Friday, April 30, 2010

six weeks

Until the semester is finished.

When I was a CA (Community Advisor) in college, I remember my Hall Director telling me that you are remembered for how you finish a job. I think she was speaking that as a warning. Middle of the night lock-outs and roommate disputes and puke on the stairs gets old fast. And when a job gets old, it becomes difficult to be gracious.

Last year when I decided to stay home with Claire this year, part of my decision was based on my fear of burning out. Teaching is a sucky job sometimes. I was beginning to wonder if it was my profession or just my job. Was it okay if teaching was just a job? Could I be a good teacher if I didn't martyr myself with loads of nightly grading? In college I took an English methods class with a woman who equated teaching with becoming a nun: both require total devotion. I remember a couple of the other students nodding in agreement. I wondered what I'd gotten into.

The first couple of years teaching were terrible. Every day is trial and error. At my first district, I taught a student in my junior/senior class who was only two years younger than me; the freshmen were near intolerable and the only reason I didn't hang myself was because my eighth grade students were still kid enough to not be too snotty. I hated it. Not all the time, but a great deal of the time. Most veteran teachers say that the second year is better (it usually cannot get too much worse), so I spent the first month of my summer off talking myself into returning the next year. Then Justin's new district called me for an interview and I was hired there instead.

I learned a lot at that district. About teaching, about myself, about parents, about politics. I had good classes and bad classes. I had moments of inspiration and moments of frustration (oh, I'll just say it: I wanted to bang my head against the cinderblock wall). I figured a few things out. I wanted to figure out a lot more. The thing is, it can take a lot of time to gain confidence in the classroom. When we moved abroad, I felt like a first year teacher again, trying to figure out what to do with a classroom of students and not enough books. I taught some great classes and some muddling classes. I began to read more about how to teach, and to revisit advice given by past teaching colleagues. Last year, I think I was a better teacher. Not brilliant, but better.

And last year, I was also ready to be done for awhile. My friend Karla once told me about an English teacher friend of hers. This English teacher friend did not stay an English teacher for long. He began to hate English - the literature, the writing - because his students seemed to hate it. He was trying to share something he loved, and they weren't interested. So he quit. A lot of teachers quit.

They probably become engineers and business managers to replace the ones who idealistically leave their careers to give back to the community by starting charter schools. (That's meant jokingly, but could also be true).

So this year - the year that I was going to stay home, learn to plan a weekly meal menu and grocery budget; the year I was going to write my book (still have until July 31!) and think about what might come next for me teaching-wise - this year, I stepped back into the classroom for second semester and realized: I'm actually getting the hang of teaching. This is my seventh year in the classroom and it is finally clicking. I'm not as incompetent as I sometimes fear. I do have enthusiasm for what I teach (except straight up grammar instruction: gag). I continue to learn from my colleagues and my students. And I enjoy teaching.

What happened? I'm counting down to a relaxed summer schedule and looking forward to staying home next year, but I am not rabidly anxious to be out of the classroom yet. And that is a good feeling: to realize that this job I have isn't that bad. I rather like it.

Now I need to rather like it for six more weeks. Graciously.

5 comments:

Angela and David Kidd said...

This was so interesting. Not that I ever didn't for one second think that teaching was hard but it occurred to me that I never once thought in high school or junior high about the fact that my teacher may also find what they are teaching us boring. Grammar is boring for both the teacher and the student. Huh. I guess those teachers that were good teachers loved what they thought and those that were bad teachers probably didn't. I never thought of it that way, I always just thought there were either good teachers or bad teachers.

jsmarslender said...

Angela - I think you're right about teachers liking what they teach. Interest in your subject goes a long ways to making teaching that subject enjoyable for both students and teacher. I tell my students that one of the things I like most about teaching is all the learning involved: students ask a difficult question and I actually want to know the answer too. (Even if it is grammar related - we just finished an SAT prep unit with loads of grammar and I found myself flipping through books and searching websites to figure out exactly why ___ was correct or incorrect. Yikes).

jsmarslender said...

Angela - I think you're right about teachers liking what they teach. Interest in your subject goes a long ways to making teaching that subject enjoyable for both students and teacher. I tell my students that one of the things I like most about teaching is all the learning involved: students ask a difficult question and I actually want to know the answer too. (Even if it is grammar related - we just finished an SAT prep unit with loads of grammar and I found myself flipping through books and searching websites to figure out exactly why ___ was correct or incorrect. Yikes).

Anonymous said...

i am counting down the days... and singing my favorite song, "next year will be better!"... from texas!

Anonymous said...

Sonia here. I finally got a chance to catch up on your blog and whoa, is it ever so timely. As I try to exit out of my position graciously, I find myself spending more and more time in my cave, alone, out of fear of what I may say to a new teacher here. I do not want to be known as the bitter teacher who stayed at Bolivar too long. I cannot wait to be an actual teacher again. Thanks for reminding me how I need to end my "teaching" career here. Six weeks to go.