On Teaching, part 2

One of the things that was most difficult to re-read when I restarted this party on Sunday was the post I wrote about the day I'd had in February of my first year teaching. Oh, boy. I remember being that person, and there are a few points where I just covered my eyes as I read it because I just remember it so vividly, and feel such sympathy for that person. Then I started thinking about Two Days Left of School In My Third Year Me, and there is just such a difference in so many things, and there there isn't. I think it would be crazy to not see the mistakes that happen still, but good Lord, did First Year Me take it all so hard. I remember coming home that day, writing that post, and then thinking about the teacher I wanted to be versus the person I watched on that video. There are few things more frustrating than knowing something is going wrong, and knowing there has to be a way to fix it, but having no clue how to do it.

I think part of the frustration that comes from being a first year teacher, and wanting desperately to not have to wait until the 3rd, 5th, or 483247328th year to feel like you're good at it, is feeling isolated in that place where you know people have to be doing it better than you, but because it is a workplace, and because wanting to be the best makes us feel like we can't admit weakness/defeat to anyone, that means that we feel stranded on the island of "Holy Crap, I Don't Know What To Do" and most of us think/feel like part of becoming the teacher you're eventually supposed to become means suffering there alone, doing your time, until magically you survive enough days to be rescued.

That, it turns out, was not my situation. I know no one handles things the same way, but I just remember that first year annoying the bejeezus out of anyone who was trapped into having a conversation with me. I probably over-shared unimportant details, told the same classroom scenario to 15 different people so that I could later think about all of their answers and decide the way I wanted to handle it, and forced far too many people to bear witness to the hot mess I felt like things were.

I say all of that to say this: maybe, for me, that time spent bugging everyone else was (to extend this metaphor I've forced upon you) me building my own little life raft and paddling back to shore. Do I look back on my first year and shudder at a lot of things that happened? Oh, for sure. But, at the end of my third year, I can say with confidence that the most hot mess-like parts of the teacher from that post two years ago have been developed into something else, something better. Is it all worked out and finished? Absolutely not. Take, for example, the following:

As anyone who knows me personally can attest, I do this supremely annoying thing where it is next to impossible to take a compliment about the job I'm doing. In fact, my typical response when I have advice to add to a conversation about teaching or when I've received recognition for the positive things happening in my classroom and with my students is, "Oh, well...I mean, I've only done this three times now, so, my vote doesn't count" [or some inane version of that]

The more I think about it, the more ridiculous that sentence is. Looking back on that post from two years ago makes it even more true: I've not done this thing (whatever aspect of my job it may be) just two times before this one; I've done it a thousand times. Every day, period, and interaction with a student is another chance to get it right. And that was definitely not how I saw things then, and sometimes, I still have to remind myself. That first year teacher I can remember so vividly getting frustrated over not having constant, total control over every single action a student was taking (being sure that it would, without doubt, end in mutiny) is a stranger to me now. That didn't happen over night. My growth as a teacher (and all-around human being) is a process.

If I don't allow myself (and everyone forced to be a part of the Give-Me-Advice portion of events) some credit for the work I(we)'ve put in, then what is the point? And really, what example does that set for my students? If, every time they made improvements or worked super hard, I gave them recognition and they rejected it, I'd be super annoyed. Not, stop-all-of-class-and-lecture-on-one-person's-crazy annoyed (I'm lookin' at you, First Year Me), but it's just not a choice that makes any sense for them. So why do I do it? I don't have the answer for that, yet. Maybe because I don't want myself or anyone else to feel like I know all the answers to everything. Because, duh. I definitely do not. But I do know what works for us in room 110. And I know a bunch of things that definitely don't work. And that's not nothin'.

In closing, so as not to leave you feeling like I'm just so altruistic and don't still get on my own nerves, here are some things from that first teaching post that are still true today:

  1. The sound of my own voice is truly just ridiculous to me. I watch myself teaching on video at least once a semester, and yep. I can't.
  2. There are still plenty of days that go the opposite of how you think they will. Absolutely.
  3. 100% still have ridiculous outfit things happening. A few weeks ago I wore just one earring. All day long. I didn't realize until I got home that, and this is for real, as I was getting ready for school, I put one in and forgot to put in the other earring. So, the next day I asked why no one said anything to me, and aside from just mostly being obsessed with themselves (the upside of that middle school characteristic?) they thought it was a stylistic choice. Bless.
  4. Most of the time, you have no idea if something is going to work until you do it. So, probably, unless it's totally insane or unproductive: do it.

I'm never really sure how to end a post, so maybe that is something that gets easier with time. Today, I'll end with a warning: I'm planning on posting again on Saturday. The day after the last day of school with just the most fantastic group of 8th graders the world has known. So, buckle up for allllllllll the feelings. Or maybe just a bunch of sentences that start like, "YOU KNOW WHAT ELSE IS THE BEST ABOUT MY KIDS?"

It's really a close call at this point.