Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 02 2011

Lessons learned by fire

On one of the last days of school, some of my worst kids from last year’s infamous Period 3 class stopped by to visit. There’s nothing like this classic start to a conversation: “Oh hi! How are you? Wait, last time I saw you, you lied to me about coming by to say hi and really you were here to chase and threaten one of my favorite students until she locked herself in a neighbor’s house and her mom called the police on you. What’s up? How’s high school?”

They dutifully asked me how my year had been, while the obvious underlying question was, “Did your new kids torment you like we did?” It was so nice to be able to tell them that my year was actually really good, my kids behaved really well, and to be able to smile sincerely at them and remind them that their class already put me through everything possible so that this year, I was ready.

I definitely earned my stripes on that group of kids. Thirty-eight kids in one class is too many. Even worse is when those 38 kids include almost all the worst behavior problems in the school, most of the lowest performing students, every kid that had been anywhere near juvie, and the kid who tried to burn down the school twice. Oh yeah, and make sure I get them all riled up right from recess. Then let them run out the other first-year teacher and set their sights on making me quit too.

Bu with the safety of a year between us, I can actually be grateful for all the lessons I learned from that class. I learned to never turn my back, to not let balled-up paper travel across the room, and to be careful about which benign-looking math manipulatives can double as weapons. I learned that it’s vital to invest low students in their ability to be successful. I learned to match middle-school-girl-bitchiness with adult-girl-bitchiness and win. I learned to make my consequences miserable so that detentions aren’t a funny joke on the teacher. I learned the value of patience and fresh starts every day. I learned how to not let things get under my skin, or at least how to not let it show when they do. I learned that it’s better in the long run when consequences come from the teacher instead of the office. I learned and I learned and I learned. Unfortunately, I learned most of it too slowly to have a great year with that class, but I know it made me a much better teacher this year. I don’t know if that makes last year worth it, but I’m at least thankful it happened now.

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