Helping You Get the Most Out of Your Misery






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Saturday, November 20, 2004


Mal Educacion

Oh dear fucking God. So I'm part of this program called New York City Teaching Fellows. They take people who've been working professionally for a number of years and train them to be public school teachers. You have a six-week course in the summer and then BOOM, you've got your own class. The first year is exceptionally brutal.
My mentor from last year recently asked me to give a speech at a reception for first-year teachers. She asked me because I'd had such a rotten year last year, but stuck it out, and this year am doing a lot better in a new position at a new school. She also asked me because I write comedy and she thought I could be funny. I said yes. The reception was last night and I gave my speech.
Apparently, my friends who were in the audience told me, the Regional Superintendant (along with other high mucketty-mucks) cringed and scowled during my speech. Then, this morning, I got a call from my poor mentor, who told me she'd been told to report to her supervisor's office on Monday morning to explain her "choice in speakers." She asked me to write a note stating that she had no knowledge of the content of my speech before I gave it.
I'm fucking pissed. Here's what I'm going to do: I'm going to post the speech today. I'd like some feedback. Was it not evident that it was meant to be funny? Would it have driven you from the educational field, were that your profession? Or are these people fucking morons? Tomorrow, I'll post the letter I wrote to them. [Edit: No, I won't. One day on this shit is enough.] Gaaaaaah!

I remember very well what I was doing at this time last year. I was drinking heavily. Mostly bourbon, but also the occasional mojito. Last year was, no exaggerating, the most difficult year I’ve ever had. And that’s including 2001, in which I lived through an earthquake, an apartment fire and September 11. So that’s saying something.
Anyway, last year sucked. They had many of these sort of New Teacher gatherings last year. I didn’t go to one of them. My enthusiasm was so squashed, my dislike for what I was doing was so intense that I didn’t want to be around the sort of people who I imagined coming to these things, the first year teachers who were enthusiastic and happy, the sort of first year teachers who had natural class-management skills. The first year teachers who had their bulletin boards up a week early, who walked their class noiselessly up and down the stairwells, whose students all aced the fifth grade social studies test, thanks to their amazing coaching skills. God, I hated them.
I was the other kind of first-year teacher. I was the kind of first-year teacher who took until March to finally get in the habit of writing out more than one day’s worth of lesson plans at a time. I was the kind of first-year teacher who lost his voice from yelling. I was the kind of first-year teacher who had to work really, really hard to reign in those impulses we all have to chuck kids out the window.
I remember my first observation. It was a train wreck. Pretty much everything that could go wrong did. My kids were unruly, my organization was poorly thought out, I didn’t get the ideas across. I sat down with my A.P. afterwards and he asked me how I thought the lesson had gone. I went, point by point, through everything I’d messed up. He was impressed that I was aware of all the problems. He still gave me the Unsatisfactory rating, but he was glad that I at least knew how badly I sucked.

The year wore on. I constantly had colleagues tell me one of two things: They said either, “Yes, things are bad now, but as soon as Fill in the Blank comes, it’ll be better.” “Oh, they’re better at Christmas.” “Oh, February, it’s a whole new ball game and it’s so much better.” “Yes, this time of year is always the pits. But after Easter, when we’re in the home stretch, it gets better.” Or they’d tell me…exactly the opposite. “Oh, right before Christmas, they’re holy terrors.” “Oh, I hate March. There’s no breaks and the kids are horrible.” “Oh, once they take their end-of-the-year tests, they’re out of control.” All of this I heard. Depending on who you listened to, happy days were right around the corner or the End Was Near. Turns out it was the latter.
As the year went on, my class got worse. I kept waiting for one of those magic moments I heard in speeches during our summer Fellows training. “For months, Tiffany would hiss and yowl and come at me with a switchblade. Then I read her Charlotte’s Web and now she gives me hugs whenever she sees me!” I didn’t have any of those moments. Instead, I got treated to week-long stretches where I was filling out incident reports daily. I still had no real clue what I was doing. Every day was just survival.
About a month before the end of school, I had a day with about three fights in my class. I had students walk out every period. I sat down with my principal and A.P. They asked me what I thought should be done about my class. Let me say that again. They asked me what I thought should be done. I was a first year teacher. How the hell would I know? They decided that it might be a good idea to break up my class. They would split my class among the other already over-crowded fifth-grade classrooms and I would then be used to provide extra preps to the teachers who had my kids. Mind you, this is after we’d already taken the class picture, which, I had thought, firmly establishes you as a class. They offered this solution like they’d already tried everything. Like they’d given me all the support I’d ever needed.
At this point, I wanted, more than I had all year, to quit. Then I thought of all the work I’d put in up to that point. I thought of how I’d feel if I’d just given up. I thought of how truly crappy the job market is under Bush. And I decided that I’d rather grit my teeth and crawl to the finish line. Which I did. My principal never got around to splitting my kids up. I’d asked her not to, but I don’t know if she actually listened to me or if she just never found the time to do it.
I got through the last month and a half by counting the days every morning. I kept reminding myself that soon I would have two solid months off, as long as you didn’t count the classes I’d have to take. I put my shoulders down and I did it. It wasn’t fun. When my kids had their graduation ceremony, they didn’t hug me as much as other kids hugged their teachers. I didn’t have quite the warm and fuzzy, tears-in-my-eyes, I’m-going-to-miss-them feeling that I imagine some teachers had. I was just relieved that it was over.
This year, I’m at a different school. We’re half-way through November. I really, really don’t want to jinx things, but I will say that this year is about a thousand times better. I’m still not great. I have not achieved mastery of classroom management. I have still yelled on occasion. But I’m teaching something for which I have passion. I’ve found that being a cluster teacher suits me way better than having my own classroom. I’m at a school which has its problems, but has problems it’s easier for me to deal with. It’s still hard. But I’m not generally suicidal.
So, when speaking to first year teachers, I guess I would have to say that, even if it’s bad, you can get through it. It may seem like your year is crawling by and you will be forever trapped in a…a kind of hell, really. You may decide before it’s over that you aren’t cut out to teach. It happens. But before you make a decision to quit, try to put things in perspective. The first year will end. If you stick it out, you’ll be better for having gone through it. At the very least, you’ll have proved that you can go through all that without chucking a kid out the window. And that’s an accomplishment.

That's it. That's the speech that got my former mentor in trouble. Is it that fucking evil? Once again, all I've got is Gaaaaahh!!

I have no idea if you have ever been to my site but the reason I moved this year was cause I was facing my tenth year as a substitute teacher. While I still plan to teach someday... I have decided that it will not be in a place that wants to keep me as "their sub" forever.

The reason your speech horrified the Superintendent is cause your humour was all based on truth. Not in all classrooms granted, but in far too many. They would prefer to have you smile and well, lie. You are supposed to be thankful that you have the job, and gush about how wonderful said job is.

On the bright side the teachers themselves no doubt felt thankful that someone told it like it is, and in such a pleasant manner. More than 90% of them can relate- sadly enough, and I am sure few of them would have been able to veil the sarcasm and bitterness the way you did.

I think your speech was refreshingly honest- and may actually help some of the others in the room to stick out the year of hell they may be currently experiencing. After all, misery loves company.

Anyway, I have gone off in this comment, but the politics of teaching always manages to get under my skin. Er, well, it did- till I up and left.

This year is putting much into perspective for me.
as a pre-service teacher myself, and having finished my final exams this week (i start student teaching on monday), i think your speech was great. there wasn't any huge epiphany or awe-inspiring moment, per se, but certainly, its truth and honesty were refreshing. isn't it sad that the politics of teaching, the system and the bureaucracy prevent us from upholding the values which we want to teach to our students? teaching isn't just preaching, it's modelling, and honesty is the best thing we can offer them. the hypocrisy of educating just shows through, doesn't it? guess some things never change. YAY TEACHING! (ah yes, that's why i went into the profession!)
and from the other point of view, I have to agree with what's been written already. it was the honesty of the piece that made them cringe. If there's one thing that mullahs the world over can't stand, it's to have their weaknesses exposed, even if it's done comedically.

they could have a thicker skin about it, and they could realize that truth can smooth so many other things over (for example, future first years can at least expect to have some trouble now, what would've happened had they been fed sunshine and lollipops?). In other words, they are being a little oversensitive about this.

so, fuck 'em.
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