Things I Learned by Accident
The school year finally sputtered to a halt yesterday afternoon. My kids, who had been out of the building taking a self-assigned break or on 8th grade senior trips, all showed up to collect their report cards. My seventh graders were cute, as they have been almost all year, and were sad to say goodbye. My eighth graders were ready to move on to high school, as they have been almost all year, and were nearly as terrible as on the first day. I don't blame them. One kid, with whom I've had a running battle over gum-chewing, stuffed ten pieces of Trident in his mouth in front of me and then shouted, "Now I can chew as much gum as I want! School's out!" And it was.
And now that I know I can survive a whole ten months of this work, next year doesn't look nearly so scary. (Though it is, blessedly, two months away.) As best anyone can tell me, I'll only be teaching seventh grade next year, so I'll only have to prepare one lesson plan a day and only have to teach the new, scared, pliable 12 year olds rather than the newly hormonal and rebellious 13 year olds - a much more palatable proposition. I was offered a chance to move up with my kids and teach them again in an eighth grade honors seminar, but I turned it down for a chance to re-invent myself for new students as the teacher I have spent the past year learning how to be. So next year, when the first day of school rolls around, I'll know where my bathroom passes are and how to get people quiet. Actually, I've learned quite a bit.
Mistakes I now know not to make:
Don't single a kid out by name in front of the whole class - that just causes a whole conflict that you don't want to deal with.
Put your bulletin boards up on time even if you think bulletin boards are stupid.
Don't say you're going to call home if you know you probably won't feel like it. In fact, don't say you'll do anything that you're not 100% sure you can do that day.
Don't assume that kids know the difference between Civil Rights and the Civil War, between the East River and the ocean, or between North and South. Don't assume anyone has any idea what you're talking about just because they've been sitting quietly and not getting on your nerves. Chances are, the annoying kids at least have some idea what's going on, while the quiet ones are on another planet entirely.
Don't go in thinking that you will be the kind of teacher who makes kids see the "real world" and teaches them how to rock the boat. Their world is much realer than yours has ever been and they are constantly bailing water. They need structure, not your grad school deconstructionism, before they can work the truth out for themselves.
Don't wear purple tights in March or you will still be hearing about it in June.
Don't hold grudges.
Don't forget to check your mailbox for memos.
Don't get sick.
Don't be afraid to take a sick day.
Don't be mean.
Eat a good lunch, or you will be.
Don't show movies that you've never watched yourself, or teach books you've never read.
Don't be afraid to tell people that they are wrong, but do have the means to make them right.
Things I did Right Without Knowing It:
Keep your bad news to yourself. Spread your good news around.
Tell the class you love them.
Ask for money and sometimes you will get it. The words "Title 1 school in Brownsville" open more doors than you might think.
Listen to people who have been doing this job longer than you have.
Do not argue with anyone who has the power to make your life more difficult.
Don't grade everything.
Learn how to fix the copy machine.
And so, this, I suppose, ends my internet experiment. This page will stay up, but it probably won't change after today. I am ready to get back to writing in private. Many thanks to all who have been following along - your words of support have meant more than you know.