I and 1799 other new teachers gathered this afternoon in Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center to see the usual symphony orchestra replaced by third graders with violins, high schoolers with steel drums and stilts, and a parade of the city's education officials, speeches in hand. The chancellor of Education said that he wanted to kiss all of us, even the guys.
Today I heard several students speak to the question, "What makes a good teacher?" The answer seems to be pizza party related. I also learned that I am now in a Union when a rather angry woman took the stage to demand that I be paid more.
And I caught a glimpse of just how tired I'm going to be this year when, after speaker after speaker after high school step team after speaker had finally left the stage, I was tossed a bag of pretzels and told not to stop for dinner on my way to my first Fellows Advisory (F.A.) meeting.
In the throng of bright eyed do gooders, it was amazing how many faces I recognized. There was the girl with the great suit I'd seen at the placement fair - now wearing the same pants, different shirt. There was a guy who had been in my original interview group, and who had taught a great lesson on adjectives, and another I recognized because he'd had the interview before me for a high school position.
And, even more amazing, after I had located my F.A. meeting and eaten the whole bag of pretzels (which I happen to hate,) the woman standing in the front of the room was the same one who had originally interviewed me for the fellowship.
On that day last winter, I'd thought she was a little brusque and a little loud and a lot rules-oriented. But I was also nervous and so sort of appreciated the structure and the stopwatch she brought to the interview.
I have to say, though, I was chagrinned to see the stopwatch come out again today, and more than a little put off by the fact that, after forcing us to play exactly six minutes of "Human Bingo" as an ice-breaker, she went down the list of "getting to know you" bingo questions and asked people to raise their hands if something applied to them. Then we were to introduce ourselves and give our name and where and what we were teaching.
First of all, we were all in the same group because we were all teaching English in Brooklyn. Second of all, she yelled at anyone who gave any other information about themselves. It was bizarre.
She'd pick a trait from the bingo card, like "people who are coming to teaching as a second career," but when someone raised her hand and said, "My name is so and so and I am teaching English in Brooklyn and I used to work in P.R." she'd counter with, "See? Now I am getting information that I did not ask for. This is just the type of thing that your students are going to do to you. I'm just trying to prepare you for the fact that your students are not going to follow directions."
The whole thing served to reinforce what I've been hearing for some time now: that students decide within the first minutes of class whether or not they are going to respect the teacher or put forth much effort at all. Five minutes in, and I was doodling "Life Sucking" next to "Human Bingo" on my list of the things we'd be doing during the period.
I was feeling myself slump in my seat and pull away - just like I used to do when I had a teacher whose rules seemed pointless or who seemed more interested in how big the margins of my paper were than in what was written in it.
But I am trying to use that frustration to figure out how I don't want students to react to me. I'm also attempting to remain open-minded. After all, stopwatch or no, this woman has a lot more experience teaching than I do, and she has promised to get me ready for September 8th.
All in all, a fruitful day. I am now proud owner of a Teaching Fellows tote bag, a few books on classroom methods, and a spot in a thirty-person support group that has spent exactly four minutes committing ourselves to a "Culture of Excellence."
Tomorrow: grad. school.