Thursday, October 18, 2007

Week 7

Today was disastrous. At one point, I just sat in my chair, mouth shut, and just listened to the chaos, witnessed the dance moves, and took it all in as each minute (which felt like hours) passed by. Outward appearance: calm. Inside I was boiling with rage. “What have I created!!???!!??,” I was saying to myself. I had to constantly remind myself that my classes have been going cool for the past 7 weeks. I had to remind myself that I hadn’t felt out of control in this class since the first week of the year when I shut it down! I had to remind myself that, as my mother always says, “This too will pass.”

I was pretty upset until I read the work that resulted from my exit routine, which I hope, will remain with my teaching for as long as I am a teacher. For the last five minutes of every class, silently, I have my students write me Dear Mr. * letters. At the beginning of the semester, the letters were fluffy and filled with unsolicited praise. Maybe the students thought it would increase their grades if, instead of telling me how they were doing, they focused on telling me how good of a lesson it was. Slowly, the letters really became a place where students could express their inner most emotions and delve into the real with how they were doing; what the experience of the lesson and day was to them; and most importantly, (as well as most difficult to communicate) what that day was like being in your skin and what it will be like at home.

So today in my Dear Mr. * letters that I just read on my train ride home, almost all of the letters talked about things that have been happening in their lives at home that could have contributed as a cause to their behavior today in class. One student, “Damien,” said that en route to school this morning, he saw a dead body by the train station and that “it fucked [me] up because I knew him and I know why he got shot.” Another student, “Lisa,” talked about how the previous class they came from was so out of hand and two girls were face to face, about to fight and the teacher left the room. “Walter’s” letter was unapologetic. He said that “[he] is just a kid and sometimes has bad behavior and nobody can blame [him] for that.”

But almost all of them hinted at a collective responsibility and necessity to continue to strive to be in class as their higher selves. However, I think it always comes down to the teacher and the lesson. I read in Stephen Wolk’s article “Heart and Minds” that good classroom management starts with good lesson plans.” True indeed. Today made me realize that I need to be a more reflective teacher, and look back at my first 7 weeks of teaching and find the lessons or pieces of lessons that were agents in the positive behavior and environment of my classes and of my students. I know it sounds simple, but I just need more reflection. I think I have been looking forward more than looking back to figure out which steps I need to take to in fact go forward.

It is a process and a journey, and I am thankful.

13 comments:

bygpowis said...

you getting them to open up. nothing beats that. there will be rewards there. one day, you're going to read something that talks about a road less traveled or a path now taken. and it will be b/c of those letters. keep them writing. keep them thinking.

another teacher said...

Right there when you have a class that goes badly or the kids are totally out of it and instead of just being frustrated with them and putting it on them, you look at yourself and see what you can do, and how you can take what you've done well in the past and build on it and not repeat your own mistakes. Right there, is how I know you are already a great teacher.

That letter idea is brilliant by the way.

Jose said...

Well it seems you're doing a good job of that reflection bit. The very reason I even write as much as I do is for that reflection process, and it really has made me a better teacher. It's amazing what we take for granted when we're just teaching. When any of that goes wrong, we start to see the effects of that snag. We don't lesson plan well, then it shows. We don't talk to the kids appropriately, it shows.

Keep it up, though ...

As for your former point, I already wrote about that on Wednesday, so I'll just forward you there.

ruben said...

I'm also a Cohort 14 fellow and although I'm a 4th grade gen. ed teacher I feel like I'm going through a lot of the same challenges. My Friday afternoon was awful as well, but unlike you it wasn't the first time things felt out of control. Anyway hang in there and if you wanna read about another struggling fellow you can check out my blog at www.bronxteach.com

NYC Teaching Fellow said...

bygpowis- yes, writing is a process that i found to be helpful in my life, so hopefully i can translate that into my classroom

another teacher- thanks for your encouragement. it all comes down to me at the end of the day...

jose- its a journey and a process! writing is so therapeutic for me, so i'm passing along that muse to my students..

ruben- i can only suggest to you that you keep it all in perspective, recognize your intentions, and put yourself in the shoes of your students. what would you want to hear/see/do in their classroom experience. and remember, 'this too will pass.'

Jose said...

ryc: I'll visit the topic of Nas' album tomorrow.

Hugh O'Donnell said...

I have no way to compare my experience to yours, NYC. You would laugh at what I might have considered a tough day. I've taught some difficult individuals, but they were a tiny minority compared to the kids I worked with on an average day.

So I can honestly say I'm in awe at what you and your fellow cohort teachers (that includes Jose and Ruben) accomplish on a daily basis.

The letters and your personal reflection are gold. Getting to the kids heart to heart, the way you're going, will be something to write about. I'm looking forward to the reading.

Hugh aka Repairman

Browngirlteacher said...

Hello fellow fellow. I too am a teaching fellow cohort 14 teaching in Brownsville, raised in Brooklyn, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill and Bed-Stuy (before it was Chic). I'm glad to see that you are reaching out; I feel much of your pain and victory as well. I went to Brooklyn tech and several schools also in these communities. Why is it that folks seem to treat the kids differently than they would or do their own? I am with you on sooo much of what you have expressed. your mother taught you well, I too have those phrases, 'And this too shall pass' being on of my most consistent ones.
The fact that you ask the questions that you do and go back everyday is a testament to your commitment. I thank you for that. I am definitely disappointed in the lack of black men represented in the school system.
I have much to talk about. Like ten police officers came into my classroom last week under the guise of Just a community visit. Led by my VP. BULLSHIT! I was sooo angry! My kids saw it in my face. I have to stop now cause I'm getting pissed all over again!
Peace!

Frumteacher said...

What a beautiful post. Many teachers (including me, on some days) tend to blame the students for a poor atmosphere in the classroom. I admire you for reflecting on your own behaviour, especially so early in the process. And I love the way you have your students reflect and write you a letter. This way, the proces works in two ways and the students feel they have someone to talk to. You are doing a great job and I can't wait to read more from you.

Frumteacher said...

PS. I agree with Jose in that the best way to grow as a teacher is to reflect through your weblog. It has made me grow in ways I had never expected, mostly because of the comments of fellow teachers who go or have gone through the same.

NYC Teaching Fellow said...

jose- im looking forward to your take on QB's finest..

hugh- thanks for your encouragement and support. every day is a new day!

b.g.teacher- yes- what we do and more importantly, WHY we do what we do is powerful. i consider it 'peace work' because i feel like the alternative to teaching without the right intentions is a violent and a vulgar disregard to the education of young black and brown kids. your school sounds like a perpetuating factor to criminalize our youth. shame. but that's why you are there. to bring light ... and truth.. big peace and respect to you..

NYC Teaching Fellow said...

oh yea, frumteacher!- thanks for your words of encouragement. yes, notice and reflection are key to becoming anything! thanks for stopping by.. peace!

elenamcfadden@yahoo.com said...

I teach middle school. In California. And I'll say, straight up, it's gotta be at least 12% as hard as what you do. I did my first 8years in over 80%Title I schools, mostly Spanish speaking, I'd worked my ass off to become an effective force in the immigrant community in spite of my whiteness. I gave it all up to work at a 50%Title I school for my old master teacher, just tired of killing myself fightin admin. to get anything done. I found your site because now that I'm at such a cushy school (smile) I have time to reflect. We have a program here called mini corps to develop teachers and researching that led me to the Virginia Teaching Fellows, and there you were, same moniker. And I'm writing because your post made me cry. It made me cry because some days I remember where my students come from, even the white privileged ones with alcoholic parents, and I am gentle and soft with them because I am conscious and present to the fact that they need a depth and realm of healing that is not held, nay addressed, in the California Mathematics Framework. But a lot of days, I just look the other way, and I try to shove the information down their throats, because, I try to tell them, this is, the only way out. If they do not get this education they will not have options, choices will close to them. And on those days I forget, they have no choice now, they don't ACT that way because they have a choice. They ARE just trying to survive. Another day. And I wept reading your work because you reminded me of that. And I forget too often. Thank you. You do good work. Thank you.