Flash in the pan or a real teacher. Success was mine, but could I sustain it? These are the continued trials and tribulations of my teaching career. This is the ninth 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.
I was now entering my third year of teaching and this is the year when it is all supposed to click for me. Educators say it takes three years to become a teacher. The new school year began in late July and things had dramatically changed. The school was expanding, adding an additional grade each year until it was a K-12 school. In order to get the room for additional students, a new school was being remodeled for grades 6 through 12. For one year we would be in borrowed space in a historically significant school building. The school we were being housed in was the premier high school for African Americans in our state for many years. It was no longer a high school, but its alumni organization was very strong and they worked hard to preserve their heritage. A grandparent of one of my students loaned me a history book about the school and I quickly figured out that my classroom had been the school library for many decades. I felt the weight of a lot of history on my shoulders.
Since I had been moved to eighth grade, I would see the familiar faces of my class from my first year of teaching. You can imagine I was just a little nervous about that. These were the young people who had almost broken me and I had yet to figure out that I had passed my initiation and there were no worries. So I was ready with my cell phone. I was going to start the year making phone calls the first day.
A middle and high school principal, Mr. Samuel had been hired to supervise the new school. The Assistant Principal from the previous year had been asked to leave the school district and all new leadership was in place. Apparently she had picked on the wrong teacher during my second year and he had a lot of traction within the district. I returned as the department chair. During my first meeting with the new Principal, he and I discussed my previous year’s standardized test scores and the performance of my department. I told Mr. Samuel my plans and he encouraged me to continue doing things the way I had been. I remember him saying, “whatever you are doing keep doing it, it is working.” At the conclusion of the meeting he asked me if there was anything else, I said, “Yes, can I be taken off of plan of action?” He looked at me like I had lost my mind and said, “of course.” I also let him know that another person on my team was also on plan of action and I saw him shake his head.
In the era of high stakes testing there are educational sacrifices being made. One is that English and Mathematics are the sole focus of many schools. Even though a school district may require that history and science are taught, the bulk of the school day is going to English and Math. I will explain how that works later. So when I say my third year may have been my finest year of teaching, please understand it was because I saw all of my classes every day for the same amount of time as all of the other teachers. I also worked hard to build relationships with my teammates and the families of my students.
There is a defining moment that year that sticks out in my mind. I had a homework requirement in my classroom. Students had “three strikes” to turn in homework and I was very good about keeping track. So while they were doing their warm up activity, I graded the work and noticed that Joanie had not done her assignment. I turned and said, “Joanie that is strike one, you owe me two homework assignments tomorrow.” She replied, “I’ll have it tomorrow Mr. K.” The next day came and Joanie once again forgot her homework. On day three I discovered that once again Joanie had not done her homework. I told her to meet me in the hall and we called her grandmother. Why her grandmother you ask? I knew that her grandmother would deal with the issue. I figured it would be a quick call and be over. I called and said, “Mrs. Jones this is Mr. K, [Joanie] has not turned in homework for three straight days.” Mrs. Jones said, “I’ll be there in five minutes….. [dial tone].” Five minutes later I hear a cane hitting my classroom door (the old wooden doors with the frosted class in them). I said, “c’mon [Joanie]” and headed for the door.
Before I could get the door open, Mrs. Jones was helping Joanie out into the hall and was speaking with her. I quietly closed the door and heard Mrs. Jones explaining that she was not going to come to school again, that if “Mr. K. tells you to do something, you better do it. We love Mr. K. and you do not embarrass your family by letting him down.” While I was a little uncomfortable with hearing her correct her granddaughter, I also really appreciated the huge vote of confidence. Mrs. Jones came into the room with Joanie. Joanie apologized to the class and to me for the disruption. Mrs. Jones (who was probably in her late 70s at the time) said, “Is there anyone else I need to talk to in here?” My response was, “No ma’am.” I had no desire to end up in the hall for crossing Mrs. Jones. What was telling to me was that family, church, or community ties related many of the students to her. Mrs. Jones was a lynchpin to an effective classroom plan. As long as she knew I was working hard for her family, she was going to support me. That is very powerful knowledge to have.
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