Drinking the Kool-Aid

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Dec 14 2010

Ms. Childish

Monday should have been easy. I had a pretty fun lesson (by “fun,” I mean there was matching and scissors and glue and markers) for Intervention, and Geometry was supposed to just wrap up their benchmark. I did keep it together for all of first, third, and fifth periods—but I think the effort of not crying in third period hit me a little late, and seventh period was a battle I wasn’t ready to fight. Of course the kids could feel it as soon as they walked in. Their surprising ability to smell my new-teacher-ness is probably the biggest thing I’ve had to grapple with.

I just don’t know what to do about the seating chart. I know it’s important because I know I don’t want my Biggest student and her buddies sitting next to each other, and I know I don’t want my Hot-shot football player within reach of any of them. I know it’s important because I’m the teacher, and sometimes you just need to learn how to follow directions.

But it’s becoming a huge ordeal, every single day, and my gut is telling me to just let it go. They promise they’ll do their work if they sit next to their friends, and threaten to not do any work if they’re moved. I tell them not to make it such a big deal, that they should pick their battles–they spit the same thing right back at me.

I know I shouldn’t argue with them, shouldn’t negotiate.  I know that it helps if I convince myself I already know they’re going to move, but I repeat “You need to move to your assigned seat” so often that I’ve forgotten what it sounds like to say it convincingly. I know it’s better to give a short directive and walk away, but when I turn around to check, they’re never magically sitting where they’re supposed to be. Sometimes I tell them that everyone else is in their assigned seat, that it wouldn’t be fair if I let them sit here, and then three kids get out of their seats and move to prove me wrong. And there’s always the “I’m doing my work! I ain’t bothering nobody. HEY! YOU over there! Does it bother you that I’m sitting back here?” I’ve called parents during class, but by then the kid has made such a spectacle of themselves (and me) that it’s worth more to them to save face during class and get the heat later.

And a huge part of me agrees with every word they say about how it doesn’t matter where they sit, that they’ll do better work if they’re not upset, that I’m making a huge deal out of nothing and being “childish.” I don’t want to care about the seating chart—but I still want them to stop talking to each other and actually learn something. I would just let them pick their own seats and move them when problems arise, but it takes so much more inertia to tell a kid to move than to just have them sit there in the first place, and I dream of a day when they’re just used to coming and sitting down where I’ve assigned them to sit.

I was so sick of fighting this battle on Monday that 20 minutes into seventh, I just turned on my heels and stepped out into the middle of the hallway to breathe. Thank god my partner happened to be out there, saw my frustration, and went in to try and help. I started power-walking, directionless, trying to step hard enough to keep my eyes from welling over. Before long, I ran into my AP and had to explain myself, which was humiliating and frustrating, but she dropped what she was doing and came with me back to my room. This was perfect, because instead of walking back into the classroom sheepishly with red eyes, I got to enter at a brisk pace with an administrator backing me up (I meant to do that all along, you little punks. So there).

One by one, she helped me uproot the kids and put them in their seats. When they made rude comments back, she took them out into the hallway and did her administrator thing. It felt good that I had a shred of legitimacy—but … the kids weren’t doing anything wrong, really (I mean, aside from being blatantly defiant and incredibly disrespectful), and my gut just keeps telling me to just stop bothering about it.

My AP is an angel. 1) she was in the hall for me to run into. 2) she dropped whatever mission she was on to come to my classroom and help me out. 3) she stayed in there for the rest of seventh period, helping me shut the kids up and make them take their test. 4) She stayed in there for eighth period, too! And while I didn’t appreciate her interrupting me as I taught (she tends to ask staged questions about the wrong things, and in incredibly confusing ways), I did appreciate her presence and constant reminders to the kids to stay on task.

Afterward, she said “That was fun! I haven’t done that in a long time.” I told her I thought learned more and did more work in those 45 minutes than they had all year.

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    Region
    San Antonio
    Grade
    High School
    Subject
    Math

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    “The minute you think of giving up, think of the reason you held on so long.” - John Maxwell

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