First Year

2013/07/05

The short version of lessons learned:
   A little less sleep
   A little less food
   Regular exercise
   A lot less discretionary time
   A lot more stress
   A lot more challenge
   A lot more socializing
And I'm happy. Really happy.

I've been dancing around the idea of a first year teaching recap for a while now, without landing on anything solid. I'm about a month out now from the end of the school year and I'm realizing the feast or famine nature of a school teacher's yearly calendar is going to take some getting used to. It was too easy (and essential) during the school year to put off much of the more grimy parts of my life, thinking I'd get around to it in the summer. But now that summer is here I'm busy in new ways and jealous enough of the free time to want to spend it on anything less than golden moments. I'm going to have to work out some more sustainability into this rhythm.

But back to this teaching thing. I'm still at a loss of words to describe what I've been through. It was hard. Hard in ways that defy description. I could go on and on about the small crimes committed against teachers and the frustrations in the classroom but its not very productive and in the end not very interesting. The analogy I keep coming back to is that of parenting. Teaching is difficult and boring in many of the same ways. My experience was obviously highly specific, yet universal at the same time that makes writing about it in a satisfying way hard. It is fruitless at demoralizing at times. The rewards are fleeting and nebulous. Yet there is an inextricable pull that keeps me going, lets me know that this is a *good* work. I don't understand all of my attraction to teaching, I certainly don't articulate it very well, but that's okay.

As a marched through the year there were emotional valleys for sure, times when the ocean of small difficulties felt like it would suck the life from me, but I feel like on the whole the year was successful. Not that I felt like a whole lot of Math knowledge was imparted, but I feel like the kids did well (my kids started out at a severe deficiency but improved and had big gains on their passing rates on the state examinations) and I learned TONS. I am invigorated to do it again. Ready to hone and improve and tweak and adjust. The intellectual challenge in the classroom is endless and that is very attractive to me. The opportunities to check my pride are also many which I hate but recognize that I need.

I love the school I am at and will continue on there regardless of my semi-stupid commute. I really love the students at my school, I am impressed with their inclusive nature and except when it comes to homework, appreciate their easy going attitude. I also like the administrators. Even though there are always to be faculty-administration conflicts of interest, they have the right focus and that is the best interest of the students. The school is a rough one and scholastic achievements are small but the improvements over the past five or six years have been impressive. It is difficult to teach in an environment where teachers always seem to be the scapegoat for what is wrong with America's education system. There is an endless barrage of new "right ways" to improve student performance that makes a teacher feel like a contortionist. But our administrators try to distill it down to a bare minimum and let us do what we need to do in the classroom.

One of the biggest components of my success and satisfaction this year has been my co-workers. The faculty at my school are great people and I have made some amazing friends. There is a real sense of team work and camaraderie in my department. And a lot of wonderful crazy too. I eat lunch every day with a group of other teachers, mostly but not exclusively Math, and it has been a saving grace. I started out the beginning of the year as many teachers do, using the few minutes afforded at lunch to grade or organize or plan or tutor or the million other things that are always waiting for my attention. But I soon learned that I never made a dent in the to-do pile, but was getting worn out fast. I soon put that away and made myself step away each day at lunch to eat with my friends. Essential. They are happy to troubleshoot problems in the classroom with me. Or serve as a safe space to vent about the ridiculous infractions I see on a daily basis. Or discuss deep and shallow topics of all flavors with equal relish. A place to reset in the middle of the day. We hang out a lot outside of work and it has been a huge boon to my sanity.

Among all my travels this summer, I find myself taking small moments to contemplate changes big and small to make my classroom run smoother. It only took a few days away and it had already begun. I take that as the biggest indicator that this is the place I need to be. I don't know how long I will be teaching. I can understand in equal measures paths that would take me to burn out or boredom in this career. But the appeal is great enough for me that I am hoping to find ways to stave off both of those and find a path instead to sustainable excellence. My life is so different than it was a year ago when I walked away from GCC. I am excited to see where I'll be next time I stop to take measure.

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