New Teacher Journal: The First Days

Teaching is hard.

This is not shocking news, but exactly how hard it is did not sink in until my first day as a middle school reading teacher.

That was Monday.

I am told that I am at a “rough school.” It is officially designated as a “turnaround school.” That means that it has been marked as a particularly low performing school by the district. 

A new administration has been brought in. Half the faculty is new to the school with most of those new teachers also being new to the school district.

Me before heading off to school for the first day of class.

Me before heading off to school for the first day of class.

We have all been charged with turning the school around.

This is my first time teaching anyone younger than a college freshman.

I am not teaching a single accelerated/honors section.

This is hard.

After the first day (Monday), I wanted to cry.

After the second day (Tuesday), I felt shell-shocked. I was wondering if I had made a mistake. A very serious bad mistake.

The third day (Wednesday) went much better. I think I can do this.

A few highlights:

After seventh period (the last period of the day) on Tuesday, I had five students stay after the bell rang. They had been particularly disruptive. I told them in a calm and collected voice, that this had to stop. We could not continue like we had that day. I informed them that I would need to separate them when in implemented the seating chart.

I kept them for a little over a minute and then sent them on their way.

Today, two of those students where the first students to class. They sat on the opposite side of the room from where they had previously sat.

As we started class, they call me over. One of them asked, “Can those of us who are good today choose where we sit?” In other words, they wanted to know if they could sit together if they behaved.

Those two behaved. They were the first to answer questions. They have thoughtful responses when called upon. I was amazed…and grateful. I made sure to let them know as much.

Not all the students that I had kept after class on Tuesday did better on Wednesday. However, these two and another student had made considerable efforts and it made a world of difference.

Dance! Whirl! Whirl!

Wednesday, in all of my classes, we read Dream Variations by Langston Hughes.

To fling my arms wide
In some place of the sun,
To whirl and to dance
Till the white day is done.
Then rest at cool evening
Beneath a tall tree
While night comes on gently,
Dark like me—
That is my dream!

To fling my arms wide
In the face of the sun,
Dance! Whirl! Whirl!
Till the quick day is done.
Rest at pale evening . . .
A tall, slim tree . . .
Night coming tenderly
Black like me.

This was their first engagement with text in my class. We are focusing on classroom procedures, norms, and expectations. However, today, focusing on a text helped with classroom management. They seemed to take the time in class more seriously since we were doing what they expected to be doing in a reading classroom.

I also showed them a few of my interpretation of the line “Dance! Whirl! Whirl!”

This is going to be a good year.

5 replies »

  1. As the daughter and sister of teachers, this made me smile. If you ever want to brainstorm lesson plans, I have a few favorites in my back pocket from when I worked at an alternative school. I didn’t have a teaching license, but I was the only one in the building with calculus experience, which meant I had all the kids capable of advanced math and science. Those kids usually had been bored and/or disruptive, and ended up being with us for as long as it took me to convince them that they wanted to learn more than I could teach them. (No science equipment and really boring workbooks gave me a lot of flexibility to figure out what extra reading would help nudge them in that direction. )

    It sounds like your 60 second pre-discipline session went well, if you got 3 to turn around in less than a day. Good job!

  2. It looks my old area isn’t doing so well. Not that it was all great then, but it wasn’t close to turn-around bad. If I lived where I did, I would be zoned for Bailey Middle School and Sunrise Mountain High School, two on the turn-around list. In my day, of course, those didn’t exist, so it was Del H. Robison Jr. High, and Eldorado Class of ’84. I also attended Mountain View Elementary, now a turn-around school. I have very fond feelings for my elementary and high schools, but not for my jr. high. That seems to be the nature of jr. high.

  3. I remember a friend wondering out loud if the stress her daughter felt while a Jr. High student was “real” or “created”……because being misunderstood seemed to be in vogue. I had her daughter in one of my Sunday school classes, she wore combat boots and had dyed her hair black. She was always in attendance and acted less bored as time went on. I still remember missing her when she moved on. It’s amazing to me you were able to break through on the first day. You will make a difference and one day you will miss them, because you have a generous heart. I will even bet, they will remember you.

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