I love teaching, but there aren’t always rainbows and butterflies in your urban classroom. Sometimes there is a hazy cloud of smog, roaches, and bed bugs, literally. I thought I’d spend this blog post highlighting the good, bad, and fuggly parts of my journey as an urban middle school teacher. Teaching and learning isn’t always pretty, but my experiences have only strengthened my passion for what I do and have made me a better teacher.
Flashback to 2010
I can’t make up how ridiculously challenging my first year of teaching was. I was a super confident first year teacher and why wouldn’t I be? I majored in education at an elite public institution, received four years of teacher preparation from a prestigious education non-for-profit, and received mentoring from the New Teacher Center. My bag of tricks was over flowing with strategies, resources, and connections with teachers from around my state.
Nothing can prepare a first year teacher for verbal abuse on the first day of school from a 6th grade student. I’ll never forget getting cursed out in the first five minutes of my first day as a real teacher. This little fire cracker shouted, “Shut the F$%@ up you B*&@#!” as I was introducing myself and my ice breaker. In a heartbeat, I adjusted my proximity to the student to read his name tag and responded with “Joe*”, I’m so sorry you aren’t interested in my icebreaker. You seem like such a great student and I look forward to working with you this year.”
I pat myself on the back because not only was I able to shut down Joe* before he got started, but I earned a little credibility from the rest of the class since I didn’t cry. Momma always said, “Kill ’em with kindness.”
Ms. G: 1 pt vs. Joe*: 0 pts
That year Joe* was reading at a first grade level and he brought lots of “baggage” with him to school including a hunting knife and weed. Joe* wasn’t a bad kid as he was probably labeled, but he was misguided and neglected. I was fortunate to teach Joe* for three more years. I have no miracle story to share and got cursed out a couple more times, but I taught my tail off when he was in my room by providing lots of one on one and modifications to keep him engaged and not climbing up my walls. When Joe* was in eighth grade, he dropped into my room to threaten my new homeroom.
“If you got a problem with them, Ms. G, you come see me!”
My no means do I encourage that kind of intimidation, but that was Joe’s way of letting me know our relationship had blossomed and there was trust among us. Last week I ran into Joe* as I left work. He was posted up outside the corner store a couple blocks away from school. I rolled my window to say hi, but Joe* refused to make eye contact. He simply responded with a firm head nod. I asked if he was staying out of trouble and yet again, Joe refused to make eye contact, but shook head no and gave me a slight grin. Before I pulled off, I shouted to Joe* to be careful and stay safe. He finally smiled and gave me a wave as I drove off. Good, bad, fuggly? You decide!
Moral of the story: Relationships are an essential part of teaching.
Dangerous Dioramas in 2011
During a biomes unit, my seventh grade students created dioramas for the first time as a performance task to demonstrate understanding of abiotic and biotic factors in a biome of their choice. My students conducted research, collaborated with peers, and were engaged 100% of the time. One of my students desired extreme authenticity when building his forest biome so he smuggled his pet turtle into the building storing the poor thing in his locker until science class. This clever student asked to use the restroom and hired a couple peers to distract me as he sneakily pulled the turtle from his pocket to add it to his diorama. I cried from laughter and am cracking up now as I’m thinking about this scenario…especially because another turtle made an appearance in my classroom a year later.
This was a teachable moment for myself and my students. We had a mini-lesson about animal safety outlining pros and cons of bringing a turtle to school. We discussed how it is unsafe to transport a turtle in your pocket and to store it in your locker for half the day. We established that pets must be approved before coming to class and must be stored in appropriate ecosystems for safety.
Moral of the story: Give explicit directions and clearly outline parameters of projects. If you don’t explicitly say pets aren’t allowed, do not assume children know that rule.
Spring Break 2012
My students never cease to amaze me. They have awesome discussions, generate higher order thinking questions, and have amazing personalities that keep me coming back to work. One of my brightest young scientists, who was also in my turtle class of 2011, feared her mother was going to neglect her pet turtle over spring break while she visited her grandparents out of state. She “jokingly” asked if I would baby sit her turtle while she was out of town and I responded with a firm “no” in the politest way possible. Fast forward to the day before spring break, there is a turtle habitat sitting on my desk after the class period. No, I did not sit for the turtle. Yes, we did have edit to the animal policy.
Moral of the story: Animals are not allowed in the classroom unless they belong to Ms. G.
Leopard Geckos are Cool, but…
Classroom pets are an awesome way to extend student learning whether it be teaching responsible pet care to studying the animals’ role in a food web. I purchased a leopard gecko with a classroom pet grant because of its cool factor and low maintenance not realizing leopard geckos are nocturnal and that I was afraid of lizards. Unfortunately I learned about my lizard fear a little too late…
My kids were pretty annoyed by the fact that the gecko lived under his rock for most of the school year. We only saw him when school started and he was sleeping on top of his rock or around dismissal time when he came out for a worm or two. My kids were convinced that I was a terrible pet own after the fact that our dear gecko friend didn’t return with me from summer break. 😦
Moral of the story: Research about your classroom pet before making the investment.
My teaching stories continue to crack me up. I think I’ll have to save the fuggly stories for reminiscing with my teacher pals.
Happy Spring Break!