Since the alternative is too dreadful to contemplate, I shall believe in myself.

10 Jan

I’ve been back to school a week, and am getting ready for my second, heading already into a kind of home stretch for the quarter, at which time each student must get their grade. So I’m trying to structure everything so that it fits together, includes review but variety, has a smattering of labs and maybe an outing, and is gradable. Our school operates in quarters (sixths, really) so the students have a better chance of getting at least that much credit, if they crash and burn, or come in half way through a semester.

I was so ready for winter break, needed a rest, to let the strain and stress, go, images of faces conveying less than good humor and eagerness to fade from my mind. The last three weeks, feeling so much less than adequate, not having found that balance between giving lots of second chances–too many, so the rules were being pushed too much by some and others weer getting irritated–and being tough on crime. Always a stronger backlash about that when it comes around, I find, but still I never learn. Maybe it’s what it has to be, since until I know students better, I can’t err on the side of law and order lest I do some harm to a fragile student whose circumstances and struggles don’t know. So the upshot is that they all know I am a kind person and like having them in my classes, that I have a lot of patience. And some of these students really like that, and let me know in various ways.

After Christmas and a few more enforced days of planning abstinence, I went into my quiet, sunny classroom and graded all the notebook assignments for December and started planning the rest of the quarter. Feeling bad that I still haven’t worked in another hands on or lab activity for my environmental science class–all teacher, notes, book work, and handouts. Hearing that invitation from the principal to dream up some cool stuff, but only getting that established in my two biology classes so far. Still, on that other angle I was encouraged to work, I really am learning to slow down, provide more scaffolding, refer to the text more (gives a sense of security to many students), and put off the next concept until the previous one is reasonably mastered by those willing to try. Still, I was eeling dread, and guilt, and the voices that want to pipe in with. “You can’t do this.” Just wanted to get going and not have that dreadful anticipation.

I kept thinking about those wild dogs who, when they lose a few fights, are way more likely to lose further ones and zoom down the hierarchy beyond what would be expected given their real fitness. A lot of it really is about what you believe. Humans, I hope, being at an advantage in not necessarily accepting the past as a precursor for the future, and able to visualize success, create success from the inside of the head and heart out. All things being more or less equal. Of course, that’s why for these students a big part of what we do has to be envisioning their own success, and the path there.

So I tell myself, you knew this would be difficult. You’re doing okay, and getting better every day. You’re learning. They are responding. Everyone makes mistakes and has bad days. You’ll get it–just think how much better you’ll be able to teach once you get through this, with all you’ll know. Having the lesson plans and technical knowledge alone…Start fresh, set a new tone, be clear about the rule on phone use, get them into an entry task each time they come in, make it doable for you, as well as them. Don’t take on too much at a time.

I was planning to launch right into a lab growing peas under different lighting conditions–just enough time to wrap it up before quarter end. Found the handout, adapted it for my students, thought how nice it would be to see things popping out of the soil in January. The students had really liked the box of wheat grass I grew under the lights before Christmas–sent it around for a therapeutic brush with the hands and nose-in sniff. Powerful summer smell, as if crushing new summer grass at a picnic in the park. One girl did that freshly back from a teary-eyed phone conversation, and I saw some of the tension so out of her face. Another, a very introverted student with Asperger’s, who’s also going through the health failure of her Dad, who has dementia, actually leaned forward for a second brush.

So those faces were coming forward after I got enough rest, time with my family, son home from college, and beautiful. frosty mornings. I was, I guess, ready to go back in a few days. Then I got sick. The Thursday before the Monday start, I felt the tickle in my throat, and by the next day I was down with a temperature and chills. Resolved to do just a day of that, with the help of lots of watered-down orange juice and some herbal pills. Did that, and was up and about again Saturday, but only to go into the next stage, it turned out so I had to call in a sub, and make a whole new plan that was more user friendly.

Two days at home, and I did get the second sub to at least plant the peas–all wrong, though, despite the written directions. First day back was a relief–much better than the imagined disaster. I replanted the peas in their proper depth and figured out what was what, and I guess finished out the week okay–lights set up, more work on photosynthesis, looking at water plants under the microscope. And by Thursday some conflicts, as expected, and now I have to chat with the principal about “my side of the story of what I sent referrals for six students. Thought I was finally being tough enough, but really I failed to identify the real culprits, both of whom (of course) were good at making me feel I was singling them out, so I sent down paperwork the whole batch–two in one class and three in another.

I don’t like meetings with principals. Takes a lot of effort to remember, as one staff member puts it, to “put on my big girl panties” and take a chill, professional attitude rather than feeling now I’m in trouble–I tried, I tried! He’s a good guy, I’m sure will hear me out, help me figure out a more balanced approach. No. it’s just as well, and I know not everyone in my position could say this, but his attitude is about support, to students and to staff, so I can admit what I feel I did that was not the best.

Thursday (after the referrals) I made new seating plans. I do this with trepidation at this school, wondering who will come to me, alarmed and say they have issues with people passing behind, or can’t get along with so and so, or just that they refuse to change spots. I ran it by the special ed teacher for tips for the class she works with me, tweaked a few things, and went ahead. There were difficulties (I gave candy to those in their proper new seats, encouraged, cajoles, and made minor modifications for others (vision issues, etc.), and in the end only a few had not moved, with the promise of most of them being ready next week. The way I framed it was that I needed to have some students move up so I could support them better, others because they were distracting each other, and the rest got shuffled because of that, can’t be helped. They took that well. I have yet to see how one of the classroom tornadoes, who missed the day of the new seating plan–will take it. She’s smart, talks non-stop, and has no sense of when is a good time to ask what she needs to do to catch up missed work.

I was hoping I’d feel all better from the cold, but my nose is still running (taking a pill helps) and I cough a lot. All data for the new rhinovirus investigation I have planned.

Sorry–I’m just going on and on, can’t see much in what I’m writing, am surprised at the word count, as I didn’t know if I’d have anything to say at all, and maybe I don’t. But trying to show up and write, so thanks for reading.




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3 responses to “Since the alternative is too dreadful to contemplate, I shall believe in myself.

  1. jdawgsrunningblog

    January 12, 2016 at 5:40 am

    you did a good job with writing honestly and searchingly—and the work you are doing as a teacher and the way you are trying to do it humbles me.

    • toesinthedirt

      January 15, 2016 at 7:43 am

      Thank you, though if you saw the real thing, the little I actually get “right”… You are a source of inspiration.

      • jdawgsrunningblog

        January 16, 2016 at 6:16 am

        seriously doubt there are too many others who could do better than you are doing–I’ve taught in a similar situation–it felt thankless and often humiliating—nearly destroyed me.


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