“I may have made a mistake.”
Edward James Olmos as math teacher Jaime Escalante in the film Stand and Deliver
Today did not go exactly as planned. Here are some well-known proverbs that would fit how I feel about my first day as a middle-school math teacher:
· Back to the drawing board
· If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again
· “We’ve only just begun.”
· “Don’t give up.”
My first class felt like the longest hour-and-a-half of my life. I thought I was prepared. I planned. I worked. I studied. I reflected. Still I came up short. Tonight I reflected some more and I think I know what to do to have a better experience next time. I’ll keep all that to myself, because it’s not relevant to the inner work I’m doing and now writing about.
I truly don’t want to do this job. One of the reasons I went into adult education was so that I wouldn’t have to spend most of my time maintaining discipline and behavioral expectations. I just want to teach. At least a few of the kids are not remotely interested in learning math. Nor am I interested I learning how to discipline an unruly group of 13-14 year olds. I just want to write. Or teach. Or something besides this. I don’t want to do this.
Neither do the students who have to be there. They don’t want to do this either. They feel defeated or apathetic or resentful. I don’t know if any of that’s true. Maybe they’re just lazy or undisciplined or problematic. Maybe this is more than I can handle. I haven’t felt this discouraged about my job in a long time.
That’s what I’m fighting: discouragement. I just want to call the district and say that this was a bad choice on my part and then look for something else. Maybe I should get out of teaching altogether. I’m not a teacher anyway. I’m a motivator. I’m a writer. I’m too disorganized to be a teacher. And I don’t like having to be in adversarial relationships with people who don’t want to learn.
I think I’m done whining now. I’ve done some written reflection on what went wrong and what I need to do differently. Now all I have to do is plan and change my behavior so that my students will change theirs. California’s 8th graders are 45th in the nation for math test scores. Can I just try to make a little bit of difference?
This is where courage comes in. I need courage, not only to not give up, but to not get discouraged. Yes, it was a bad start, but it was only a start. It wasn’t the end. If thing are the same at the end of this experience, then I can get discouraged. For now I have to Get Started and Keep Going, so I can teach these kids to do the same.