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
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
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
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
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.
First Parent Teacher Conference
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
4. The “I Do Not Care” Stage
I was going to give up…..
5. Finally It’s Over
What have I learned? Where do I start?
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.
Categories: My thoughts