This morning, I got to do some more preparation for my upcoming teaching position. Because of some scheduling rearranging at my summer job, I had the morning off, so my wife and I made the 40-minute trek over to my new school to get keys and some materials that weren’t available when I picked up the new literature textbooks (because school was still in session and the previous teacher was still using them).

I knew that there would probably be some work ahead of me, but I don’t think I really, fully understood just what kind of a situation I’ve stepped into.

Let’s be fair: I did know that I’m not stepping into an ideal position. While I liked the idea of not having to teach freshmen (no offense to anyone who teaches or likes to teach freshmen) and of having a lot of creative control over the curriculum, I knew that I was inheriting the remnants of a teacher who was not rehired after only one year at the school and who was required by my principal to submit the last quarter’s lesson plans by Easter because planning was not happening sufficiently. I knew that I was inheriting 2 classes of students (the incoming juniors and seniors) who have already been warned by the principal that they’ve essentially lost a year of English and will have to put in some heavy work to get caught up (and for the juniors who will be taking the PSAE/ACT in the spring, this is especially urgent). I knew that I had to do the work to prepare four courses (five if you count the semester-long courses separately) with virtually no materials ready to go and very few explicit directions.

But going into the classroom today was a mixture of excitement and astonishment. I found the previous teacher’s lesson planning book (this was only one item of a large amount of materials that had been left, which makes me wonder if the teacher really even took anything upon leaving) and saw the sort of planning outlines that had not worked for me, the ones that my student teaching co-op warned me weren’t acceptable (which I knew as well, of course). I looked through a file cabinet which was 3/4 filled with folders of materials: worksheets, tests, quizzes, an occasional rubric or assignment sheet, and so forth. (I shuddered when I found a word search for Julius Caesar. I cannot even think of a possible way that doing a word search would help students understand Shakespeare better or truly assess their understanding of the play.)

In this assortment of stuff were handouts of the previous teacher’s classroom rules. I was amused at first at how there was a list of three “general” rules at the top of the sheet, mostly because I remembered how it was emphasized in our ed philosophy course that a teacher should not need more than 5 rules as long as the rules spelled out general rules of conduct. I was far less amused when I saw that the teacher had then proceeded to break down those “general” rules into a great deal more rules that were far more specific and had very specific consequences. When I showed my wife the handout, she pointed out that there was a rule for talking “out of turn” (and I don’t think this term was defined very well), and the consequence for a first offense was being prohibited from speaking for the rest of the period. (If I were a student who wanted to avoid talking in class, that would be my ticket.) There was another for not bringing materials to class, for which one offense got you a verbal warning and the second cost you $.50. (I wonder how many low-income students were charged for not bringing materials to class.)

I don’t think I need to give any more details, and certainly I don’t mean to impugn this teacher’s abilities without having ever seen her teach – maybe she was better than this circumstantial evidence seems to indicate. But the fact that my students have been put on notice and my principal thought that this teacher’s performance this year was poor enough not to rehire makes me think that these are the habits indicative of a teacher not putting enough effort into instruction, planning, preparation, and I am determined not to be more of the same.

That is what I will continue to tell myself: I am not last year’s teacher – I am the teacher now, and this is my classroom and my students, both of which I am ultimately responsible for.

There’s work to be done, but I’m confident that I’m up to the challenge.