Danya in Dallas

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Sep 27 2012

1 Month

As of today, I’ve been teaching at Blanton for one month. One month? That’s it? It feels like I’ve been there for several. It feels like each week feels like a month.

In this past month, I have:
  • Gotten to know the names of the majority of my 60+ students. A few names still trip me up, because quite a lot of my students have the same or similar name as someone else in their grade or in their class (In one class I have two kids with the same first _and_ last name, someone with a first name similar to theirs – off by one letter, and two others who basically also have the same name when pronounced), and some kids just look similar to someone else in their class. Either way, I’m glad that I’m getting better.
  • Improved the “look” of my classroom. When I arrived, the place was a dump, and it is still very messy and disorganized, being _my_ classroom and all, but I must say that I have been improving. I now have a word wall up – which I think is a bad way to learn words, at least the way the bilingual office wants me to do it (who groups words by letter?!? shouldn’t we be grouping them thematically?). I’ve set up stations, and have been adding bilingual labels to things like “the door” and “the stapler,” because some of my kids either know the word in one language, or don’t know it in either.
  • Kind of gotten a grip on lesson planning. I still don’t think I should be lesson planning at all, as a first-year teacher who is never going to be churning out lesson plans as good as those by veteran teachers, but I’m slowly getting the hang of it.
  • Gotten to know my students, but not as much as I should. They, in turn, don’t really know much about me, other than about the holidays that I have had to take days off for, and that I am either from Chicago or California on any given day. I should try harder at building a better relationship.
  • Gotten used to classroom discipline, but have been failing to lead them calmly and gently. I think this is one of the biggest things I need to work on. In the past few weeks, I’ve lost my temper with increasing intensity and frequency, and I want to do something about it before I do any further damage to the learning environment. After flying off on one of the students in my first class – I realized that I couldn’t afford to go through the rest of the day like that, and instead handled the next two classes by instituting a “silent class” by turning off the lights at the beginning, having them put their heads down, and explaining that we were going to have a class in which no one could talk except for me. While it is definitely not a good model for everyday instruction, it was a good way to get them focused on a day that was task-heavy and on which I wasn’t feeling well.
  • Many more things, but I guess I’ll cut it off here.
Beneath all of this, though, I am a bottle of stress. The underlying factors, I have realized, are that I am used to much more control over my life, and being given much more discretion and trust. As a public school teacher (and now, I realize, as a public school teacher in a school at risk of getting shut down) I receive very little of any of these, and I can feel every bit of my soul and intellect fighting against these new conditions, but in the end I just finish the day demoralized and flustered, and then one adds all of the car trouble I’ve had that makes it 10x more difficult. I’m wearing out the patience of family and friends, and I guess I can’t blame them. Gotta find some way to get through this, and to keep improving my teaching regardless. It’s not my students’ fault.

7 Responses

  1. It’s entirely possible to move toward a classroom that operates outside the authoritarian-authoritative-permissive paradigm. I would say it’s possible even in a bad system. The bad news is, I suspect it requires two things most 1st year teachers in general and TFA teachers in particular don’t have: a clear understanding of the behind-the-scenes work of running a classroom, and a clear understanding of the community dynamics that affect the classroom. If you have to accept the hierarchical cogs-in-the-machine jump-when-I-say-jump model for the time being while you gain that understanding, I would say that’s not something to beat yourself up over, as long as you’re being mindful.

  2. danyaindallas

    See, I’m torn between what you’ve said – it makes perfect sense, and my desire to make my classroom an open one that transcends the traditional model of education, as suggested by bell hooks in “Teaching to Transgress.” However, over time I’ve had to “suck it up” and enforce rules and dynamics that I don’t agree with just to stay afloat. I wish there was another way, but you might be right.

  3. danyaindallas

    Thank you so much. It helps to know that others have felt the same way.

  4. danyaindallas

    That’s a good point! I used to do capoeira in high school to release the stress of APs and college apps, but I haven’t had a regular exercise routine since. The thing is that I’m so out of shape that there’s a big mental hurdle to even getting down to the gym. Lately, I decompress through mental exercise (reading tough texts that have nothing to do with school), but I really do need to get out of my brain more and start doing _something_. Thanks for your encouragement!

  5. hill

    Hang in there! My biggest challenge as a first year teacher was the lack of control and trust from administration. Just do your best, use the resources you have, and control what you can.

  6. CLB

    Might I suggest finding a release for your stress? I teach in a treatment facility and couldn’t get through the day if I didn’t work out every morning. You don’t have to commit to everyday, but if I you can commit to a bit of time to release emotions through physical energy you might feel some improvement. Hang in there. It does get better (even though I know that’s hard to believe right now!)

  7. B

    Don’t try to have them get to know you better. It will happen over time. Hold it back and it will mean more when it happens. You can always get LESS formal, but you can never go back to being more formal.

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