Bittersweet Goodbyes

I would love to write an beautifully eloquent post like Alicia did here, but I honestly don’t have it in me right now. I said goodbye to most of my sophomores today. I managed to keep myself together until the last hour of the day: my favorite class. Before school, two of the girls from that class came by and gave me flowers and a present. They asked me to open the present in seventh hour…I didn’t cry until I opened it. Yesterday we went outside to enjoy the nice weather and the girls had a classmate take a photo of the three of us. The present was the photo, enlarged and in a frame they had decorated. The class was full of thoughtful, sweet kids like that. I’m heartbroken to think that I won’t be there to watch them continue to grow and graduate.

As teachers, we try very hard not to have “favorite” students, or at least not to show favoritism. I have a few students from this year that I will carry in my heart for the rest of my life. The sweet girls who told me that I was an inspiration. The ones who wrote me notes telling me that I’m their favorite teacher (these are high school sophomores…they don’t say that to adults very easily). Best of all, though, was the note from my favorite student. He told me that I am the first teacher to have a significant impact on his life. That’s why I teach. I want to make a difference, and teaching is my calling. Yeah, yeah, it sounds silly, but it truly is a calling. I can’t imagine loving another job as much. I should say I love the teaching part – I’m not so fond of the meetings, administrative garbage, or political b.s. that’s present in every school.

So much for an upbeat post. To counteract the depressing thoughts, here is a completely ridiculous song from Cheryl Wheeler, one of my favorite folk singers…

The day that changed everything

I know, I know, it’s been weeks since my last post. I just reread that post, and realized that things changed dramatically over the course of the remaining weeks of my long-term position. The position ended about a week ago, but I was kept on as a building sub, so I am at the school every day. It’s a great position, because I don’t have to wonder each day if I will be subbing, and if so, where I will be. The teacher I replaced will be gone again for about a month in February, and I am looking forward to being back in my classes.

You read that correctly. After my ranting post, and continual head bashing with the students, I finally came to the conclusion that I had better lighten up. One of the essentials of being an effective teacher is an ability to be flexible and to be open to change. Without a revamp of my attitude, I was going to end up either totally burned out, or locked away in a mental hospital.

The day after I came to this conclusion, I went into class with a different attitude. The student I had been in conflict with almost immediately commented, “You’re in a really good mood today!” to which I responded, “I decided I’d better not be grumpy, because when I’m grumpy it makes you guys grumpy, too.” I would love to say that it was all smooth sailing from there, but it never is compeletely smooth. That’s okay, because that’s part of teaching. Things were much more comfortable in the classroom, however. I lightened up, and so did the students.

We joked around more. I made sure I asked them nicely to do things, even though the instinct was to just tell them to do it. Please and thank-you will get you everywhere with teenagers. Unbelievable! They don’t often say it to me, but my courtesy to them significantly improved their attitudes.

The girl I spent a couple weeks fighting didn’t stop talking in class. She didn’t suddenly put in enough effort to pass. She did share with me, and the rest of the class, that she nearly died from doing tainted drugs.

Wow. That hit me. Hard. All I could think about for the rest of that day is how horrible it would be to come to school and discover that one of my students had died due to drug use. It sat very heavily on my heart, so I asked one of the experienced teachers in the department what he would do. He suggested giving her a card that let her know I was concerned. I did this, and gave it to her the next day after class. The day after I gave it to her, she came up to me before class and gave me a hug and told me how much it meant to her. She said, “You’re the only one. None of my other teachers did anything. I don’t think they really care.” I know they do, but there isn’t always time to reach every troubled student.

That was the real change. She didn’t stop talking in class, and she was still disruptive. But she treated me with respect. She started coming to my classroom during the last period of the day, because that was when I had a prep period. As a teacher, I am supposed to make her do work then. I didn’t. I just let her talk. I discovered over the course of our conversations that her Mom doesn’t get to spend time with her very often due to divorce agreements. I don’t know the circumstances behind it, but I do know that teenage girls desperately need a female adult in their lives. I became an adult that she can trust.

Teaching is only about ten percent content area. I am a counselor, a confidante, and sometimes a mom to my kids. That’s the true measure of my success in the classroom. The students are my kids, young adults about whom I care greatly, and I miss them. Six weeks ago, I questioned whether I really should be teaching. Now I know that it is what I am supposed to be doing. There are days that are exhausting, both physically and mentally. It’s never easy, but it is rewarding. I want to be one of those teachers that kids come back to see five years later, just so they can tell me what they are doing in life. Thanks to some truly awesome colleagues, I think I’ll get there.

Be careful what you wish for

Just a heads-up: this is a bit of a rant, prompted by frustration…

After spending months applying for teaching jobs and not getting hired for a full-time position, I was relieved to be offered a long-term subbing position in the district in which I student taught. I am teaching general and honors biology, and overall it’s a very good experience.

Some days, such as today, I wonder what I was thinking when I decided to go back into teaching. All of my classes have some challenging students, but second and fourth hours in particular. There is a student in my second hour who has told me several times how much she dislikes me. That doesn’t even bother me all that much: I am there to educate them, not be their best friend.

The attitude of some of the students is what floors me. They are disrespectful, both to me and to other students. There are a few that butt heads with me on a daily basis, and they refuse to accept that they are supposed to do what I tell them to do. It’s not like I’m telling them to translate their textbooks into Yiddish or something. Simple instructions, such as stop talking while I’m talking, don’t eat in class (which is a school rule, not just mine), and act like adults if you wish to be treated as such, are all scornfully dismissed with rolled eyes, sighs of contempt, and muttered comments.

I am thankful for the job, no doubt about it. At the same time, it is wearing me down. The students feel they don’t need to treat me with any respect, because I am just a sub. Just a sub who puts in 12-14 hour days planning, grading, and preparing. Just a sub for at least four weeks of their school year, who treats the class as her own, and takes the time to get to know the students, even though I am not there permanently. Just a teacher who wants to get it right, to reach the reluctant students, to make biology at least bearable, if not exactly enjoyable for most.

Can you hear the frustration in my words? I do my best to be a good teacher, but these students make me question myself on a daily basis. Tomorrow should be better. I hope.

Done!

Last night I finished my final student teaching class. I handed in my portfolio (ack! putting that together was a major suckfest), filled out and turned in all the paperwork, applied for a license, and wrote a check. Woo hoo! I am glad to be done, and soon will have the piece of paper to say that I am officially a teacher. An unemployed teacher, but a teacher nonetheless.

I have a whole litany of posts to write, but they may not be in sequential order. My friend Andy came out and did the Trek 100 with me, and it was an awesome weekend! I have a frog story, and another bike story that may or may not get written (it’s kinda embarrassing). More posts soon!

 

13 days

…and counting. Thirteen teacher days, that is. One of those days is a teacher inservice day, and one is a final make-up day/ teacher work day. I’m not counting the last teacher work day, because I plan on being done with my grading before then, even if I have to stay up until midnight every night!! After subtracting finals and the inservice day, we have eight days of instruction left. I have five of the ten anatomy systems left to teach in that time: respiratory, circulatory, excretory, nervous, and reproductive systems. One system a day for ten days makes for a very busy end-of-year experience. Combine the busy schedule with the already problematic behavior issues, and I end up with way too many referrals to the office. There are definitely days in which I wonder what on earth I was thinking when I decided to go back into teaching. There are also days when I know that teaching is absolutely the right profession for me: those are the days I have to remember!

I was teaching about the endocrine system today, in one of my team-taught classes. Usually I don’t take over the teaching entirely in this particular class, but my lead teacher was out for the day, so I taught the whole class. When describing one of the glands, I mentioned that it shrinks as you age, and the risk of illness increases. One of the boys, who is outspoken (to say the least), asked, “So are you sick a lot?” I laughed, and one of the other boys immediately said, “What are you talking about? Ms. Roesselet isn’t more than 25!” Nice try… I love it when they suck up, even though I don’t have any control over their grades. The one who asked if I am sick a lot is also the boy who was very concerned when I wasn’t in the room at the beginning of class the day before, and who cheered when I entered the classroom. Go figure. I didn’t do anything to encourage him, but he seems to have formed some sort of attachment to me. He’s often obnoxious, but I’ll miss him, too.

Musings on biology and bicycling

I spent so much time talking about biology teaching and biking on my blog with Amy that I decided it was a good idea to write a separate blog. Teaching, while it may be a rather nerdy profession, is not really a dorky activity. I’ll save posts for 2awesomedorkswithablog for really dorky things, and things that Amy and I do together.

My latest bike escapade/adventure is still in the planning phase. Alicia at Pedals and Pencils and I have formed a cyber-friendship, and have decided on an adventure “together.” I say “together” because she lives in California, and I live in Wisconsin, and neither of us is planning a big trip. In a recent blog post, Alicia wrote about looking at pretty bike jerseys, so I of course had to go see which ones she was considering. It turns out that she was talking about a jersey that I have been tempted to buy for months. We had a conversation in her comments, and decided that it would be cool to ride “together,” in our new matchy-matchy jerseys, and each write about our rides on our blogs. The jerseys are in the mail, and I can’t wait to get mine!! I don’t usually like hot pink, but this one is so sassy that I love it!

Other than planning bike adventures, I am so busy with teaching duties and my own two kids that I nearly drop from exhaustion every night. My student teaching has been a very good experience, although incredibly frustrating at times. I have one student who has been sent to the office four times in the last two weeks for disrespect/disturbing the class/not doing what he is told (he hates the class, but refuses to go to the office until I call them to tell them he’s on his way). The child is a thorn in my side, to say the least, and it has become a game for him and a couple of others. They stand no chance of passing without a great deal of work, and they aren’t willing to put in the work, so they purposely disrupt the class. I know it isn’t just me – they are failing all of their classes. When I told the assistant principals about the combination of students in that class, they both just groaned. I owe the office staff the biggest bouquet of flowers and box of chocolates I can possibly find! I do not know how they deal with those students every day in the office! Only 18 days left, and then I’ll miss the students. Most of them, anyway…