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.