Rural Teaching


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 generally don’t divulge many details about what is happening in my school, and I have tried to keep a modicum of anonymity (although I know that the curious reader could probably put the pieces together). That’s for my protection as well as my students, none of whom deserve to be dragged into blog posts by name (or even gender, where I can avoid it). I know as a first-year teacher that I am in somewhat of a precarious spot, despite the fact that my position itself is not anywhere close to being on the chopping block and that I have pleased administrators enough that I think I’ll be around next year. (It also helps that I’m the third high school English teacher in as many years; the position needs some consistency.)

But I have to write about something that is happening at my school right now. It’s simply too much for me to keep in.

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This week is going to be a long one: seniors turn in research papers tomorrow, for one. I have two out of a grand total of 19 that I’ll end up grading (hopefully, at least – not turning this assignment in will kill a 2nd semester grade in a hurry), and whereas I don’t expect to take the two weeks that it took last year for 50+, it will still be exhausting, I know.

I also start PSAE/ACT prep for my juniors this week, which will carry us through the last week in April. I have never done this before, and I’m going to be shooting from the hip in many regards. I have taught persuasion multiple times now, including once last year in preparation for the ACT Writing test, so that will be the relatively easy part. On the other hand, I haven’t taught much grammar this year, and now it will kick into serious gear. I fortunately think I have some good resources on this, so I’m hopeful.

Essentially, though, I’m navigating unknown waters, and it will be interesting to see how it works out. I’d say that I’ll get back to you all on that, but anyone who’s noticed my blogging habits lately will be rightfully suspicious of any promises to that regard.

We’ll just have to see, I guess.

Tonight was the opening night of our high school play, which is the delightful parody High School Non-Musical. I had been planning on seeing this for quite some time, since the cast are mostly students of mine. My wife happened to get into a conference this weekend, so I went alone, opting to stay after school until the show started.

It was nicer than I expected: a colleague invited me to go out with her husband and their 5 kids, and I enjoyed talking with them about family and teaching and numerous other things while we watched their kids interact.

When we got back to the school, it was basically time to grab a seat so we could get good ones, and it was a blast. The kids were funny (although the humor was very subtle and very much contingent on pop culture and literary references, from Monty Python to Shakespeare), and many of them really surprised me at just how good they were and how much they did during the play. It was a pretty decent performance, and I really had a good time.

But perhaps the best part was afterwards, where the students had congregated in a hallway to sign “autographs.” I went through and had the cast sign my program (even a few who aren’t students of mine), and some of the students told me that I was the only teacher who stuck around after the show, despite several teachers (and even one student teacher) having attended the performance. We had some laughs, and many photos were taken, including one of me and all of the senior cast members. I loved it.

And more importantly, I hope they loved it and will remember me in that moment.

As a teacher, I want my students to learn. I want them to grow, to explore, to expand their minds. But I also want them to know that I care about them, and I am grateful for extracurricular opportunities like this to share that with students.

So I can say with confidence: Yes, it was certainly worth the wait.

A professional development opportunity I’ve taken advantage of this year has been a reading/discussion group of teachers in our building covering Todd Whitaker’s What Great Teachers Do Differently. (If that name sounds familiar, you might be a regular reader: see here and here.) It’s been very interesting to hear other teachers’ opinions on Whitaker’s 14 points, and a lot of discussion about our own school and how to make these things work has happened, mostly in a productive manner.

One subject that has come up – unsurprisingly – is the teachers’ lounge. (Which has also been a topic of discussion around Docere.) For almost every school, the lounge seems to be one of those institutions that teachers cling to despite the fact that it almost always propagates the worst attitudes that we could possibly have. Whitaker even mentions that the most common reply he receives from teachers when he asks what advice they would give to student teachers about the teachers’ lounge is “Stay out!” – which is sad, since there probably is a degree to which it might be cathartic for us to share our struggles and triumphs with other people who are in the same boat.

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I hate politics.

Okay, that’s not true – I hate being involved in politics. Especially when it comes to my vocation.

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