Reflections on a First Teaching Year, Part One

Friday, I turned in keys. I turned in the laptop and bag that have kept me company on most of the 9,000-plus miles I’ve commuted since late September. I gave a few bags of miscellaneous inherited office supplies to the secretaries up front. I made an enormous pile of desks and shelves and cabinets in the middle of my room, because apparently my school plans to start summer by repainting the walls. I signed more shirts than yearbooks, and said numerous goodbyes to colleagues and students.

…and that was that. I had survived my first year of teaching full time.

My first thought is to say “Oh my FSM, was it hard.” It was hard. There were a few days I came home and cried. There were others that I definitely wanted to. More numerous were the days I just came home exhausted. Spending your days surrounded by the raucous emotional tumult of thirteen and fourteen year olds is tiring on its own, never mind trying to get them to learn something.

I’ve posted before about how much energy I put into splashing rather than propulsion. That got better as the year went on. I got much faster at planning lessons. I figured out which students needed which kinds of warning to get them to actually be quiet. With the help of my awesome co-workers, I got better at sorting bureaucratic necessities from bureaucratic niceties. I got (slightly) better about putting off grading too long.

There was testing. So much testing. The scheduling of said tests invariably worked out so that I spent the most time with my most challenging section, trying to keep them doing something productive on days when all of us were already tired and cranky. The test scores came out okay—I surpassed the goals my administrators set and almost all of my eighth graders will get to start high school in August.

Part Two will go into more depth about what was hard and what I learned about doing hard things. There was so much going on in the background, though, that became part of the year’s scenery…

—A fellow teacher’s transnational relationship trying to weather visa woes and the general hazards of long distance relationships.

—Pregnancies and house purchases.

—Repeated “opportunities” to be part of presentations various faculty and administrators gave as part of their work on master of education degrees and principal certifications.

—A surprising amount of faculty turnover as some people left and others came on to assist with the constant stream of “emergency” interventions that began in February.

—Students searching for novel ways to break the dress code, including one student who spent six weeks in a wig because she was told her (expensive) blue dye job violated school rules.

—Shifting patterns of students (especially the girls) ganging up on each other about self-proclaimed “drama.” This eventually led to a student being suspended for cyber-bullying, which of course kicked off a whole new cycle of shenanigans.

—On two different occasions, my class being disrupted because somebody decided English was the perfect time to ask out a crush.

—The surreal moment when I was listening to “Achy Breaky Heart” in Spanish while eating doner kebap while surrounded by teenagers.

—Racing my principal on an inflatable bungee run (at his behest) on what I believe was my ninth day on the job.

—Lines for the microwave in the teacher’s lounge.

—Chocolate-covered espresso beans becoming occasional life savers (and occasional crutches).

—Learning more than I’d ever considered there was to know about Mexican candy…and, to a lesser extent, Mexican pop stars.

—Tying somebody else’s necktie, and having to explain that it was only barely going to work because it was a child’s tie and too short.

—Explaining to a girl how to fix her bangs after she’d allowed another student to mangle them.

—Saying things in German just because my students asked me too.

—The time I danced at the dance I was chaperoning in exchange for a promise that a particular student would finish all of his missing homework.

—Explaining to students that it was not, in fact, cold. At all.

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