My first two weeks of teaching went smoothly. I heard stories of students misbehaving, and I saw teachers come out of their classrooms looking shaken. Until Monday, none of that happened in our classroom. But Monday was rough. Instead of leaving the classroom energized and enthused, I felt drained. Tuesday was even worse. Throughout the two-hour class, I looked at the clock every few minutes and wondered why time had slowed down. The students complained about free-reading time and most of our questions were met with dead silence. I found myself doubting my energy and ability.
Our whole collab knew we had to do something to turn the momentum around, but we weren’t sure what that was. We meant to have a better day on Tuesday. We never intended to have a bad day on Monday. Just wanting class to be better wasn’t enough. My collab partner and I brainstormed things that afternoon that we could do to make class more active and fun, but I lacked conviction that these things would work.
Pop Links 7.17.14: Sweden’s School-Choice Results; HBCUs’ Changing Student Bodies; Teen Selfie with Buffett and Beatle
- After introducing a school-choice program, the country of Sweden saw sharp decreases in student achievement.
- As America’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities educate an increasingly more diverse student body, many question whether HBCUs should continue to receive special federal funding.
- An Omaha teenager is in the running for having the best week ever after his selfie taken with billionaire Warren Buffett and Paul McCartney casually chatting on a bench in the background became a viral hit!
- TFANet Resource: Test Prep
In teaching, as in any job, workplace friendships can make the workday fly by, while a lack of connection at work can make the year drag on. Starting at a new school, you’ll be bombarded with new names and faces during staff orientation, but you don’t have to wait until August to start making friends. Here are four questions you can ask during your interview or after you’ve been hired that will help connect you with your new team.
Can I have your email?
If any teachers are on your interview panel, ask for their emails on-site. Then, reach out with an email thanking them for their time, asking any lingering questions, and (if you’re offered the position) suggesting a meet-up for coffee.
Who can I connect with before the school year begins?
Once you’ve been hired, reach out to your principal and ask which teachers are best to reach out to. These may be department heads, grade-level team leaders, or simply teachers who are good ambassadors for the school. Either way, you’ll get connected with people who check their email during summer and are eager to meet the incoming staff.
Shina handed me the notebook on her last day.
“Do you want this, Ms. Freeman?”
I nodded yes. It was a composition notebook, filled with her bubbly writing in multicolored pens. Shina was my first favorite student, and she was gone months before the year ended.
The notebook never made it out of my car, and even now, when I go to clean it, I make no move to take it out. It sits, covered in dust above the back windshield, and I remember Shina.
She was in my second block class with a thick long weave braided into her hair. She was nine at the beginning of the year, but she seemed to be the oldest child in the fifth grade.
We got to know each other because I did not have duty-free lunch. So every day at 12:20, I would sit down at the head of the third long table. Shina would place her tray right beside me and glare at anyone who tried to take her spot.
It was Shina who made the disgusting meal of the day, mixing all of her unwanted food together into her own creative dish. I would watch as she squeezed ketchup onto the bread she never ate, piling it high with the mustard greens that resembled sludge.
It was Shina who told me that I needed to get on Christian Mingle and find a man.
It was Shina who worked the hardest. Got angry the quickest. Made the rudest comments. Overtook my classroom when I lost control.
I’m back from a week-long family vacation on the Eastern Shore of Maryland (gorgeous, by the way, for those of you in the Mid-Atlantic United States!). Anyway, as the mom of two little people, who’s married to a teacher-husband, I spent some time on vacation thinking about how teachers—those who give their time to other children—juggle the tension between their teacher lives and their parent lives. In many cases, I hear teachers, particularly moms, lament that they simply cannot make it work. I want to believe it can be different, so I went in search of some teacher-parents who are pulling it off and feeling happy about it!
I recently spoke to Laura and Lauren—both teacher-mothers in the DC area—about how they make it work. Laura and Lauren have two kids each.
Here are some tips I gathered from my conversations with them:
- Find a workplace that fits your needs. Laura mentioned that during her interview process, she noticed small signals that the middle school would match her needs as a working parent. For example, the principal (also a mom) acknowledged there would be days when people’s kids got sick and they had to stay home. I know many schools, particularly charter schools, with very strict attendance policies for teachers. As the mom of a 4-year old with a broken arm and a million orthopedist appointments to juggle, I think a zero absence policy is unrealistic. Figure out your school’s policies—both spoken and unspoken.
One of the choruses I heard from almost every TFA staff member as we geared up to start training was to take time for what I love. One second-year corps member put it this way: “Take time to do what makes you you.” Since we had the 4th of July off this weekend, I took to opportunity to do just that. I rode the train to visit family friends in a suburb of Chicago. We lounged in the backyard, played Trivial Pursuit, and barbecued massive quantities of meat.
While I treasured the chance to get away from the dorms and the omnipresent acronyms, I noticed a pattern in my conversations. Somehow, it always came back to teaching. To be fair, two of the four people I was visiting work in education, so I didn’t have to twist anyone’s arm to get a conversation started about education. But there’s more to this pattern. As soon as I started talking about teaching—whether the subject was the class I’m teaching right now or all my visions for my class in September—I started talking louder, faster, and with a lot more gesticulations. I get excited. Really excited.
Teaching is a big part of what makes me me. That’s why I am here, and that’s why I connect with all the other corps members who care so much about the best way to teach kids. That’s why I am so excited about the logistics of setting up a classroom. It also means that a careful balancing act is required.