My thoughts

Five stages of a First Year Teacher

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Yesterday was the last day of the school year.  I wanted to tear off my clothes and run through the streets like a mad man.  This is what I call an immense sense of relief and accomplishment.  I dealt with crazy students, angry parents, and an unhelpful administration for 10 months. They say the first year teaching is hell and man O man they weren’t lying! Now I got my final paycheck and I’m going to blow it on a beach vacation somewhere.  I need some R&R. 

Re-wind 1 year ago

I just finished my first year of grad school and I’m pumped.  My under grad is in IT and I’ve been working for a software company unhappily for five years.  I was glad that my life would change since I’m doing gods work – helping the youth of this great nation achieve new heights.  I was convinced that teaching was the best job in the world.  Great vacations, good benefits, summers off, and oh vacation days.  Did I mention vacation days? Lol Plus you are the face of a changing world, you are the hands that will mold the children and our next president may be a former student of ours.  Yes, I had all of these hopes and I thought life would be beautiful.  

During summer of 2015 I looked for a teaching job far and wide. It’s hard finding a job when your A. not certified and B. Have little job experience but I was motivated nonetheless.  Eventually my job search came to and end with a contract at a private school in Brooklyn.  I was extremely excited until I saw my salary. Luckily I didn’t quit my second job and would only teach 9th grade English part-time.  

Week of Training

August 24th, staff comes a week before class for training.  I walked into the school and was directed to the third floor.  As I entered – all eyes were on me.  Teachers upon teachers sitting around and wondering who I was as I wondered about them.  They were friendly though, well most, and introduced themselves.  I felt an immediate connection with a few.  The week was boring and filled with workshops teaching information that I’ve already learned in college.  How to write a lesson – I’ve done that 

How to implement the Workshop model within a class – done that too. 

I’m also already familiar with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Well, I have not mastered them but I have the CCSS app and I’m semi familiar with writing lesson plans using them. Lastly my principle stood in front of us and said “Teaching is hard” – I laughed that one off.  

The week flew by and I was ready for the class room, so I thought.  At the end of training My principle handed me a 9th grade Pearson common core textbook and told me to familiarize myself with it.  This is the holy grail of teaching.  

The night before my body shivered, I could not sleep, and I was full of worry.  “What did I get myself into”?  Teaching high school English?  I remember high school and it was a war zone.  I laid on my bed all night staring at the ceiling. 

First day of class

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August 31st, today is my first day and I hitched a ride with a neighbor.  I was still nervous and somewhat excited.  I’m embarking on a new adventure.  I walked into the school filled with worry.  I did not sleep for days and my body was sweating.  It could have been sweating because the school was sweltering hot.  “Someone turn in the AC” I thought. I stood in the lobby and waited for the students to enter.  The administration saw me and avoided me. They did not tell me what to do and I stood there like an idiot wondering what was going happen next. 

After line up my principle handed me my schedule and said “oh by the way-your also teaching 10th grade as well”.  Wait !  Hol up.  You hired me for 9th grade only and told me during training that it will only be 9th grade.  How did this change in a matter of a weekend? This unorganized last minute leadership was just the beginning of things to come.  

I saw my schedule and my classes were back to back.  Now I gotta create a last minute lesson plan for 10th grade. Ahhhhhhhh.  I left some handouts last Friday with the front desk – I told the staff that I needed them for Monday morning.  I approached the front desk and asked for my print outs and they told me “it’s not ready yet.” Okay, it’s the first day – I’m just going to introduce my self and play a fun game.  

I was soo pissed off that my fear flew away and I came into my class with a lot of fury.  “Hi – sit down and take out a pencil and write this down.  My name is Mr.Ahmed and I don’t play no games! Now that I got that out the way lets play a game.” They looked at me like I was crazy and at that moment I felt so as well.  My college professor said once, ” teaching is like a stage production – you’re the main actor and you’ve got to put on a show.” I sure did put on a show.  

The first day was not as bad as I thought.  The kids were nice and seemed energetic to learn.  I went home and my wife asked me “how was your first day?” I responded ” these kids are too nice – way different from the kids I went to school with.”  I thought that this would be a cake walk; that thought was far from reality. 

That night I worked on a new unit plan for 10th grade and came in the next day with a new request for print outs.  ” I need these for tenth grade”.  I filled out a printout request and placed it in the print tray.  ” May I have my printouts that I already requested”. The front desk looked at me and said “what printouts”.  I looked at the woman confused.  ” The one I gave you last friday – you said that you were working on it”.  The woman looked at me and said “we could not find it – please put in s new request.”  I thought it was just a mistake but this “mistake” happened all year-long. 

The Five stages of a First Year Teaching

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I taught three tenth grade classes and two ninth grade classes. Each class ranged in size from 21-40 students.  Yes, one of my ninth grade classes ended up being 40 students after 1 month. Eventually the admin divided the class into two different classes but for the first 2 months it was one large class.  Can you imagine trying to teach 40-14 year old students in a small class? 

My 9th grade classes were overly energetic but when it came down to learning – they participated -though at times they argued that I was wrong and at times I was wrong however I encouraged them to debate and to prove their arguments using textual evidence.  That taught me to fact check, double check, and cover every part of my lesson. These kids catch everything and will try to humiliate me for my mistakes.  

These 9th graders kept me on my toes.  I hated when I misspelled a word on the board and for them to correct me.  I’ve been using Microsoft word since high school.  I forgot how to rely on memory to spell a word – computers have been doing all the work.  Whatever the case – I made sure that I knew the spelling of any word I used – still had some more goof ups though through out the year.  But isn’t this part of my learning process? I kept telling myself that it was okay.  

My tenth grade classes were totally different.  One class was  advanced and just “knew it all”.  While the other two classes just sat around with a “I don’t care” attitude.  Half of the students did not pay attention.  For those who did pay attention, they could not hear me over the other half that were talking.  

I did not know what to do at all.  I would reach out for help from admin but it fall on deaf ears.  I was all alone and had no idea how to make these classes work.  One time a fight broke out in one of my classes and I pulled the students apart and some students helped me pry them off each other.  I ran around the floor looking for help and no one came to assist me.  I sent the students down to the office and texted the AP principles.  Eventually the students were sent back to class with a pat on their back.  The admin  did not respect me and for that reason the students gave me a bad attitude.  If you can get away for fighting and flipping desks than you can do just about anything.  I felt hopeless and tried everything imaginable. 

1. First, I was the mean teacher

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Remember - "Don't Smile till November." The problem was I smiled too much. 

First, I was the mean teacher.  “DON’T SMILE TILL NOVEMBER!” That’s what other teachers would tell me.  Even several professors said the same phrase.  I was convinced that smiling was a sign of weakness.  My armor is on and I’m ready for war!  I don’t play games and I told you that since day one.  We were doing a close reading on Fitzgerald “The Great Gatsby.” I read thus in tenth grade so I figured id teach it.  Some students loved it, some hated it, others did not even have a book even though I told them to buy one weeks before we started.  I ended up buying books out-of-pocket to give students.  I was frustrated and relied on coffee to get me through. Each day I had a lesson plan but we could not get all the way through because of the disorder.  Whatever we did not finish was assigned as homework. And they got a lot of homework.  The next day – I’d yell and scream and argue with students about not doing their work.  Yeah That’ll shut them up for a few moments but they would return to their antics and it gave me serious heartburn.  Some days I felt like I was having a heart attack.  I hate being the mean guy – that’s not in my nature.  That mean teacher role did not last too long.  

2.Then, I was a classroom workaholic

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Second marking period I decided to keep my temper in place, talk low and keep my students busy non-stop.  Immediately they had to do a journal, interactive lesson, than an assignment due by end of period.  We worked on Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” we’re they had to do a close reading and annotate the entire text.  In addition students were given worksheets, info graphics, presentations, poetry and a lot of homework.  Don’t give them a minute to talk and work, work, work them.  that worked for a awhile but problem was students were exhausted as was I from all the assignments I had to grade. Plus the front desk only printed half of what I requested so my frequent trips to staples during my 40 minute break to make last minute printouts was getting expensive.  

Towards the end of the second Marking Period I saw a Sign on the wall and it said “Mid Term Exams” next week.  “Mid terms”?  It’s a Friday and out of the blue I’m expected to create an exam that includes 4 months of work by Monday?  During the Friday afternoon meeting the assistant principal said that we had midterms and expected every one of us to have the tests ready by next week. All the teachers were angry. How unprofessional to drop a bomb on us at the last minute. “What will be the schedule? Which exam will be first?”  Neither of the assistant principles could help.  We will let you know Monday morning. So we will find out about the timings at the same time as the students.  That makes us look bad.  Really bad.  I hated the level of disrespect.
Besides that, I’ve been turning in my lesson plans each week for the first two marking periods and got absolutely no feed back about them.  I just been following Pearson and Engage NY Website (Site for common core aligned lessons for k-12) without knowing if I was on the right track. I just went with my own intuition. The admins are a mess and literary no help.

First Parent Teacher Conference

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I was shitting my pants.  Some of my students failed and my cries for help went unheard.  I reached out to parents about their children’s behavior but it as too late. The marking period was over and now I have some parents to face.  For the most part, the students did well but there are a handful of students who just don’t care.  They do care though, but act like they don’t care because their struggling so instead of trying, they do the opposite and act like nothing fazes them.  Each one of my classes, except 1, contain of: English Language Learners (ELL), low-level learners, possibly special needs students, and  high level learners.  Since it’s a private school all levels are thrown together.  In some ways I like that everyone is together without any discrimination however it takes away from students who need more focused instruction.  Students who need more help should get more help but I am only 1 man in a classroom as large as 30-40 students without a teachers aid.  This makes the teaching process convoluted.  Some students go unseen while others get more attention.

I stood there waiting for parents to come, and they did, and thought that each one would attack me.  Every parent who came in promised that they would work with me to help with their students grades.  I made a pact with them and we agreed to their child’s success.  Most parents kept up with that agreement and we worked as a team to ensure their success.  While there was a few who came in fuming!  “You gave my son a C.” A parent screamed out while holding his son’s report card.  This parent had a thick south Asian accent and his son was an ELL.  He did not perform low because he’s an ELL but rather because he refused to do work.  Was not only in my class but in other classes as well. I tried my best to focus on him throughout the year but something was going on in his life.  I could tell he was not happy and that diverted his attention in class.  I know how hard it could be to feel like an outsider so I reached out to other teachers and they told me about possible bullying going on.  I kept my eye on him all year-long and made sure he never got bullied in my class.  That’s when I become the unofficial anti-bullying captain.  I would stand to defend any student that was being teased or bullied.  It was my job to not only teach but to promote positive behavior.  No way would I like anyone feel mistreated in front of me.  Private schools do not have resources or training for these situations.  I made him a priority and focused on his behavior and work.  He remained a C Average student and his father would always contact me to complain about it.  I wish these parents knew how much we fight for their children.

3. I’m the Cool Teacher Now 

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Now we are into the third marking period and I’m completely lost with my 10th grade classes.  9th Graders were not innocent but least they met me halfway. Not my 10th grade classes, no sir!  They were getting worse by the minute.  I thought this time around that I would be their friend. My relationship changed with them and I started to get to know them better.  One of my professors said “relinquish some of your authority” so I tried that.  I will give them some power.  I asked them what they were interested in and went about my lessons based on their interests. Creative writing, Poetry writing, and reading a play.  I told my 10th grade class that we will be reading Shakespeare Macbeth and they seemed really interested.  9th grade read Romeo & Juliet and as you could imagine – the boys and some girls complained and some girls jumped in the air with joy.  I had to tell them that Romeo & Juliet was not a mushy love story but rather a tragedy with a lot of fighting and death. The naysayers came around eventually.
I was excited for this marking period.  Finally, one of the AP’s said that he’ll evaluate one of my classes.  I was ready, taught my heart out, and the students were angels.  I thought I’d be nervous but I had no reason to be.  I’ve been working hard all year round and was ready to show them what I could do.  My lesson on the use Transition words was flawless and at the end of the period, the principle smiled and shook my hand.  I asked him about getting feedback and he said “we’ll set up a meeting to discuss”.  I never heard back from him.
My 10th grade class started to come around and I felt like a real teacher.  They would talk to me and made me feel like a part of their lives. I’d reward my students frequently with cupcakes and candy.  They were on cloud nine. I was happy to see them happy.  I was no longer just their teacher but now I was also a friend.  That’s when the problems started to happen again for two of my 10th grade classes.  The advanced class saw me as a human and I enjoyed being in their class.  Now my other students took advantage and really did not respect me the moment they saw me as an equal and not a teacher.  Once one of my students took my coffee and ran outside into the hall way.  I chased after her and said “Not my coffee”!!!!  All the students laughed and when I got back with my coffee in hand – my grading book, markers, and printouts were gone. Where is my stuff?  They hide it somewhere in the class.  I searched all over and they laughed at my expense. Some students put me on their snap chat.  “You want your stuff back? Leave the class and it will magically appear again”. I left the class and it did appear and I laughed it off. “You guys are too bad” I said while walking out.  I made a big mistake and it was eating me up inside.
It was impossible to get two of my 10th grade classes back to a state where they would respect me.  I tried going back to having non-stop work again but that did not faze them.  I went back to being the mean teacher but they saw it as being a joke.  “You’re soo cool” some of my students would say.  I was a cool teacher and they walked all over me.  The admin though,as usual were nowhere to be found.  I’d talk to other teachers but they also experienced the same issues.  The only difference was that the students respected them and not me.

4. The “I Do Not Care” Stage

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I was going to give up…..

I was left for dead by administration.  My cries for help all year round went unheard.  Here I am at the front desk in the lobby asking for my hand outs and the secretary tells me “what hand outs”.  This happened to me over 20 times this year.  Now I am here with a lesson in my hand with no resources.  I have no projector, I have no handouts, I ran out of dry erase markers (because everyone uses mine) and I have no coffee to calm my nerves.  I’m PISSED THE F*** OFF.  I dusted my shoulders off, inhaled deeply, and went around asking every teacher in the hall or lounge for a marker.  “I will make this work” I thought.  I walked into my classroom and several students are fighting each other.  “THATS IT!”  I called the gym teacher/hall way monitor/floor manager and told him to intervene.  He grabbed the kids and sent them to the office.  I turned around and looked at the students and instead of going off I just shrugged my shoulders.  I worked my lesson the best I could with a dry erase marker that was running out of ink.
At this time, my 9th grade class, who were good most of the year, were not giving me major issues.  So now I was struggling with 5 classes and I was fed up.  I booked a vacation and took two weeks off.  I never had a sick day or an absence all year so I deserved this.  I put in my days and the principle approved.  The principle had a substitute teacher that would cover me and I felt semi-relieved.  I gave my lesson plans to the substitute and went about my way.
I came back from vacation (refreshed) – I went into my classes and the students gave me a standing ovation when I entered each class.  Unlike the admin, fellow teachers and students showed me love.  It was like a family re-union.  “We missed you” everyone said and they were overwhelmed with happiness. One of my classes that I struggled with the most threw me a party.  They had a welcome back cake and yelled “surprise” when I entered.  “Don’t leave again” they said.  That’s when I realized that I was an important person in their lives and  they are important to me as well.
 CAKE
That did not change much though.  We were in the last marking period and we were working on two units – literature from Romanticism era and also the final unit on Rhetorical devices.  The students were exhausted and tired of school.  They were not focused and I did not feel like fighting.  I tried my best and I let the chips fall were they fell.  It sounds like I gave up and I did for a moment.  Students went back to their old ways as did I.  I was grouchy again but melancholy about life. I said “You want to learn, you learn.  You don’t want to learn – go to sleep”.  I did not talk loud, and went about teaching with no passion.  That’s when I noticed that students would start to pay attention.  They thought I did not care but the thing was I cared too much.  I want better for them than I would want for myself.  It took a whole year to get an idea on how I cold get all my classes to pay attention and honestly I still don’t know.  Most of the year my 9th grade class were angels and my 10th grade classes were hit or miss (most of the time a miss).

5. Finally It’s Over

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  • What have I learned? Where do I start? 
The year ended and it was time for Finals and I specifically asked one of my AP’s about finals weeks before the end of the school year and he told me “No Finals”.  A few days before the last week, I was informed from another AP that “We have finals” and yet again it was thrown on me (and other new teachers) without notice. The old teachers already knew and were prepared, the new teachers felt screwed over as usual.  To confirm, I text messaged one of my APs and she said “Yes, there will be an English Final on Thursday”.  I spent all weekend creating an exam and monday Morning I spoke to the male AP and he said there’s no day dedicated to an english final and informed me to give them an assignment during my class period.  WTF?  Again?
I tried to give my students a in class assignment but they screamed “We have finals this week and regents next week and cannot learn new material”.  They basically gave up but I did not stop.  I prepared them for their English final which was an argumentative essay -typed using MLA format.  The students cried but they did it and as I read their final work, I realize that all my hard work did not go in vain.  I’ve seen soooo much improvement and it makes my heart smile.  This is why I became a teacher.

Well…never walk into a class with a preconceived notion about the school and students.  That’s easier said than done but I feel my prejudice made me think that all private school students are rich.  Not the case at all.  I had a student whim slept in class everyday because he worked a night shift.  I thought he was spoiled because he had new shoes without knowing how hard he worked to pay for them.  A lot of students come from lower-income families whom struggle to give their children a private education.  Don’t assume!  Talk to your kids and gave them write journals based on topics that allow them to explore their lives and allows you to understand their situations and perspectives.  May not always be that easy.   

Also I thought private schools were elite and have high morale. Not at all.  I won’t get into details but those who worked in private school know.  

In addition, I don’t know everything there is about teaching ELA. My professors told me time after time that their “still learning”.  I learned a tremendous amount of literary skills in the past year and I have a lot more room to advance.  Plus, I learned that the “one module for all classes” idea does not work.  Reading theories on teaching may make you assume that teaching strategies are universal but it’s not.  You have to treat each class and students within each class as a spereate identity.  You’ll find out what works best but everyone learns differently. Teaching is a learning process for the teacher as well.  Don’t take that for granted.  

Lastly,  learn from your mistakes.  I made tons of mistakes from misspelled words, fragmented sentences on tests, accidentally giving students wrong grades lol the list goes on and on. Although we have limited time, Proof read everything – then go back and read-read it again aloud.  Make sure there are no typos and if there are typos, let your students know that you made a mistake.  Own up to it.  That makes you look human.  Some students may say “teachers shouldn’t make mistakes” but let them know humans make mistakes.  They’ll get it even if they roll their eyes.  I saw a difference in my relationship when I let the students see that I too am not perfect.  

I’ve dedicated each day of the past 10 months to teaching.  I did not have a minute for free time and sacrificed my social life, friends, family, and my own personal health.  All for the sake of others.  I’ve learned soo much about my self and my abilities.  I’m taking a summer course and my professor said that “we never stop learning”.  I thought that I knew everything about life and I was wrong.  There is room to grow and learn.  Education is a process and it continues on for a life time.

So many things happened during the past year: once a student threw a smoke bomb in my class while my back was turned causing for the entire school to evacuate, one day a student throw a bag of skittles at my head, another student threw a book at me when I walked out of class, once someone tried to put a anti-acid in my coffee ( I caught him), someone threw a milk cart at me but it missed and hit the wall and exploded causing for a milk eruption that got all over the class, a student picked up a desk and said they will hit me with it and smiled while doing it, and I received consistent threats that I would get jumped after school.  Students saw me after school and they would give me high fives.  They loved me and in their own way treated me as they would treat their fellow students. It was a love/hate relationship of sorts as they abused me and I retaliated with essay assignments.
Contracts were renewed on my final day of work.  The two AP’s and head principle met each teacher with a new contract in private. One by one, teachers would go in and sign their name to another year and they’d come out of the class looking pitiful.  When it came to me, I smiled and looked at them straight in the eye.
The principle handed me a contract for the 2016-2017 school year and I turned it away. There are a lot of factors that I need to consider when taking on a full-time teaching job.  I could be teaching full-time but I rather get the mentor-ship I needed to become the best teacher possible.  I’m making a career change in my life and I will not settle for mediocre.  Therefore I decided to teach somewhere else during my last year of graduate school.  I will miss my students and it pains me to let them go but I cannot be left for dead for 10 months without a ounce of feedback.  How would I grow unless someone spends time on me.  I tried my best without any guidance and I’ve learned a great amount through this process.   This was a crazy year and I will work harder to become better.  But only time will tell.
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Categories: My thoughts

8 replies »

  1. We all go through it…..teaching is not for the faint of heart. Since this was a private school it is unlikely your principal ever taught or even had training. It sounds like you had another business person in charge.

    • Yes it’s not for the faint at all lol but I love the challenge and students – Those who are the admin, I call them the secret service because we barely see them but only hear of them, they have no formal training or education background

      • Oh…goodness…oh my…I have had Principals with no educational background…they tend towards idiocy, inefficiency and getting in the way of a good teacher. Learning is a complex and amazing process. There are so many learning styles. People who mistake education for a business are …. .. not people I’d waste time on.

        You have my empathy. The coming year should be easier. The first year is so very difficult.

  2. That is quite a story and much of it I recognize. I have been a teacher Spanish at an institution for vocational training (16 – 20 years) for nearly 25 years. It was hard for some of the same reasons that you mention. But I loved my students, well at least most of them, and that kept me going. I admire your determination and your wish to become a better teacher. I’m sure you will succeed!

    • Thank you for the feedback and kind words in your comment. I gain inspiration from other teachers. I hope to teach as long as you. This career is very hard but rewarding. I feel more fulfilled as a teacher versus my previous jobs where I made more money. With time I’ll get better.

      • Over the years I have realized that the ‘human touch’ is very important. With just showing interest in your pupils, and I mean real interest, you can win quite a few hearts. Talking to them privately after lessons taught me that sometimes the most beastly students have a problematic background. You do not have to help them, but being there and wanting to listen to them from time to time is very important. I found out that this also helped me during the lessons themselves, as they begin to see you as a human being, a person, and then they do not want to behave badly anymore. Their grateful faces now and then are all the reward I needed.
        Sorry for this long comment, these were thoughts that came up when I read your answer. Enjoy your vacation!

      • I appreciate the long comment. I love hearing from other teachers their experiences. It helps me tremendously. I also listen to students as much as possible. I’m in Grad school and one of my professors told us to “relinquish some authority”. She wanted us to let students speak their minds with the teacher being the authority and not the authoritarian. I tried and that works but of course I need to fine tune it. I’m very excited for next year as I’ve learned so much.

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