Via twitter, @misscalcul8 and @samjshah have put me in a reflective mood tonight, so I thought I would take a moment to reflect.
Year #1 - I moved to Concord NC with my best friend and we got to teach at the same school in classrooms beside each other. I thought life was going to rock. I had Foundations of Algebra (Algebra IA) and Algebra II, first semester and Geometry and Tech Math II, second semester. What? I can't teach Algebra IB and PreCal like I student taught? What? I have to create everything new in my first year? I have no help? Geesh. But, I walked in with my head held high determined not to be a doormat, determined to be the best teacher ever and determined to share math love.
I'll never forget September 15th, 2006. It was a Friday. It was first period. We were taking a test on Matrices. Here's how it went down:
Student #1: Ms Gregson, I really need to go to the office. I really need to talk to someone.
Student #1 goes to the office for about 10 minutes, returns, takes a seat, works on her test.
SRO/AP: We need to see Student #2.
They escort her down to the office. I'm just a low first year teacher. I didn't think much of it. I kept monitoring the test. Nothing new, nothing fancy.
The door opens, it's Student #2.
Ms Gregson: Oh great! Glad you're back! Go ahead and get working on your test!
Student #2 doesn't respond.
Instead, she walks over to her desk, instead of sitting down in her seat, she starts being the you know what out of Student #1. Student #1 is pinned in her desk and is getting nailed left and right. Hair is being pulled (you know, girl cat fight). I had that moment --- "Do I go call the office? Do I yell for help? Do I break it up?" I yelled and went to break it up. Yep, I know, they tell you not too ... but I tell you. It's instinctive. It's your gut. It's what I felt, so I did it. I pulled Student #2 back. By this time, I had four teachers in my room, two male teachers (thank goodness), each took one of the girls into the hall way in opposite ways. By this time, when my best friend (in the classroom beside me) heard me scream, her reaction? Ann doesn't scream! Something must be wrong! I'm going to call the office. She saved me. Administration was already up there. I walked out in the hall to take a breath and I started BAWLING. A fight? My third week of school? In my classroom? All before 8:15am? Why? How? What? I eventually calmed down, I mean, I had two more classes to teach that day! The day wasn't the same, but I made it through.
Now, you want the back story, right? When Student #1 went to the office, she informed them that Student #2 had drugs on her. So, they came and got her. They did find some on her, so the adminstrators went into another office to discuss punishment. Well, Student #2 SNUCK out of the office, ran up to my room and beat the ever living daylights out of the girl. Yep. That's what happened.
After I got over my shock and scaredness, I began to reflect. Was there something I could have done to prevent it? Was it my fault? What went wrong? And, well, I eventually realized that there was no way for ME to prevent it. There was no other way I would have dealt with it. It happened, we dealt and we overcame. Now, that being said, I did learn one lesson ... LOCK YOUR CLASSROOM DOOR. Had my door been locked, she wouldn't have gotten in. Well, until I let her in, but whatever. :)
For the remainder of my first year, I worked my tail off. I reflected. I learned. I re-did. I changed. There were many days where what I planned completely and utterly didn't work. There were days when things rocked and my kids learned. I learned that you have to analyze what you do and admit to your wrongdoings. It's okay to be wrong. It's okay to fail. It's okay to make mistakes. The kids appreciate you MORE if you admit to them. I had discipline issues and had to try atleast four different ways of managing my classroom. I changed my rules time after time (and now as I look back, I realize that probably was my problem).
Year #2 - Hands down my worst teaching year ever. I taught Foundations of Algebra and Algebra I all school year long in addition to a section to SAT Prep. Even though I had taught Foundations before, I was still redoing my lessons because I wasn't content with my first year lessons. I had freshman all day every day and I wasn't happy. I went home every night crying. I wanted to quit. I thought I wasn't meant to be a teacher. I wanted to call in sick all the time. I hated it. I dreaded it. It was one of the lowest years of my life. I reflected, but I couldn't find any good in what I was doing. I had discipline issues every day (atleast 2 - 5 write-ups a day), I had curriculum issues, you name it, I had it. I thought I couldn't do it. At the end of the school year, I told them that if I ever had to teach freshman again, I would leave, walk out and never come back.
Year #3 - I came into my third year skeptical, scared and worried. After the year I had had, I wasn't ready for this, I wasn't confident, I wasn't interested. But, I came back anyways, looking for a fresh start. Let's see, first semester, I had Precal, Algebra II, SAT Prep. And, second semester, I had Honors ALgebra II, Algebra II and SAT Prep. Note: no freshman (except for the extremely smart ones taking Alg II). My precal students revived my love of teaching. They wanted to be there, they wanted to learn, they opened up to me. They inspired me to be a better teacher. They challenged me. They were my shining light. My other classes were great. I had finally gotten a handle on discipline. I had finally gotten a handle on grading, time management, lesson plans, etc. I knew what I was doing. It felt good. I wanted to go home and grade papers (to see how they did) and I wanted to go home and do lesson plans to inspire and reflect. I had a great year. I had a new found love for teaching and math and I was rejuvenated. Now, don't get me wrong, I still had a few issues here and there. I still did fail at some lessons (especially in PreCal!). They still bombed tests. But, we regrouped and moved on. It was a great year. I was ready for year #4.
Year #4 - Now, we're here. It's present day. I walked into my classroom on the first day, not nervous. Totally chill. I was laid back. I wasn't scared. It was the most calming feeling ever. It was like I was home. It was like I was supposed to be there. I don't panic anymore. If I need another day to teach something, it's okay. I'll make it up later. They bomb a test? Reflect ... was it me or them or just hard material? We re-evaluate and recharge.
One major thing I learned in my last two years is that everything doesn't work for everyone. Just because it works for another teacher in their classroom, doesn't mean it's going to work for you. Sometimes you have to take others ideas with a grain of salt, adapt and change it to fit YOU, YOUR classroom and YOUR students. You can't trust that because it worked for someone else, it will work for you. Every single classroom is different. Therefore every single classroom should have a different lesson delivery. And, it is with this comfort and feeling of home that I feel ready to incorporate technology into my classroom, try different things (and admit when they don't work) and try a more discovery-based, problem-based learning activities. I have also learned that I do love my SMARTBoard, document camera, etc. But, sometimes, paper and pencil is the best way to do math. There are some topics that you can't make fun. You can't make a game out of it. You just have to teach it. No matter how boring it is, you just teach it. And, yes, they just work problems. It doesn't have to be ALL fun and games. We are preparing them for college. Did you play games in your college math class? I didn't think so. Sometimes, notes and book problems rock my socks off.
Moral of the Story? Don't panic. Don't worry. Don't freak out. They will get the material. They will understand it. They will fail. They will learn lessons. Don't let them out easy. Make them work hard. Be mean. Be sarcastic. Be fun. Build relationships. Get to know your students. Find balance. Find balance in your classroom. Find balance in your homelife. Don't work 24/7. Take breaks. Breathe.
It WILL get better. Now, that's not to say it won't get worse before it gets better. But, it will get better. You will succeed. You will be the best teacher you can be. You will inspire your students. They will come back and visit you. They will beg for you to be their teacher in the future. They like you, even though they'll never admit it now.
Stick with it. Don't quit. Live your passion.