Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bad Teachers, Part 4 of ∞ : When You're The Problem

Every job has good and bad days, but a bad day or week teaching middle school is about as bad as you can get. It must be what it's like for a doctor to have a week in which every patient dies, or a farmer who has to watch a week full of hailstorms hit his sorghum field in late August.


And maybe it works this way for doctors and farmers too, but a few bad days of middle school teaching and you're not only doubting your abilities but your job, career, and right to breathe oxygen on planet Earth.

Last week was one of those hailstorm-filled nightmare weeks that come around every once in a while, and my classroom and psyche are still assessing the damage. I think and worry greatly that my students suffered as well, but middle schoolers are far, far more resilient than the middle aged. They have to be. Remember middle school?

It is also somewhat comforting to know, after 14+ years of doing this, that a few days will pass and even us old people will largely have forgotten a week of sketchy pedagogy, harrowing curriculum and long periods of time spent thinking "what the Hell am I doing here?". The focus being on the word "somewhat". Meanwhile, after asking oneself "what the Hell am I doing here?", the thinking process goes something like this::
  • "What other occupations, ones that I might not be horribly incompetent at, might be available?"
  • "Perhaps if I just wrote that unpublishable novel I would be incompetent in the privacy of my home instead of in front of hundreds of schoolchildren. Might it not be time to quit, write the unpublished novel, and move on to a diet of ramen and tuna fish for the rest of my life?"
  • "Is a day in which the Dow Jones goes down 700+ points a good day to consider career-changing options?"
  • "How long can I keep this look of competence plastered onto my face before my wily middle school kids see through the mask?"
  • Answer to question above: about five seconds.
  • "What would be worse: to have to endure this week of teaching or to be a doctor and have every single patient of mine die, even the ones with ingrown toenails and psoriasis?"
  • "Would the students notice if I just curled up into the fetal position here in the dark corner of my classroom?"
In one's first or second year of teaching, a week like the past one can lead to a real career change, as any statistics regarding teacher retention will tell you. But after a year or so of teaching experience, you learn (some of us) that George Harrison was right and all things do pass, including George Harrison. A day or so of reflection, context and fetal-position depression, and you're back and ready to tackle the middle school teaching world. You're buoyed by an almost epileptic level of sudden clarity, and an almost post-hangover degree of seeing endless possibilities.

Until the next one. And you know the next bad stretch is coming sometime. It comes to all of us. And somehow that's okay, and you're okay, and I'm okay. We're all okay. Hail-damaged, psychically-scarred and far from perfect, but still here for the 1st Period bell.

Here come the kids. It's showtime, folks.


lynn said...

Well...what happened? I need details.

Anonymous said...

me too!

jscotkey said...

Sorry for a lack of details, but I think it best that those details remain lacking.

You've probably figured this out by now, but I'm trying to go for a "year in the life of a teacher" angle as I blog through SY 2008-2009. Any teacher's year includes much good and some bad, and I figured I'd "keep it real" not glossing over the awful days.

Maybe that's an awful idea. In fact, it's most probably a terrible idea.

But I'm not going to delete this post or any of that. I'll just leave it hanging, details a-lacking, thinking maybe I or another teacher might refer to it at some point in the future for twisted comfort when teaching times get bad.

"Hey, other teachers have days like this, too!"

Or something like that.

Meanwhile, something really cool happened today, again no details, and my blithely forgetful mind has already lost much of what was so bad in the first place. A memory like a mental sieve is often a wonderful thing.

Abuelita2 said...

I hope you're keeping a private journal full of the details. I can tell you from several decades more of life than you, someday you will need them. For perspective, for learning.

And the world will need them. Also for the same reasons.

Three times in my teaching years I have come home, and sat (on a step, the floor, a chair) and simply SCREAMED out loud, "I can't do this!!!" over and over, and cried as long as necessary.

Yeah, time passed. The situation sort of repaired itself. Or whatever. But I don't minimize how very, very awful living in those hours and that situation was.

I'm teaching in a situation now in which one day (or hour) I'm feeling strongly, "I can't do this!" And then --sometimes within the same day -- I think, "This could be okay! This might be quite all right!" ????? Usually the latter has to do with interacting with the kids. The former has to do with interactions with the adults at the school.

I taught for six weeks in a middle school. Absolutely could not take it! So I greatly admire your ability to do it. Don't know how you do it. Especially nowadays.

Laurie said...

"The PAR (Peer Assistance and Review) program is an intervention program designed to help improve the performance of experienced teachers who are having serious difficulties in the performance of their professional responsibilities. This help is provided through peer assistance from a Consulting Teacher (CT). The CT works directly with the struggling teacher to provide constructive and intensive intervention. The goal of the PAR program is to develop and maintain the highest caliber teaching staff.

As part of APS and ATF's commitment to provide a continuum of support for teachers, the district and union created the Mentor Program and the PAR Program. The programs are related. The Mentor Program was co-designed and is run by the APS/ATF/UNM Partnership Program. It provides comprehensive support to beginning teachers. The PAR Program provides suppor to struggling teachers."

This quotation is from http://atfunion.org. The union has worked hard to counsel bad teachers out of the profession. It just takes a little effort on the part of administrators to identify who really needs help.

Anonymous said...

I was sitting at a table this morning with a brilliant teacher - one the district wants to snag and take away from us. This teacher is suffering the effects of Restructuring I. We have so many "coaches" here to support us that this poor soul has three different groups here to help because we are having this teacher teach three different programs. This teacher told me she told her spouse she must must be a really crappy teacher with all the "support" she's getting. I told her the teacher next door to me said the same thing to me yesterday and we were kidding around that we needed to get bleachers for the classroom for the crowds that come by daily.

But isn't this a travesty? We take excellent teachers and chip away at their self-confidence until they hear that little voice in their heads saying " you can't teach - you phoney!" And the sad thing is - eventually we'll lose another good one to another occupation because the "bad" ones seldom hear that little voice.