I don’t know who you are, where you live, or what you do for a living, but I do know that if you’re willing to spend your precious time reading my words, I like you. You, dear reader, will help me to remember and appreciate my craft as an educator. So, thank you.
I teach seventh grade language arts at a Title I school in central New Mexico. If you are unfamiliar with the lingo, Title I basically means that a large percentage of our students come from low-income families. Overall, I love my job and I love my students. Middle school students have a bad reputation for being obnoxious and directionless, but that’s what makes middle schoolers so much fun. They are at a stage in their lives where they are testing the boundaries to figure out who they are as individuals (this is what makes them obnoxious), and they are in this weird transitional period where they want to enjoy both the privileges of grown-ups and the freedoms of childhood (this is why they’re directionless).
But hey, don’t we all want that sometimes?
One of my favorite things about my job is designing and implementing lessons that are both challenging and engaging. It may sound cliché, but I love seeing a student’s face light up when they finally “get it.” My favorite sound is that long, drawn out “ooooohh,” that students make when they finally make the connection. I am addicted to the feeling that teachers get after a successful lesson; to those days that end with the uncontrollable urge to brag about your students to everyone you know, but you just can’t seem to communicate the magic of the situation, no matter how hard you try.
I’m sure that’s what it feels like to be a parent too, but I’m not quite ready to procreate yet.
When I first started teaching, I was that eager-beaver new teacher that couldn’t wait to change the world. I said yes to everything. EVERYTHING. Before I even knew all of my students’ names, I was a member of the Renaissance committee, the AVID site team, and I had taken on the stipend position of Gym Master. Yup. I was Master of the Gym. I felt important. I felt valued. And I had gate keys! I could access the school on the weekends! I was drunk with power.
I would happily arrive at school between 6:30 and 6:45 every morning, and I wouldn’t leave until 5:00 or 6:00 in the evening. I was honored when my principal asked me to go to a Solution Tree conference in Phoenix. I felt so grown-up and mature, going on my very first business trip.
I eagerly experimented with new technology tools and resources our district had just adopted, including My Big Campus, which is kind of like a cross between Facebook and Blackboard, and begged my principal to let me lead an hour-long workshop on how to use the program at our next staff meeting. They agreed. The staff humored me during the workshop, but they didn’t use the program in their own classrooms. I didn’t understand their resistance. I was naive.
At the very beginning of my second year, the Language Arts department head position became available, and nobody else in my department volunteered for the position. Naturally, I took on the position. I couldn’t believe my administrators allowed me, a second year teacher, to become head of the department.
I struggled with my role as leader that first semester. Even though I had learned about the PLC (professional learning community) process in college and at the Solution Tree training the year before, I wasn’t sure how to guide a team of teachers, more experienced than myself, through the process of identifying essential standards, aligning curriculum, giving common formative and summative assessments, comparing data, and sharing best practices, when they were accustomed to using PLC time as a social hour. I didn’t feel comfortable asking a woman who had been teaching fourteen years longer than I had to stay focused and stick to the agenda.
I finally adjusted to my role as department head after attending a leadership training in Phoenix with the social studies department head and my administrators. While there, I shared my feelings of inadequacy with them, and the social studies department head aired similar concerns about herself, even though she had many more years teaching than I had. I returned from that conference feeling refreshed and prepared for the challenges ahead.
The rest of that year and the following summer were very productive. As a department, we identified our essential Common Core State Standards, organized those standards into a new curriculum map, created standards based Z-Objectives for each unit, and created a handful of common formative assessments. We also created a new, standards based grade scale that would both expedite the grading process while also keeping the focus of the assessment to mastery of the standards instead of ability to follow directions or write legibly (while those things are important, they have nothing to do with whether a student is proficient or not).
This is my third year in the classroom. I started the year with positive expectations. Our old principal left to become the superintendent of another district, and our assistant principal was promoted to principal. I sat on the hiring committee for our new assistant principal, and was thrilled with the woman we decided to hire. This is the first year we are teaching to the Common Core State Standards, and in August I was confident that the work the department did over the summer would eliminate the discomfort of change.
I was wrong.
Moral at the school is at an all-time low. The focus of both district and school administrators is on data and test scores rather than on students and learning. With the new teacher-evaluation system, the pressure to show growth on the SBA is overwhelming.
I feel as if teaching has become a secondary responsibility. Between complying with the demands of the new evaluation system, analyzing data, and my department head responsibilities, I don’t have time to plan creative lessons or give meaningful grades.
I feel my passion for teaching crumbling under the pressure more and more every day. I look back on the eager-beaver new teacher I was two years ago, and I miss her.
I’ve started blogging again out of desperation. I need a place to reflect on what I see and experience in my classroom every day. I need to find a way to recharge and revive that fiery passion that energized my lessons my first year.
I will not blog to vent, but rather to reflect, learn, and grow. I may share lessons, theories, and experiences, but no matter how negative the experience, the takeaways will remain positive. I’ll do my best, at least.