Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Day 118: Remembered Anger

I am tired.  Too tired.

I lost my temper.  I said some things I should not have said.  I reacted in ways that I should not have reacted.

I had two particularly bad interactions with students in which, I felt justified at the time, but afterward, I think I handled very poorly.  I have a sharp tongue and instead of trying to get to the root of the problem, I tried to shut the students down to end the interaction.

It turned into a power play, which I've been trying to avoid all year.

Power struggles with students are always losing battles, even if you win.  I managed not to yell, but that doesn't change the fact that I did not behave in the fashion I should have.

I ended up calling the parents of both students to express my (genuine) concerns about their behavior and academic performance.

I began the conversation with the second parent by telling her the complete story and apologizing for my unprofessional behavior.  Either she was an inherently reasonable person, or she heard the defeat and despair in my voice and realized that I knew I had gone too far.

Either way, it was a good discussion that, I feel, was very productive.

Regardless, I feel awful.  I have 6 kids in the class who have been doing amazing work for me and I can't teach them because I don't have the skill or ability to deal with the rest of the class.  I have tried a multitude of different tactics with minimal success.  It's not as though certain tactics work with certain kids.  No matter what I've done, those 6 kids are engaged 80-100% of the time.  No matter what I've done, the rest are engaged 0-20% of the time.

I don't believe that kids are unreachable, but I'm coming to the conclusion that I can't reach them.

I need to go back and read my blog posts for 6 months ago to renew some of my enthusiasm and energy.  I feel as though I've slipped back into my frustration, anger and despair of the previous years.

Maybe I was wrong.  Maybe enthusiasm and energy aren't enough.

Maybe 90 minutes every day with this level of disinterest and apathy is enough to drain the love of teaching from anyone.

A few years ago, in the midst of an entire year that made this single day look a ray of sunshine, when I was complaining to a colleague about how unhappy I was, she told me something interesting.

She said that in this district, there is so much good that you can do.  She told me that the "higher end" districts didn't need us as much.  "Anyone can walk into those classrooms and teach those kids.  You can do so much more good here!"

I don't believe her assertion that anyone could walk in and teach those kids.  Having taught at one of those districts, I know that every place has it's unique challenges.  There are teachers who do well in certain situations and poorly in others.  I don't believe that there is something as the universally good teacher.  I believe that even the best teachers (of which I would never consider myself one) would have situations, classrooms, districts in which they would flounder and struggle.

My response to her was flippant and probably sheds some light on the kind of teacher I was.

"I don't want to 'do good.'  I want to enjoy what I do."

This year, I've been revising that statement.  If she asked me now, my response might be "I like doing good, but I also want to enjoy it."

My enjoyment has been decreasing as this year has continued.  There have been spikes of good days, but examining the overall trend, I see a decline.

Even in my geometry class, where the students do, for the most part, everything I ask them, I'm almost done.  My interest in developing new lessons and plans has dwindled.

I keep thinking "It's probably just today!  It's just the weather.  It's just that time of the year."

But how many times can you think "it's just today" before you have to admit that it isn't.

I don't know how to hit the reset.  I don't know how to bring back the energy to fight, to remind myself that I AM making a difference, even if just a small one and even if just for a few kids.

If a lawyer loses 90% of his cases, should he stay a lawyer?

I'm not posting this in the hopes that anyone will comment about how great a teacher I am, or how dedicated I must be to becoming a better teacher, or how dedicated I am to my students.  I'm not posting this in the hopes that anyone will suggest I find a different district in which to work.

I'm posting this for the same three reasons that I post everything else.
  1. I have thoughts I need to get down. 
  2. I will have a record of my methods and mentality at some later date
  3. Hopefully, someone can find strength and solace in my struggles.  If I can't help my students in the way that I want, maybe I can help other teachers.

What I do NOT want this blog to EVER be is my complaining about my district (which does what it thinks is best), my administrators (who are supportive and dedicated), my coworkers (who are trying incredibly hard every day), or my students (who are children and usually act better than I did at that age).

It is merely a reflection of my actions and thoughts.  Today, they were not up to par.

1 comment:

  1. Okay. A few things that have been in the back of my mind that I'm gonna spill onto your blog now. Apologies for the rambling in advance.
    1) Your style is probably radically different from half the people in your building. At the least, it's different from you a year ago. Students don't always know what to do with that. Maybe some of them (like your late additions) haven't been able to adjust. Maybe YOU'RE still adjusting. Is this the time of year when you'd normally be cracking down? Old habits don't Die Hard, they linger around, hoping Bruce Willis is game for another sequel. I don't really have any useful places to take this observation, it's just something I've been wondering about.
    2) There's this thing called "negativity bias", where our brain is wired for bad news. An article I read uses the carrot and stick analogy as in 'If you miss seeing a carrot today, you might get one tomorrow, but if you miss seeing a stick today, BAM, no tomorrow'. I'm gonna stop short of saying find "One Good Thing" (that blog just isn't my style) but on days when you go off on 2 kids, remind yourself there were other times when you wanted to and DIDN'T.
    3) To find enjoyment, define "enjoyment", and don't limit it to student interactions in the classroom. You just spoke about a productive chat you had with a colleague. Who else are you talking to during the day? Maybe you should sit in on a band practice or sports game, to see students outside the class, might that be enjoyable? What if you wore a silly hat to class every Friday, can that provide enjoyment? Note I'm not saying it's impossible to derive happiness from the teaching itself, just that you probably need a fallback position for days when, let's face it, it just ain't happening.
    4) At the risk of sounding like a horrible person, there probably are some students we can't engage with, for the same reason that you can't please everyone. But by the same measure, don't kid yourself into thinking that the ones who are engaged would be that way for anyone. Or that they'll necessarily be as (dis)engaged by the next unit as they are now. Humans are terribly fickle beasts.

    As to "If a lawyer loses 90% of his cases", if he's a defence lawyer trying to keep assassins from going to prison, yeah, I'd hope he loses 90% of his cases. Nice thing about being a lawyer is (as far as I know), you can choose your cases such that more than 10% of your clients are innocent... and that analogy just went to a disturbing place, I'm not trying to cast aspersions on your students. I should wrap this up.

    To conclude, I might suggest you stop throwing down tombstones and lockers as pictures. They seem to upset you. Also, great or not, at least you don't suck, and sometimes we do at least need that reminder.


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