a teacher (I already knew that). I was told to submit daily lesson plans to the Assistant Principal. The only feedback I was given is that they were not acceptable (if I heard anything at all). I asked my mentor and department chair to help me improve my lesson plans and classroom delivery. They both came in and observed me regularly and helped me with my lesson plans. In spite of their help, all of my lesson plans were still returned as poorly written and not meeting the lesson objectives. I got so frustrated that I reached out to a very successful teacher at another middle school in the city and asked her for a copy of her lesson plans. I modified them a bit and turned them in, they too were graded as poor. My perception at the time was that I was not only a poor teacher, but the school administrators were working to undermine me as well. I am pretty sure in retrospect that there was a kernel of truth in both of those feelings.
Reflecting on those days I can see all the mistakes I made (the benefits of ten years of experience). First, kindness is weakness when you are a new teacher. While I never worried about my students liking me, I genuinely liked the culture of the school. Many teachers will say, “Never smile before November.” While I do not subscribe to that idea, the truth is that if you start strict and then begin to relax your standards as the year progresses it works. The reason it is effective is that you know the students that are going to cause problems in your classroom and you can deal with it preemptively. In the first month or two of teaching most teachers have not identified those students. So I was too easy and my students took advantage of it. Another huge mistake I made is I felt like I was failing, and students could sense that. There is an old military saying, “you have to fake it to make it.” Well I was not very good at faking it, and so when you devalue what you are doing, others won’t value it either.
Good Times, Bad Times
Now having said all of that, not everyday was terrible. I have some good memories from those days. In early fall while awaiting dismissal, two students who were friends were messing around. One student hit the other. The young man who got hit, kicked the other student in retaliation. I looked at them both and told them to knock it off and when they went home to make sure they told their parents everything that happened. Thirty minutes later the student who got kicked was in my classroom with his mother. She was not rude or belligerent, but she was upset. I told her what happened and I asked her son if he told his mom the entire story. He admitted he had not. The three of us had a long talk. From that day forward that parent was one of my biggest allies. She would always check on me when she came into the school. I also remember having a group of students in my classroom before the bell rang. They were standing around my desk and we were talking about what we had done the previous night. One of the girls said she had watched Lizzie McGuire, a show on the Disney channel. The boy standing next to her said, “You watch that white show?” I remember turning to him and saying “George are you telling me that I cannot watch Tyler Perry’s House of Pain?” He responded, “Mr. K, you ain’t white, you’re just light skinned.” It was those moments that got me through that first half year of teaching.
Peace, love, and Rock and Roll,
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Hello! I am Mike K. I am an educator, lifelong student, military vet and wannabe musician. I have a love of history, economics, philosophy and motorcycles. I am quickly moving from minarchy to Christian anarchy philosophically and want people to stop meddling. My debut CD should be out soon!
Riding in Tennessee with my son on the Green Eyed Snake