Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Middle-School Math II

“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.