Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Not Everyone Should Teach

I was again asked to substitute during my prep today. Alas, no orchestra this time! Instead, I was to cover for a sixth-grade teacher who had a doctor's appointment.

Unfortunately, while I generally have a positive view of teachers, especially after seeing them first hand, I have noticed this particular woman does not contribute positively to the profession. She is frequently losing student assignments, claiming they were never done (as a side note, I wasn't surprised to recall this fact when I entered her room, as the papers were haphazardly piled in a basket, and it looked as if the basket contained worksheets from at least a week, precariously stacked). Of course, intelligent students learn to never throw returned work away so they can pull it out, proving they had done it. Sometimes, though, it isn't returned and is found, months later, in a vent in the classroom. Or, she'll announce, "Everyone gets a B on the assignment" because she has somehow misplaced the pile. Although she has a decade or two under her belt, she still seems confused and frazzled. Frankly, I'm surprised she received tenure.

I entered her room with reservations, not sure what to expect. It was a circus. She was trying to finish up sub plans for the next two periods and students were creating havoc all around. The bell rang, and nothing changed. I was shocked. While middle-school students are active, they should have the decency to take their seats and quiet when appropriate. I waited until she left the room, as this behavior seemed normal to her, and I firmly told students to find their assigned seats. What a transformation. They did as I asked, and I started the class. During the first ten minutes, while students worked, one came up to me and admitted, "We're better for substitutes than our regular teacher. She never even notices when we leave the room." How do I respond to this? I let it go. While I had not allowed disagreement when I quieted the class to begin, apparently I was still approachable; some wanted to know if they would have me as a teacher next year, claiming that I seemed nice and like a good teacher. They were saddened when I informed them I was actually moving; however, I thought it was premature for them to already have an attachment, so I couldn't take it too much to heart.

Here I was, making the kids behave appropriately, and they loved it. I overheard, "Wow, it's never been this quiet in this class before." I was disgusted that they spent all year in such an environment. Parents expect their students to learn, and this teacher was doing a disservice by letting them act as they were. Furthermore, what about next year's teachers? These students will enter their rooms, assuming they can continue acting the exact same way.

The moral from the day: Students like a measure of discipline. They may not want a fierce taskmaster, but neither do they want to be in control. They flourish when there are clear expectations and appropriate consequences.

This is not to say I'm the perfect instructor. I am a perfectionist, so I tend to be hard on myself, but I know I still have much to learn. Even though I've received glowing reviews, I still seem to think I have pulled the wool over everyone's eyes. But one of the greatest compliments I received from a paraprofessional this year was the following: "You're leaving?! I was going to request you for my child next year. I have learned so much by being in here this year! You are so great at what you do." I was floored. Here this woman was, seeing me day in and day out, on the good and less-than-good days, and she was so complimentary. That went much further than comments from an administrator who sees me for a handful of times throughout the year.
Especially since she has been in my class that has those who are not academically inclined. I have been pleased with the alterations that have taken place in that class as we have grown to understand each other and what needs to be done to succeed. They are not the same class they were in September (although I still see remnants from time to time!).


Warren said...

I'm surprised at your surprise in reacting to praise. You are quite competent and genuinely earnest about your work. I fear the other teacher may have lost the fire, if she ever had it.

Whatever will you do next year without this outlet to pour into other people?

Faith said...

What can I say but that I can be a perfectionist when it comes to my work; I see areas of improvement that may be small, but they can still be fixed. I assume others see these areas and am caught off guard that they don't dwell on them (not that they keep me up nights).

Next year, if I'm not teaching, I imagine I'll still find some outlet that will allow me to invest in others. I enjoyed "creating" in the Shoemaker lab: taking orders and finding solutions, all while establishing relationships with my co-workers. Perhaps something similar will be in my future again.