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Saturday, May 28, 2016

I Survived the First Year

It's probably not a good sign when you begin a sentence with "I survived." Then again, the alternative to survival is sometimes death, more often defeat. So when viewed through that lens, ' I survived' doesn't sound like such a terrible fate.

When the upside is survival, the implication is that some hurdles were crossed, possibly even some battles won.

This was my first year as a teacher of record in a public school classroom. I survived.

Not my classroom (Photo credit: Morguefile)
Those of you who are reading this and have spent more than a year in this profession can likely empathize. Chances are, you remember your first year in the classroom and perhaps you even have a fond memory.

Teachers exchange first year stories in the same way that mothers exchange childbirth stories. Each one has a tale more harrowing than the last, but in the end, the memory brings about laughter. Why? They survived.

I'm not quite far enough removed from the bumps and bruises of this year to laugh yet. Although I did laugh a lot in the midst of storm - mostly to keep from crying.

This year began quite harmlessly and with extreme optimism. Teaching, for me, was a career change that I embraced as something connected to my life's passion. In all that I do, I aim to educate and after many years serving in the non-profit sector, I welcomed this opportunity to contribute firsthand to the lives of young people other than the ones who share my DNA.

I'd done a couple of years of tutoring and while in summer training for my alternative certification program, a lady I'd worked with recognized me and introduced me to the Principal at an "inner city" school. For those of you new to this language, "inner city" is the term used to describe schools in broken, forgotten neighborhoods. I did not interview anywhere else. Frankly, I felt honored to be remembered and glad to be offered a job. I believed I could do a good job despite the hardships that faced the neighborhood and the children it sends to school.

I felt like the training I'd received over the summer along with the additional classes I attended voluntarily were adequate preparation for the classroom. The school staff and my fellow teachers were warm and receptive, always quick to offer me guidance and support. I realize that's not everyone's experience, so it's important to me to share how grateful I am for that.

Unfortunately, there was no amount of standard training, preparation, or support that could have set me up for success. What I needed was a crash course in poverty mindset and a boot camp for how to reach a child that has declared themselves unreachable.

In this world of education, there is no shortage of finger pointing. Teachers blame parents. Parents blame teachers. Children blame both. Everyone blames administrators. The system blames the community. The community blames the system. It's tiresome and disheartening, and yet, we cannot function in society without education or without educators.

I kept showing up. Kept giving it my best shot. Day after day, I was willfully disrespected. Day after day, I was willfully ignored. I was offered coaching and corrective action around classroom management. Certainly if I was better at classroom management I would not be encountering those problems. Right?

My fellow teachers continued to encourage me to "hang in there." They spoke encouraging words as often as they saw me. "Jae, you're good with those kids." "It's not your fault." "They're just bad."

Bad? Bad? The word is ringing in my head like a gunshot.

It got to the point, and I'm not proud of this, that I started to think of them as "bad," too. I taught 2nd grade this year. How do we live in a community that accepts "bad" as an appropriate description for a second grader?

While I sit here and type this, I feel my heart crumbling. They're babies. They're not bad. They're broken. They're broken because we (the collective we) broke them. We let them grow up in a food desert. We cut funding for medical services, especially behavioral health. We don't send someone to check on them when their caregivers go to jail. We let their learning, social and behavioral disorders go undiagnosed and we put miles of red tape between teachers and access to services.

I love children and I really wanted to be a great teacher. Instead, I resigned from the District that reared me and my children in a fit of frustration and emotion because I felt helpless. When the dust settled and my heart and mind were more clear, it was too late to rescind my resignation. So in order to continue in this profession, I'd have to reapply.

Although I survived, I'm wounded. The thought of giving it another shot excites me some days, and horrifies me others. And yet, this display of free speech may have sealed the deal altogether. Perhaps no one will be willing to take a chance on me having laid my full hand exposed on the table.

There's also the chance, though, that someone else - another survivor - will read this and know the perfect place for me to begin again. Perhaps there is some other role aligned with my gifts and talents that is begging to be filled. Who knows.

What I do know is that, for me, writing is cathartic and I needed to share this experience with you tonight.

I welcome your feedback and comments.


Irileria said...

Helpless. That is a word that most educators are familiar with. Having just "survived" my first year as an Assistant Principal in an environment similar, I get all of this and the messages in the spaced between the words, between the lines, and in the punctuation. Someone needs to tell the real stories of today's educators. Thank you for sharing.

Nikitafw said...

You finished what you started!
Even though shell shocked, you finished.
And you'll get over the knee jerk reaction to it all.

And I needed your experience at this time to herd me to accept a position as a three year old instructor....on the North side.

It's all part of the process.
Find your passion
Figure out how to get paid for it.

SEASONING is occurring for us all.

Blessings for your efforts

sonya johnson Johnson said...

I read this twice as I wasn't ready for the ending as in my mind it didn't jive with "I survived". After giving it a bit of thought I've come to realize survival is many things to many people and one must do the best for you. I hope you reapply and accepted if that's what you really want. In its best moments teaching is hard but what you described is heartbreaking.

StrawberryTownCreations said...

What about an early childhood position in a private program? :) We're hiring and we need someone with a soul like yours :)
Thank you for posting your thoughts and experiences. They're perfectly imperfect.