Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What Snapped First - Me or the Pencil?

I was just thinking back to my first year of teaching.  Don't ask me why...self torture? Self pity?  Self reflection?  Probably not.  More like mind wandering, but whatever.  I haven't written about those first teaching experiences very often because they were so awful that I try to block them in the interest of saving money on therapy because I prefer to present myself as fabulous.  And friends, I was far from fabulous in my first year.  But who IS fabulous in their first year?  You get shoved into a classroom with more responsibility than you know what to do with and presto!  You're supposed to know exactly what to do at every twist and turn.  If you ask me and nobody did, first year teachers either need intense mentoring or we should have more of an apprenticeship model- you know, where it's not all trial by fire (since really, it's you and the kids that get burned) and filled with tears.  OH THE TEARS!!!

And for some reason that I will never understand, first year teachers always seem to have a completely hellatious, uncontrollable, stand twenty feet away from this child at all times, infamously naughty kid in their class.  I mean, your first year is all survival mode as it is and then you throw in that type of student?  *shouting* "Hey somebody buy me some stock in Kleenex - I hear it's on the rise!"

In my first year, I had yet to develop my love of the Naughty Boy.  Probably because I had yet to learn how to deal with that conundrum that is the Naughty Boy.  Probably because I was busy learning five new curriculums, planning every lesson in minute detail and you know, crying.  Whatevs.

The cross I had to bear child who challenged me in my first year was no joke.  NO JOKE.  I'm talking, I would say this kid's name and older teachers would clutch their heart in fear, gasping with the sheer horror of it all, desperately trying to push memories of this child out of their brain when they'd realize I was standing RIGHT FREAKING THERE and try to recover tactfully.

I knew I was in for it.

I will spare you the insane detail that was the horror of this child.  (Which now I am mature enough to look back and realize that this poor kid was desperately crying out for help.  Help which I alone was not qualified to give...I mean, isn't that reason enough to stop putting the most difficult children in the classes of the least experienced?  That and the size of my therapy bills?)

Needless to say, boyfriend did not do any work.  And by "any work", I mean, if there was a word to describe someone who did less work than no work at all, I would use that word here.  He was too busy drawing graphically violent pictures, throwing math manipulatives at other children, cursing, stealing, and generally making our lives miserable.  (Again, NOW I look back and cringe at my inability to see the signs, but at the time...I. Wanted. To.  Die.)

I did try all the tricks I had in my very small arsenal at the time.  I separated him from the group, put him back with a group of good influences, gave him a partner, isolated him, held him for recess, begged, cried, screamed, reasoned, called his parents, called The Weave, called the Coast Guard ( or at least I would have if I could)...nothing.

One day ONE DAY ONE RIDICULOUS DAY, my friend decides that he wants to do some work.  (Mind you, this is after spending the entire morning tearing his homework packet into teeny tiny shreds, wadding those shreds into wads and using them to a) stick up his nose, b) suck on, c) throw on my floor and/or d) stick up his nose and then snot rocket them out at other children.)  So what does he do?  He steals a pencil from the nearest unsuspecting child, who was actually using it at the time.  When said child shouted in protest, he got stabbed.  With his own pencil.

Can you see why I routinely locked myself in a closet and had a good cry and possibly fantasized about a career at Papyrus?  I bet nobody blows snot rockets with $25 stationary.

Boyfriend then gets out of his seat, and begins to run around the classroom stealing pencils from anyone and everyone.  In a moment of sheer insanity in which I had totally lost my teacher cool, my hanging on by a thread teacher cool, I shouted,

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING????" at the top of my lungs.
"I want to get my work done like you always say I should and I don't have a pencil."
"TODAY you want to do work?  TODAY?  Well then...allow me!"

(It gets worse.)

I then walked around the classroom, collecting pencils from all the children who looked at me like I was batshit crazy.  (Which, duh, I was.) I held out the array of writing implements to my friend and said, "Pick any one you like, because if YOU want to DO WORK TODAY OF ALL DAYS, be our guest!"

He looked at me, probably recognizing that I had hit rock bottom and may be seconds from jumping out the window.  And even though he drove me to the very edges of my sanity, I don't think that's what he was after.  So he took a pencil, went back to his seat and actually did some work.

I wish I could tell you that this story ended in a neat little bow and from that day on, my friend completed all his work on time.  But I can't.  We battled for the remainder of the year - him because he didn't know what else to do and me because I didn't know what else to do either.  We were both alone, unsupported and totally frustrated beyond belief.

And yet, year after year, with a very "sink or swim, honey" attitude we continue the tradition of sticking the most troubled with the least prepared.  Then we wonder why things don't seem to get better...

(insert Debbie Downer music here)


Elizabeth said...

Oh, isn't that the truth. My first year teaching was a complete nightmare. My last class of the day contained an array of students whom other teachers regarded with horror, but even amongst that circus, one of them stood out. I tried in vain all year to convince his counselors that he was a sociopath, but it wasn't until the second to the last week of school that the school psychologist said he couldn't come back in the building until he received some serious counseling. Well, other than the last day of school...you know, so he could get his yearbook signed. Sigh.

I cried at the end of my first day, and the end of my last, and innumerable days in between (But never in front of my students, thank heavens). I threw up in the mornings from the sheer anxiety of facing the day. I needed a real mentor (rather than one who helped me a little for the first month and then practically disappeared). I needed support. I didn't get those things, but fortunately, I survived and for some unknown reason (student loans?) I kept teaching. Thank God it got easier.

Stu said...

There's no doubt about it - teaching is not easy. I don't know anyone who looks back and talks about how easy it was.

We've all felt that stress of having no clue...we all knew that the child who was tormenting us had much more control than we did. The number one fear of new teachers, "Losing Control" happens regularly in first year (and later years, too) classrooms.

During my first year, after one of the many miserable days trying to keep my head above water with a class of 38 third graders, an older, and much wiser teacher told me that "those days become fewer and fewer as you gain experience." Not very profound, but it's something I remembered, gained hope from, and eventually experienced.

Even after 34 years, I still remember my first year. I kept a journal, which I just happened to stumble upon a few days ago. Reading the entries was humbling.

I wonder how we could arrange it so that everyone who makes laws which effect public schools would have to experience a "first year" of teaching. The idea of "humbling" some of the critics of public schools and teachers is appealing.

Maestro said...

First year... phhhh... I STILL have days like that, and it eats at me because I'm supposed to know better. I read this and the face of my current No. 1 Public Nuisance keeps popping in my head.

LM said...

I totally agree with you on not being prepared to be dumped in a room with 20+ children our first year out. I actually was a paraprofessional for a few years before I got my own position in Title 1. Now, I'm in a 2nd grade room. In those few years, I learned the ins and outs, more so than I did in student teaching. My experience in a third, fourth, and fifth grade resource room of 11 LD/PDD/ED, etc boys and count her, one girl, was the best preparation ever. I also got a year in a K, 1 & 2 resource room which halfway through the year was relabeled from a Life Skills to a Practical Academics program. Can we say, scramble!!!

Sara said...

holy cow!! it's like you took a snapshot of me my first year teaching at a new school! why is it that "they" always give the newbies those kind of friends. apparently it must be some kind of test to the profession. probably comparable to a hazing ritual in a sorority. ;)

Rebecca said...

Oh honey. The only thing that would be worse is if the school psych (moi) was in the back of the room with my clipboard watching all of it go down, and putting it in writing in the kid's assessment report for ED. I feel for new teachers so much!!!

CP said...

Two things:

1. I dreamt about the 12x12 post it sticky note last night (in my dream I had won it ☺ )

2. My first year in the classroom I had 7 too naughty first grade boys. The music teacher told me it was the worst group of kids she'd ever seen and she wouldn't be surprised if I decided to end my teaching career. Real encouraging! I stuck it out, and those little guys have finally matured to 6th graders. Well that, or a lot of them moved to different schools.

Coach J said...

I don't think you could pay me enough money to relive my first year teaching. To echo you, oh, the tears! I cried myself to sleep more times than I care to remember. I think I actually tried to find a way out of my contract after the first day. I PRAYED for mono. Anything to get me out of there.

But hey, we survived. And it does keep getting easier (although I'd never go as far as to say teaching is easy by any stretch of the imagination).

jerel said...

My very first year of teaching, I was hired the day before pre-plan. The good news was that I had 4 classes of the same thing [this is high school]. The bad news was that for the remaining class, an elective reading course, I had no textbooks or curriculum. The WORSE news, though, was that I had a class comprised entirely of students other teachers had switched out of their classes. Most of them had already been through the juvenile justice system, and I had at least 3 on probation. (One was arrested on campus the following year for dealing.) Most days, it was like "here. Try reading this and just don't burn the classroom down."

Now I'm teaching in a private middle school. Nothing fazes me. Nothing. I have gladly traded in dealing with 7th grade whining for filling out reports for a PO.

Anonymous said...

I lost it so bad, I told my nines that if they wanted to F the dog, do it on their own time. Yep. I'm a winner. Four years later though, I'm doing things I never thought I'd be able to do and rocking it so there ya go right.

Emily said...

Wow, I feel intensely better after reading that. So other teachers go batshit crazy, too? And live to tell the tale? Hallelujah! There's hope!

Unknown said...

OMFG this is my life right now. first year, 8th grade language arts, gender separated classrooms, boys harrassing me at home, threatening my life, and everyone is like i don't know what the fuck to do. Thank you for making me feel a little better though.

Mrs. is my first name said...

I had a year just like that my first year teaching. It started off with the very first day of my professional career with a 5th grader have an accident (#2) in his pants by lunch. Throughout the year, I had several kids not allowed on the field trip by the direction of the principal, a kid get his head and arm stuck inside a tambourine, and a gang of parents that would make Hades's Furis look like kittens.

Good thing was, it could only improve after that!

sheldinski said...

omg jerel, you and I have almost the same story. I was hired about a week before preplanning. Found out the day I arrived there was no classroom for me, but that I had to "float" to different classrooms. I taught Spanish 1 and2, World History, and American History (yea, they hated me. 4 preps same year. I'm doing 4 preps still, but at least they are all one subject-Spanish.)
Spanish classes were fine, but the two history classes were exactly as you described...comprised of students other teachers didn't want. One set his desk on fire the first day of school. And I told him..."That's not very bright. If I were going to set a desk on fire..it wouldn't be the one I'm sitting in." Yea, I said it. The then AP told me he was amazed I came back the next year.

Just Thinking said...

The absolute best thing about your first year teaching is that you NEVER have a first year of teaching again! EVER! No matter how many schools you move to, it is never as challenging as a First Year. Thanks for putting it all out there!

CozyStitches said...

As a future teacher (with student teaching now looming at me from the Fall) this terrifies me....pardon me, I think I will go lie down now in a dark corner.

Ginger Snaps said...

Geez. This is so like my first year. I have one this year who is pretty batshit crazy himself and I think I may need therapy after this year.

daniel john said...

I agree with many of your points.

Ashley said...

OMG, I just found your blog a couple of days ago and have been reading it every day since...this post in particular describes my first year teaching as well! I taught kindergarten that year and one little boy was having a rough day, so he drew a picture of me, announced to the class that it was my face, and then started stabbing it with his pencil!! He didn't stop there, either. After "my face" had been properly stabbed, he began to eat the picture. I don't teach at that school anymore, but I can only hope that the little boy's behavior has improved. I, too, still shudder at the thought of that day.

michele said...

Reading your article reminded me of a little girl I had in my Kindergarten class about 1 year ago.

As she entered my door you could tell that she was really not sure of what was going to take place. She stood there and starred at the 20 other faces that were looking at her and decided to hide her face in her caseworkers skirt.

My knew friend had just been dropped off at the CPS office about an hour away the night before. She had never been to school and had never been around another children. This was going to be an experience.

Over the next few months I watched a my new sidekick (I mean sidekick because she never left my side) grow form an extremely shy wilted flower in to a beautiful daisy.

When the other kids would work at their desks she would bring her work and stand at my desk next to me to work. When we would have circle time she always sat right next to our story chair. No matter where I was in the room she was always there. It was if I was watching a flower bloom right before my eyes. Not only did I get to watch this your girl bloom I learned to love her with all my heart. So you can only imagine how disappointed I was when I learned her mother was going to get custody of her again. Talk about watching a flower wilt.

The last month of school was extremely difficult. My flower was wilting and there really was nothing I could do. The smiling face, the laughter, and the clear understandable voice was gone. She now never smiled. Her speech was a slurred again and there was no more laughter.

She has been gone now for a year. I think of my flower often. I hope one day she will come show me that she did't wilt but that some how she actually did bloom.

As a teacher we water so many flowers, and it really can be a thankless job. I pray I can after 23 years of teaching continue to water flowers and not have any regrets.

I am starting a new school year in 3 weeks. I still get excited to think of how I will be able to water and watch all these new seeds bloom into beautiful flowers.

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