March 2009


A very quick note (I type this as my 2nd hour seniors are silently reading Elie Wiesel’s Night): Today has been the best start of a day since I have been student teaching. My eighth graders have been very difficult to please, and they have given me hell as a result (I guess because I’m not entertaining enough), but today, something worked!

The something was an idea I’d seen somewhere on the ‘Net, an “I Am/We Are” poem. The idea is to have students write several lines of alternating statements about themselves individually (“I Am”) and the group (“We Are”). (I encouraged students to write statements using other verbs but in the same format, e.g. “I have a great sense of humor.”) This idea strikes me as a very good one for middle school/junior high because it respects students’ individual opinions and allows a safe outlet (relatively so, at least) for expressing them.

And it worked like I had wanted: the students wrote some interesting statements about themselves and the class. To make things interesting, I had the students write 12 lines, 6 of each type, and then I had the students contribute a line each from their own poems to make a class poem; odd numbered students would contribute “I Am” statements, while even numbered students will give “We Are” statements. (I have 13 students in this class, and one was absent, so it worked out nicely.) After all of the 12 lines had been written on the board, the students wanted to end the poem on a different note, so two more students contributed an additional line, the concluding line being “We’re not weird; we’re just ourselves.”

It is a magnificent feeling after having so much trouble with this class. One student who I have had many conflicts with actually said that they were proud of me for coming up with something they actually liked, and I thanked her (privately) for saying such a nice thing to me. As a result, I’m on cloud nine – this shows that I can have success, and to a large degree, even a moderate success in a sea of failures can make the whole thing seem worthwhile.

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Today has been a long day, one without the comfort of my cooperating teacher (who is away dealing with the death of her mother). I have had a very capable substitute teacher (who is actually an English teacher who will be looking for a position next fall – my competition!), but it has truly felt like my own class in terms of dealing with matters myself. One student in an early class refused to do the task I had given, insteading preferring to do an assignment for another class, and I told him once to put it away. He acted like he did, but I promptly found him doing the same. I told him he had a detention, but even this did not stop him – I had to go so far as to take away the book and worksheet he was using. I followed through, though; he should have received the detention slip a few periods later.

I also had to deal with a problem that has bugged me for the longest time, a problem that I suspected might come up given the nature of my high school students (who are in fairly advanced honors and AP courses).

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I started out this morning in a very melancholy sort of mood. One of the primary reasons for this is the fact that my cooperating teacher, who is both a superb teacher and a lovely person, is gone today at her mother’s side as she is about to pass away from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. Even without all of the support and assistance that she has given, I would have a hard time not being a little mournful for her own struggles.

The other reason: An exceedingly moving piece by one of my favorite teacher-writers, Paul Martin, entitled “Standing On The Edge Of The Rest Of My Life.”

I can’t say much about it – there simply aren’t words – but it is an immensely bittersweet piece, filled with absolutely exquisite language; indeed, language so beautiful that I am compelled to give just a taste:

So here we go. We must believe in spring. I pop Bill Evans’ lyrically sad jazz piano into the computer. Life is a journey. One foot in front of the other. Regroup, revise, restart, rewrite. Stop crying and get moving.

Outside in the early morning five a.m. light, Stone eats his breakfast while I let the cold wind wash over me and contemplate the sky. Canadian geese knife their way north, racing for summer. Their cries fill the morning. Nature goes on. Life goes on. And it will go on without me, but I would prefer that my journey continue for as long as possible. The road beckons. The struggle will be difficult, but difficult tasks offer the greatest reward.

Let’s go.

How can one argue with that kind of perspective?

[Update: I talked to my co-op after school and found out that her mother passed away at around noon today. It really is a sad day.]

As of tomorrow, I will have only two weeks left of student teaching.

That is an absolutely insane feeling, for two reasons: 1) It doesn’t feel like this should be over this quickly (although it felt like it was dragging much earlier in the process) and 2) I don’t know what I’m going to do after this is over! Well, in a sense, I do, but it will be extremely odd not to be here everyday.

I am also starting to give back classes, another sure indicator that my time here is drawing nigh. I will have one class – the one with which I have had the best success and rapport – all the way to the last day I am here, but it will also be somewhat welcome to have more free time at school to do my planning and to work on my Teacher Work Sample, which is due in about a week. That itself will be quite time-consuming, although – sorry, education professors – probably not very useful in the long run.

I will eventually reflect back on the whole experience, but not now – I’m too close still. I will need some space before I can really look back with any sort of accuracy to evaluate the value of my experience and my own efforts during this time.

My hope, however, is that I will have indeed found some useful ideas for use in my own classroom and for the search for a position, a search that I am currently engaging in. I am hopeful to that regard as well, but I honestly don’t know what to expect. One unfortunate thing that has occurred during this experience is a decrease in confidence; teaching, unlike many things that I have ever done, is simply too hard to come naturally, and I consequently am acutely aware of my own limitations, especially for things like classroom management. I know I can improve, and I am aware as well of how I need to improve, but the experience still has a somewhat disconcerting effect on me.

No matter. I’ve made a commitment to this vocation, and I intend to follow through. We’ll only have to see what happens from here.

Here I am, sitting at my computer at this interface again, and I can hardly believe that it has been over two weeks since I last wrote in this space. I would be lying if I didn’t consider this somewhat of a failure, but I’m finding out that I’m coming to terms with failure – as long as it doesn’t become a matter of habit.

As I write this, a lot has taken place: I have finished my unit on 1984 (had I even started it when I last posted? I think so…), I have had a few serious instances where students did things to severely undermine my teaching (both of which were taken care of but unfortunately not really by me), I have had some more success but only nominally, and I have gotten to the point where I almost had a nervous breakdown because of my own failures. There is part of me that is grateful that this experience only lasts four more weeks, yet I’m very much aware that I will miss it immensely once it is over, and I still have a lot of work ahead.

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