Saturday, June 14, 2014

First Year of Teaching-Emotional Version

There I was, sitting in my last class, working on my year-end stack of grading. I had given this class a test the day before and made the last day a mandatory study hall for any who had outstanding work.

"Hey, was I supposed to put my name on this or not?" Cory stood at my desk, looking down at me from his six-foot vantage point.

I glanced at the sheet, it was the teacher evalutation sheet I had given them to fill out for me, "No, that's supposed to be anonymous."

"Ok." Cory's eyes shifted down to the sheet, then back up to mine with a steady gaze that spoke a thousand words. Slowly, deliberately, he placed the paper on my desk and emphatically pounded it with his finger several times. "This is mine!!"

I picked it up with a bemused smile, curious to know what this boy had said that he was so eager for me to read.

A glance was all it took to see that he had given me the highest score in every area. "Hey!" I remonstrated, "That's not a valid assessment! I want to know what I can improve on!"

His eyes met mine, "I did it that way to even out the score from the last one..." The meaning of his words hung heavy. "You remember the last one, don't you?"

I did.

I suspect that even if I should go on to teach 40 years of successful classes I would never forget that.

You see, this class challenged me like none other. I had come to teach them with scarcely an arrow in my teaching quiver. I had never taught English, had no idea what materials I wanted to use, no clue what the students already knew, and frankly, no clue what I was doing. I love writing, and passed every english course I ever took with a straight A (except for one and that was a long story that doesn't need telling.) But any teacher will tell you that having skill in a subject doesn't mean you can teach it. I had no clue how to explain the things that came naturally to me.

So armed with a smile and a prayer, I started out the school year with the previous teacher's materials and a will to try even if I failed. And WOW did I fail!

It didn't take me two weeks to know that I could NEVER use the previous teachers materials. She was a lecturer who knew the subject matter better than a textbook. I knew next to nothing about the subject and can't give a good lecture to win a million dollars.

With my ninth and tenth graders it was fine. I turned to Spencer Kagan's cooperative learning techniques and got them doing projects and things that I knew well. They liked me and we had a great time together.

With the seniors it was a bit of a different scenario. This class seemed chock full of Ivy-league bound scholars. They had been students of the previous English teacher for all of their days in high school. They had never known anything else. They were used to lecture and frankly thought that anything else was quite beneath them. They wanted everything super organized. And they were outspoken about everything.

They intimidated me. They were my Jericho-- my promised land-- and, like Israel of old, all I could see were the giants and the great walled cities looming above me. My heart was like water and I murmured and complained to my dear, stalwart boyfriend many times about how I was sure I could not "go up and possess the land."

I made a quick switch from a heavy focus on English to a stronger focus on Bible (the class is a combination of English and Daniel/Revelation) hoping to regain some lost ground, but ground was not easily gained. I contemplated developing a disease that would strike me with crippling paralysis at 10:30 every morning, right before I had to teach them. I psyched myself out, canvasser style, telling myself and everybody else that it was a little rough but overall everything was great and I was doing ok and we'd pull through it.

And then one day, the previous English teacher (now holding a different position at the school) grabbed my arm confidentially as I went to get some copies for class. For her sake, I have chosen to forget the words she told me, but in a conversation that greatly strengthened me in the long run, I discovered that the kids hated the class, they felt it wasn't meeting their needs, they didn't respect me, and they wished that the school would get a different teacher. I was cut to the quick.

And then, just as we finished this conversation, the bell rang, and it was time to go face them.

I don't remember how I got through that day. What I do remember is supervising study hall the next period in a mess of tears. It was all I could do to keep the sobs inside where they couldn't be heard and hold the happy teacher smile on my face while the tears flowed and flowed.

I have never wanted so badly to run away from something. I'm not a quitter, and generally the thought of not going through to the bitter end doesn't cross my mind. But it did that day. I was through, through, through.

As soon as the last bell rang, I ran to my house and screamed a sobbing tirade of frustration at my mirror.  I had come to be a friend to these kids, to help them, to mentor them, to teach them, and I couldn't. I was failing and falling flat on my face.

I began to clean my house. (My old never-fail emotional fix trick.) Education chapter 26 Methods of Teaching played in a steady, soothing tone from my iPad as I worked. Point after point in the chapter identified everything I was doing wrong, and exactly what I needed in order to do it right.

I saw myself through Jesus eyes. I had been so focused on trying to win their friendship that I had lost their respect. I needed to just focus on giving them good material to learn using methods that I knew would work and expect them to come up to meet me.

Armed with a feedback evaluation form, and a few carefully chosen words, I walked into class the next day with a confidence that was not my own. I addressed them frankly; apologized genuinely to them for the specific ways I had failed them as a class; admitted that I had made mistakes as a first year teacher and told them I valued their feedback. I told them what a blessing the feedback I had received third-party had been, and let them know that I would appreciate it if that feedback could come to me directly. I gave them the feedback sheet which offered them a place to genuinely express their frustrations anonymously, and prompted them to think of and express my teaching strengths as well.

Now Cory was smiling at me as the memory floated through each of our thoughts. "You remember that one right?"

Yes, Cory, I remember it. His downcast eyes during my apology had easily branded him as the sole student who had complained to the administration about me. His feedback sheet, though anonymous, bore enough characteristic personality that it was impossible to miss that he had been the one to give me lower ratings than any other in the class.

I looked down now at his current feedback sheet with the highest score checked in every category and  could only shake my head.

"You've come a long ways," he said simply. "I'm sorry we gave you such a bad time."

Graduation day, as I made my way down the "cry line" hugging each of my amazing kids and congratulating them on their new status as OA alumni, I heard over and over again, "English class was my best class." "I learned so much." "I never read EGW like that until I had to for your worksheets. I can't believe how interesting it is!" "A lot of things clicked for me that never had before."

And I'm just so thankful that Jesus put me back on the proverbial horse when I wanted to quit. The last few months of school were incredible. I'm still not a great teacher, and I made organizational mistakes that caused innocent people frustration, and I tried to do too much at the last minute and couldn't keep up with the grading, and I lost an entire stack of homework the week I got engaged. (Found it in my laundry basket...have mercy, I'm glad I'm only getting engaged once in my life!!) But I learned a wealth of information this year, and they learned one or two things too and that's what's important.

So here's just throwing this out there to any first-year teachers, or first-year nurses, or first-year moms, or first-year whatever you are. Hang in there! Get back on the horse when you've fallen off. Go to the Word of God and drink in that strength. You're going to get through and you'll be glad you did.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Thursday, 5/9/13

Dear Journal,

It's over. Last class finished.

It seems like my last journal entry should contain some profound reflective thoughts, summarizing ways I have grown and things I have learned. But instead, I really have nothing to say but this:

I've learned.
I've grown.
I'll never be the same again.

Humorously, I was late to class to day. I have not been late to a single class during my entire placement.  (A nearly unbelievable thing as those who know me well can testify!) I have been on time. Not always prepped and prepared like I wanted to be. But I've been in the room when I was supposed to be.

Today I was working on writing an essay and really got into it. I finished and punched the save button with a satisfied air of accomplishment. I was about to pull up my email and send it off to Mrs. Walden when I glanced at the clock.


I was to have been in class at 4:35.


Anyways, I had my students fill out a "Grade Your Student Teacher" form for my portfolio and the results were insightful. The Seniors think I should give less homework, be more prepared for class, and have more constructive activities. The Freshmen think I'm fun, that I care about them, I make things clear, they can tell I like kids and that I always have constructive activities.

Confirmation once again that I fit better in the lower grades than the upper.

My die-hard Quadrant 2 said that I don't act like a teacher is supposed to, but commented three times that the lessons were very practical and clear.

Firecracker thinks I should work on being more awesome like him...

In some ways I wish I could leave here feeling like my time here has made some sort of a difference. Maybe I compare teaching too much with canvassing where the life-changing impact on students is so concentrated that it's easy to see growth and change. Perhaps I shouldn't wish for results I can see, but thank God for the results that are promised.

All in all, at the end of the day I am grateful.

Grateful for what I know, for what I now know that I don't know, and for knowing better where to go when I want to know.

Its been real.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Tuesday, 5/7/13

Dear Journal,

My freshman are working on their final project in computers-- a PowerPoint. My classes look like a lot of sitting, watching, coaching, and-- horrors-- nagging. I never wanted to be a naggy teacher, but I am continually amazed to see these kids, with mountains of stuff left to do and the deadline looming, just goofing off like life is a big party!! So I've reminded them of the deadline, and tried in every way I can think of to get them on task.

Well today I was sick of it. So I resorted to other tactics.

I printed off the grading rubric again and handed it out to them at the beginning of class. Spent a few minutes talking about the final and how it was going to work (Their peers will be judging their PowerPoints...far scarier than having me judge them!)

Their little eyes got so big, and they turned to their computers and got to work.

And I sat back and wrote a research paper.

I also asked Ms. Wanda to remind me of her handy questions for helping students get back on track:

1.     Do you know what you’re supposed to be doing?
2.     What is it that’s keeping you from doing it?
3.     How soon can you get started?
So I'm heading into the next class period armed!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Dear Journal,

Definitely on the home stretch now. Today was my last class day in Senior Speech. We kinda went out with a bang by putting on a mock trial.

I set up the auditorium as a courtroom and asked Honorable Judge Wanda Sarr to preside. My seniors showed up dressed to the part in suit and tie, and armed with clipboards.

It was a lot of fun, though as I sat in the bailiff's chair watching the hearing unfold, I could tell I hadn't prepared them well enough. I could have made things clearer, given more specific instructions, provided more direction and assistance. But you know? It's ok.

I'm realizing that teaching isn't so much about instinctively knowing up front exactly what is going to work well and what isn't. It's about trying lots of things, throwing out what doesn't work, keeping what does, and refining things that need improvement. I would definitely do a mock trial again with a class (maybe Bible class next year? create some sort of trial requiring a defense of the Sabbath or something??) I know now what ways that I can help students prepare better and I'm impressed at what a learning experience this was for my students even without adequate preparation.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Monday, April 29, 2013

Dear Journal,

This is so true...

The true teacher can impart to his pupils few gifts so valuable as the gift of his own companionship. It is true of men and women, and how much more of youth and children, that only as we come in touch through sympathy can we understand them; and we need to understand in order most effectively to benefit. To strengthen the tie of sympathy between teacher and student there are few means that count so much as pleasant association together outside the schoolroom....The sacrifice demanded of the teacher would be great, but he would reap a rich reward. 
Education pg. 212

I am more and more convinced that the best chances a teacher has to eternally impact students are outside of the classroom. Students expect teachers to give them time in the classroom. They expect deans to give them time in the dorm when they are on duty. They expect work supervisors to work with them when they are working.

But what really means something to them is when teachers, deans, work supervisors genuinely desire to be with them when they don't have to.

Yes, the sacrifice demanded may be great, but the reward? It is cheap enough.

Sunday I was on duty in the dorm. I have correspondence classwork up to my ears and graduation day is looming like a 2000-foot cliff that I'm hurtling toward at 100 miles per hour and my brakes don't work.. Desperately hoping to be able to get some things done, I settled down with my laptop only to be interrupted a hundred times by the ringing phone, or a girl with a question, or somebody that needed their room unlocked... you name it. Finally, in the afternoon most of the girls left for a wedding and the dorm got quiet. I eagerly grabbed my computer and started getting into focus mode. Just as I was starting to grasp the concept of encomiums well enough to do something with it I was discovered by the only two girls still in the dorm.

"Miss Beth!! We're BORED! Can we do something?"

I suggested doing homework, but that went over like a lead balloon.

I could see their faces appraising me; their little minds seemed to wonder if I was so obtuse that I didn't see or care about their needs. I could feel stress rising in me, I really needed this time to work... It seemed so unjust that they couldn't understand the pressure I'm under. But how should I expect them to understand? They know nothing of the pressures of adulthood. How woud it look to them if I said I couldn't be bothered and sent them away to entertain themselves? So, the laptop clicked shut and we went to Sarrs house and played table games and made chilaquiles for supper.

Those couple hours worked a phenomenal difference in my relationship with those two girls. We laughed, we talked, we teased each other and just enjoyed ourselves. Later in the evening when one of them had an emotional breakdown I was allowed into her circle of trust enough to be of comfort (she hasn't let me that close in weeks.)

Correspondence work? well, maybe I won't get it finished. But even if I don't, it will have been a small sacrifice. Far better that I understand the work of a true teacher than that I understand encomiums and epthalamion.

This is the full life.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Thursday, 4/25/13

Dear Journal,

I hope that when I am 20 years into my teaching career and I'm officially an "old pro" I won't have forgotten what a powerful tool prayer is in the classroom.

Today some of my computers class were trying to choose what topic to do a research presentation on. I had given them a fairly broad selection of topic ideas to choose from:

·      Research an EASEA school, giving the history of how it started, what type of work program and academic program they have, what type of mission service they do, where they are located, etc.
·      Research a person in history and how they have made the world a better place
·      Research a charity and make a compelling appeal for funds
·      Research a harmful food substance and explain why it should be avoided
·      Research a doctrine and create an engaging bible study
·      Research benefits of exercise and craft a compelling appeal for people to exercise more
·      Research a disease and how it can be cured
·      Research a current issue in society (i.e. child abuse, the financial crisis, high-school dropout rate, abortion etc.) explaining the issue and your solution for it. Your solution must be something plausible (that could really work and would actually change the situation) and you need to explain why/how it is plausible

But, bless their hearts, one or two of them caught on really quickly that I was covertly seeking to limit their choices to uplifting topics, and they took offense to it.

"Uh, hey Miss Beth? Can I do it on ASAP Rocky? (Rap artist) He made the world a better place 'cause he gave us good music ya know!"

"Can I do it on breast cancer? I just really care about all the breasts in the world." (this from a young man..)

20-20 hindsight shows clearly that they were just trying to get me in a verbal headlock... they just wanted to get a rise out of me, and to some extent they did.

Rather than stop and think of the best way to handle it, I responded with an almost knee-jerk response, "Um, no!"

Of course that triggered the defense response and soon I was hearing a rapid fire volley of, "Well what about...?" "What's wrong with...?"

The best thing to do from the start would have been to just smile and say nothing. It would have made the questions appear as the silly questions they are and would have stopped any further discussion. The kids would have chosen a better topic and got to work.

But here I was, trapped in a mess of my own devising. And I was annoyed.

Annoyed at them. Annoyed at myself.

So I stopped and prayed.

And you know, a miracle happened.

Not in my students.. they kept badgering to see how close to the line they could come.

A miracle happened in me. Cause all of a sudden it didn't bother me anymore. Self didn't need to be justified anymore-- I had given my rights away.

And all of a sudden, I loved those kids fiercer than I've ever loved them before.

In a friendly, embracing way I was able to help them find a topic that they were interested in and motivated to research that wouldn't jeopardize their eternal life.

I misrepresented Jesus in that classroom today. Jesus would have stayed quiet, He would have seen beyond the question to the heart, He wouldn't have spoken in a belittling tone, or entered into argument, He would probably have asked an expertly crafted question that would have drawn them to feel their need in a loving way because He would have been in constant communion with His Father and He would have brought the perfect words to His mind the moment He needed them.

And perhaps, when I am 20 years into my teaching career I will still have moments where I misrepresent Jesus.

But I am confident that if and when I do, He will still work miracles in me the moment I call for help.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tuesday, 04/23/13

Dear Journal,

Oh it's so hard to be tough..

My students in computers have been working on finishing up several assignments about PowerPoint. They were to work through tutorials, complete certain items and take quizes at certain points. They have been working on this for weeks and last Thursday was the deadline cutoff for finishing them. For two weeks, I have begun every class period by reminding them what the deadline was, and that after Thursday any tutorials and quizes left incompleted would receive a zero grade.

So today, the first day after the cutoff, Miss Cheerful showed up to class and asked to take her quiz. "Oh no....that was last Thursday?? I thought it was this Thursday."
(Uhm...not sure how she missed that... I believe her...but I did announce it clearly every class period, with the calendar date included, and I had gone to her computer encouraging her multiple times and told her directly on Thursday that it would be the last time she could turn in tutorials and quizes..)

"So I can't do them anymore?? Nooo, Miss Beth!! I have a C!!!" and then, as if her heart was breaking, "Oh why, WHY didn't I take the quiz?!"

What else could I do? I feel horrible for her, but I can't see my way clear to give her an extension when the reason that she didn't get them finished was because she spent the entire first two weeks of the project browsing the web looking for the perfect PowerPoint background...

So I said no... because I know that hard lessons can be so very, very beneficial..

But the nurturer in me is still having a tough time with it!