Saturday, August 11, 2007

On meeting Fellows who just finished their first year

I was disappointed. 8 or 9 Fellows who just finished their 1st year teaching came as guests to the last class of one of my university courses. I don’t know if I was disappointed in our guests, in the program, or in the Professor for bringing in these particular Fellows. Each of the Fellows used words like, 'miserable,' 'painful,' and phrases like, 'it was the worst year of my life' to describe the year. What?? This was supposed to be an encouraging end of the summer celebration! And what went down was a series of sad stories and melodramas that definitely killed any sense of optimism or confidence that most of the teachers-to-be had.

One Fellow talked about how her 1st year experience forced her to drink every night alone in her apartment. Similarly, a Fellow talked about crying every day after school on her train ride home. What?!? I didn’t want to hear any more of these pathetic sob stories.

Only time will tell, but I guarantee that after my 1st year, I will not be reporting that my 1st year of teaching in New York City was horrible. And for sure, I will not have to drink away the pain! Never that. I will make it work. Know that.


Maybe I have a leg up. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I didn’t grow very different than most of my students. Maybe it has everything to do with the fact that I was once labeled special ed, and I know the horrors and pains as well as what worked for me as a special ed student. Maybe it is the fact that I don’t look much different than most of my students. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen and been at the bottom of the barrel, and I teach not because I want to, but because I have to. I’m here because a community- my community is dying and suffering, left behind and lost. I teach because so many young people, especially young African American boys do not have any positive male role models. And I’m teaching because I know that until we all make it, none of us have.

All but one of our guests were women, and mostly Caucasian. I have no doubt that anybody can make a difference while teaching students who come from mainly African American and Latino communities. However, I do believe that being an African American and a male will help to reduce some of the cultural friction, as well as increase some of the trust that my students will have of me.

I am in this for the long haul- student by student, community by community.


rabi said...

all other things being equal -- and in some cases even if they're NOT -- I definitely think our students do better with teachers who share some aspect of their cultural identity. there aren't enough teachers who can identify with kids on that level and I'm glad yours will have you.

however I think that the fellows actually intentionally focus on the negative, survival-mode aspect of being a new teacher. I don't know why. but I thought the summer training we got was almost relentlessly negative -- this will suck, this will suck, this could get you fired, this will make you cry, etc -- and that my experience in the classroom was nowhere near as bad as I had been led to expect. the first few months were up and down, scary / thrilling / frustrating / etc. by december I started feeling comfortable and really enjoying my job on a daily basis. it was a great year overall. (fwiw from a caucasian, female science teacher!)

happychyck said...

I hope the experiences of your first year don't drive you to crying and drinking. Mine drove me to a bubble bath every night. :-)

I've been a minority in my own classroom (as a female Caucasian) most of the years I've taught, and I've seen time and time again that teachers who are male and/or look like the students they teach, have an easier time, particularly in the beginning. From my point of view, it is so hard to face that reality, it is what is it. We all look to models who are like us.

I applaud your passion and purpose for teaching--"until we all make it, none of us have." Wow! That speaks of a community and as a country! Sounds like the perfect mantra to get you through the tough times!

ms.angala said...

Hi. Thanks for the congratulatory note you left on my blog. I will resume blogging after my morning sickness :) Congratulations also for choosing to make a difference in our children's lives. This is my fourth year teaching, like you it was overwhelming at first, and scary. Nobody said that teaching inner city kids would be very easy, yet we choose this path. It all depends on you and how you take these challenges, should you let them make you or break you? I believe you will survive, and thrive...just like I did.

I am a Cooperating Teacher for our DC Teaching Fellows, as you know, our Chancellor is The New Teachers Project's president, Chancellor Michelle Rhee. Being DC's Chancellor is a whole new experience for her too, will she let herself be eaten alive? Would you let yourself? She is going through same first year experience as you...

Maybe exploring my class website: would help you be hopeful. I have all my experiences there, some tips, my achievements, and my students wonderful works. Good luck on your journey to this exciting world of making a difference! Let me know how I can help...

National Boarde Certification Candidate
Exceptional Needs Specialist

subtext said...

Teaching is difficult. It is hard to maintain a positive attitude constantly when we are slammed by politicians, parents, administration, by fellow teachers who have become teaching survivalists, and by some of our students. Be careful slamming teachers who vent their frustrations, many of them really do care for their students and work hard being good teachers. Search out your peers who try to be positive and are actually doing positive things rather than just mouthing the appropriate phrases. My first two years teaching were the worst years of my life, for many reasons. I now love what I do most of the time. It is that "most of the time" that makes me a little empathitic with the new teachers, and some old ones, who are struggling. Instead of condemning them, perhaps we should try to help. There really is a teacher shortage across the country; we are in a profession that does little to support new teachers.

J said...

first, hello from another nyctf alum (cohort 8). :) that's too bad the fellows guests were not what you hoped; i actually don't blame them. while i never cried or drank every night, my first year was by far the most difficult thing i've ever done. got through with mostly stubbornness. i think it would be criminal to lead a nyc teacher to expect happy tidings upon beginning the career. that said, well done in staying positive and motivated--if you keep that you will survive and thrive. it's great that you're already so committed. good luck with planning for september!

Anonymous said...

It is indeed too bad that you hear such negative comments over and over. I don't deny that all of these fellows had a difficult first year (all teachers - fellows or not - have a difficult first year), but if they are still in it, surely there must be something positive to report!

I just finished my second year as a teacher (NYCTF cohort 10), and I can tell you that my first year of teaching, while difficult, was also beautiful. It was truly amazing how much I learned in that relatively short amount of time. You will push yourself like you never have, learn things as you never have, make many mistakes (that you will of course learn from :), maybe cry just a little, but overall be so happy to be where you are. It is such a privilege to do what we do.

(and, again, fwiw, this is from a white female teacher)

Brooklyn Teaching Fellow said...

I appreciate all of the responses to the post, "On meeting Fellows who just finished their first year.” I would say that I probably came off as a little harsh in my assessment of the Fellows who came to speak with our class. However, I should make it clear- I didn't mean to, nor am I knocking the 2nd yr TFs who visited my class or am I knocking their efforts. And like ‘subtext’ implied in his comment, we need to embrace and support new teachers in their journeys.

I was simply saying that I was frustrated that the stories of Teaching Fellows who have THRIVED, instead of those who simply SURVIVED were not represented. Last weeks Village Voice article, “Your Own Personal Blackboard Jungle” similarly only portrayed one type of experience of new teachers, and it was the same ol tired story.

I know for a fact that there are teachers and TFs that had a great 1st year, found success, and would be able to speak about their experience. I think this vantage point would be invaluable. We need to know what works!! We already know, or at least I know, how difficult and challenging teaching will be.

Or maybe the Fellows that came to my class actually did find success, but wanted to show us 'tough love', and use scare tactics to prepare us for the realities of the program. But in all honesty, that route is not very helpful. Tell me something new!!

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful post... I am looking forward to reading more of you this year!

Jose said...

Yo, this was good. Really. I expected something much harsher. Fortunately for me, I felt like I did succeed my first year as a Fellow. It might have to do with the fact that I wasn't much different from my kids either, but also because I emerged victorious, and most of the kids I taught have had a positive impact on the school. They even tell their younger friends about me, and that's scary. It's going to be my third year, and I hope to continue to have that impact on my kids.

Btw, I don't know if you were at the NYC Teaching Fellow Welcoming Event, but I spoke at that thing. Yeah, the stage was rather "multicultural" hahaha. Peace ...

Brooklyn Teaching Fellow said...

Finally some light is shinning!!

Jose- did you speak at the end of the opening event? If so, I had already left because I was turned off by all of the simulations of African jungles (did you see that mess??!!) as well as the racist remarks by the DOE chancellor- talking about this country was founded on the premises that everyone in the United States has equal opportunity to learn (WHAT?!).

Shortly after those comments by the HEAD DUDE, I was like, I can't even feel this, and went to go play ball uptown!!

laniza said...

First off, I truly respect your tenacity. As a matter of fact, your tenacity has caused me to give blogging about my teaching experiences another try! I've just finished my first year teaching 6th graders at a small urban charter school. While I share a similar background to the majority of my students (African American, low-income, etc.), it takes more than a shared cultural identity to be an effective teacher.

To be an effective teacher, one must have the attitude that, no matter what, these children will succeed. You can't let them perish. Not on your watch. I'm looking forward to reading more about your first year.

In solidarity,

Jose said...

hahaha yeah i did speak at the end. my name was on the program. it's all good; i can't be mad at you for that.

Brooklyn Teaching Fellow said...

LOL @ Jose

Brooklyn Teaching Fellow said...


Yes of course I agree with you that it takes "more than a shared cultural identity to be an effective teacher." But you can not deny that it does not hurt.

Miss A said...

I love your optimism and believe you can survive and thrive as a teaching fellow. I am not completely defending the 2 yrs, but they probably were trying to express the challenges of the first year. I agree that they should have probably brought in more optimistic or more positive people to share with you.

Somehow, you've got to appreciate their honesty, but take it with a grain of salt b/c you run your classroom and only you can determine your outcome!

The first year is a challenge. There were many days I cried b/c I felt so lost and didn't know what I was doing. But it was also successful b/c I had a 90% pass rate on the state exam from my students. The kids who failed had IEPs or didn't come to school a lot. So even though it was tough, I was successful. With each year you get better as you find your "teaching grove."

I know that you will be successful and KEEP an open mind. Don't listen to discouragement and have an action plan--specifically in the realm of classroom management.

Rain said...

you give me hope . . . I have (almost) been scared away from the idea of the program by all of the horror stories--even though a) I know that the first year of teaching is hard for ANYONE and b) I am originally from NYC and am not a fresh-out-of-college midwestern 23-year-old who has never taken public transportation.

So I knew that I had to take the doom and gloom tales with a grain of salt, but I have to say that your comments have made me feel a lot better.

Thanks! I look forward to reading more!

(hopeful for June 2008)

NYC Teaching Fellow said...

Rain- Your comment made me smile :) Lets stay connected in your journey (and mine too) to becoming a great teacher! Hit me up..