When You Need it the Most

It is our choices … that show what we truly are,
far more than our abilities.
– J. K. Rowling (Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets)

Some weeks feel especially long. However, even though my body feels worn down and the constant chilliness in my cold has brought on a persistent sniffly nose, I am feeling an almost revitalization for the work that I do.

It’s easy to get bogged down with all the teacher “Do-Now’s,” easy to feel like someone is always on your back about things that you find yourself questioning if it is truly what your students need at the moment. I know I’m often tired and feel like I’m drowning in work. There’s so much that can drag you away from what your job is at the end of the day: teaching and touching lives, for however long we’re blessed to have to do it.

I was reminded this week, though, that when I first said yes to this job, I sat down and wrote a vision of what it would mean to put my students on a new life path. I was reminded that the most important things to do in my classroom are the things that align with that vision. Anything else is great, but not the most essential to focus on. I have to knock those things out of my list so I can focus on what truly matters for my students. And I’m slowly seeing the fruits of that labor. I’ve relaunched my classroom culture, I’ve changed up my management system, and transition from one part of my lesson to another with greater ease.

But it’s not easy. It never is. And it takes a lot to keep up the trajectory. But maybe, just maybe if I keep the trajectory going up long enough, it will just propel itself into who knows what realm of possibilities.

And when I need it the most. When I wonder how long it takes to see direct results, I get the support I need from the amazing people in my life. A care package from home, a verbal praise that I’m doing well, a note on the growth of my classroom, hugs from students, and a Facebook message saying that my blog post resonated with someone. I never take the little things for granted. The little victories are never overlooked. The smaller things in life have the capability of bringing some of the most joy. And on the days when I feel like the demands of teaching far outweigh my abilities as a teacher, I remind myself that it will be my choices to learn, to grow, and to celebrate my small victories, that will shine through in me and then my students.

Wading Through the Smog

She’s a Dreamer. A Thinker. A Doer. She Sees Possibility Everywhere. 

Freshmen are a tough group of students.

I don’t think I could start this post out with any other sentence than that one. But when I type that, there is so much more that I mean than just the fact that my ninth graders are a tough set of students. The past week and a half of teaching has been a whirlwind of lesson plans, rules, procedures, and ice box temperature rooms. That’s right. My room is probably around 50 degrees.

One of the biggest impact of my last four weeks though has been, of course, my students. Even though we are on a block schedule at the high school I work at, because I serve as my students English 1 and Intensive Reading teacher, I see them every day instead of every other day. So I have half the number of students. If that sounds confusing to you, it works like this: I teach the lowest 25th percentile of students in the 9th grade. Many students read around a 3rd grade level and need a lot of work to get caught up, so they get a double dose of what they need in the form of my class–Intensive Reading Plus (IR+). I already feel as though I know my students well. Part of it is because I have seen them every day, but part of it is also my students did not come to school with a grace period in mind. They came with push back on day one of the rules and expectations. And they’ve been pushing ever since. It’s been a quick learning curve of having a strong classroom management. Being strict and sticking to what you have said, without being mean. It can be rough on the spirits at times. Yesterday, the last thing I heard from a student was that I always say that I want to make him a better student, but that I’m not because I just give him consequences and detentions. It was a shaky ending to the day, but even when times and words get hard, I have to remember that I AM trying to make my students the best behaved and most invested and hard working students at Miami Northwestern. And it won’t happen overnight.

I’ve been dumbfounded by how far behind the school systems have left my children. I’ve been angry too. And there are many days that I think to myself that the system is flawed, and that my students should have the best, most experienced teacher the district has to offer because of how great their need. But they don’t because those teachers often choose to be elsewhere. Instead, they have me. So I can’t sit around wishing that veteran teacher on them, but instead have to remember that I’ve got my bright future, and I can’t sit around wasting time when their bright future is on the line. It’s time for some serious learning gains on the teacher side. I promised the parents at Open House that my bottom line was ‘whatever it takes,’ and I’m a woman of my word. And even if my kids don’t currently have the best, I’m going to try every day to be the best–to continuously grow, just as I hope they will.

I remember from one of the TFA trainings a story someone told about low expectations being like thick smog in the air that everyone is breathing in. Cutting through the smog has proven a harder time than I could ever even imagine. However, the thing I have been struck with most from my four weeks of teaching is how much I love my students, despite the days of behavior issues and frustrating situations. I love my students. And they are going to succeed, all the way through the smog, where the air is lighter and easier to breathe.