Beginning Teaching


Having kids has given me an acquaintance with health care that I virtually would have never thought possible. My boys are not the unhealthiest of children, but their conditions (severe autism and apraxia for my elder son, slightly less severe autism and mild hypotonia for my younger) have required some further investigation.

We had one of these investigative moments this past year with my younger son, specifically regarding the possibility of a metabolic disorder causing his hypotonia (and perhaps contributing to his autism and global delays as well). To get more clues, blood work was needed to test for the level of certain amino acids and other chemical markers. One of these markers was lactic acid: elevated levels might indicate a metabolic disorder and provide something for a geneticist to work with.

There was a problem with this, however: lactic acid levels tend to rise with muscle exertion, so the blood needed to be drawn from my 18-month-old son without causing him to exert himself while we were trying to get blood.

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I never thought that teaching would feel like Freddy Krueger.

By which I mean: It’s infecting even my dreams!

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One of the most interesting years of my life is coming to end now: the posting of final grades this morning marked the near-official end of my first year of teaching. It has been quite a ride, and I have learned more than I ever thought possible. Despite not keeping up with my reflections like I had hoped (sadly), it’s time again to reflect back on what went well, what went wrong, and what went…well, crazy.
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I have been frustrated in my first year that I have had very little opportunity to interact with students outside of school. When I have, it has been great, and I have heard so many things from other teachers (or even student teachers, when I was in that stage) about how students respond well to seeing that teachers care enough to see them when they’re not required to.

Last Friday, I finally had a great opportunity to see some of my students in action, under some interesting circumstances: our girls’ softball team played in my hometown (where I currently live) against my alma mater. I knew this was coming, so I planned in advance to make it, and I took along my oldest son (the younger one would have come, but he had just had tubes put in his ears, and it was a windy day).

The reaction of students was awesome – the girls were initially pretty surprised that I came, with one of my seniors saying, “Wait, Mr. B is here? Our English teacher?” And they got to see my son in the throes of a meltdown, spurred mostly by the fact that there was a playground within sight that he desperately wanted to play on. I think that really did bring it home to some of them that, hey, I’m a real person, too. (Class discussions about autism have also helped this.)

And when I returned to school yesterday after the weekend, another teacher passed on that some students had even brought up that I came to the game, and she said they were impressed at that.

Again, it’s a shame that it took so long for this to happen (why can’t the teams here play my alma mater more often?), but I’m glad it did. Maybe this will lay some foundations for the future.

Fingers crossed.

I’m a bit behind, as the consistent reader can easily tell from the absence of new material – test prep season is here in full swing, and I’m putting my efforts into bringing this year to a close. I wish I had more time to post, especially since I went to the great IATE 2010 conference in Bloomington, IL, just over a week ago, and it was amazing. I met some great people and heard some great sessions, one of which is likely to alter my entire approach to at least one class for next year.

I’ll update again soon when I have a moment to breathe, and I definitely have a lot of reflecting to do with only a month or so left of my first year. It has gone by fast, and I need the opportunity to look back and critically evaluate what I did – or didn’t do – that affected the course of this year.

[I’m also testing something with WP – don’t mind this.]

The bell rings to signal the end of the day, and the students in my last hour class frantically escape their academic chains for the day. I sit at my computer and try to do some work, until my visitor arrives.

And arrive he does, in grand style: the door swings furiously open, and the student furiously takes a seat in the front row of my classroom.

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I’m up late grading papers, about to quit for the night, and somehow in my distraction, I got to thinking aimlessly.

My thoughts for some reason turned back to my eighth graders last year from student teaching, many of whom I still think about and wonder how they’re doing in high school this year. And as I thought about that, I thought about the last day of student teaching and how my cooperating teacher for that group acted.

I admit that I am a little bitter still about being robbed of a final moment with a class that was a struggle to connect with. I think singing them a song they had talked about for the majority of the time I was there would have solidified the memory, and instead, the time was spent watching narcoleptic cats, which none of the students enjoyed as much as the co-op did. And the send-off that we got as a class was almost entirely provided by me, since the teacher bailed on bringing drinks as he had agreed to.

But I am a believer in learning what I teach, and this practice has affected me profoundly during the discussion I’ve had with my sophomores over To Kill a Mockingbird. The model of Atticus Finch and his saintly heuristic of “walking in someone else’s skin/shoes” provides a high moral standard, and the fact that he turns it to people in the novel that seem at first glance to be just bad people (Mrs. Dubose, for one; Bob Ewell, for another) demonstrates how difficult it is to hold it consistently.

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