Then and Now

I just began my final (at least for now) month of being a real, live (usually breathing) middle school teacher. I thought this would be the right time to look back at what was going through my head and heart seven and a half years ago when I started this journey. In my new role, I will still have some responsibilities of a teacher and I don’t think I can ever shake some pieces of my teacher personality. Here to stay: a need for control, OCD, type-A, being completely amused by children, and an obsession with influence and wisdom impartation. 

Below you will find reflections called “MS. DORAN – MONTH 1” and “MS. DORAN – MONTH 2.” I emailed both of them to friends and family in 2010. Interspersed, now, are my current thoughts.

Because of my OCD and type-A tendencies, here’s a key:

  • Blue italics – MONTH 1
  • Green italics – MONTH 2
  • Gray and whatever the opposite of italics is – MONTH 91
you-is.jpg

My friend Melissa cross-stitched this for me when I left PMS. It hangs in my current classroom and is something I look at when needed.


MONTH 1

This may seem somewhat pompous but I just wanted to publicly reflect on my first month as a true adult. Please, humor me and read at least some of this. 

Not pompous. I think all teachers should keep some sort of diary to reflect and simply brain-dump. And, as I’ve said before, the more others who are not in the classroom know about what happens in the classroom, the better.

Tomorrow marks my one-month anniversary of serving the Baltimore County Public School System as a real, live, (usually breathing) middle school Language Arts teacher. In some ways, this has been the longest month of my life and I guess I am supposed to say, “in some ways, it has been the shortest…” but that would be lying. I feel like I have put more emotion, effort, thought, and sometimes tears into the past 30 days than I have put into most years.

The paragraph above makes me think that I had no idea. My dad said that for the first three months of 1st grade I cried every single day when he dropped me off at school. That eventually stopped, aside from the time I smacked myself in the eye with my snap bracelet just before computer class and Mrs. Vivirito told me I had to stop crying before I ruined the computer keyboard (of the 1993 indestructible Apple Mac). That said, the teacher-crying does not stop. I just cried on Friday in a scholar-led conference. I think I believed back then that the chorus everyone sang at me: “things get easier,” meant that I wouldn’t have to feel so much, work so much, or think so much. The truth is that all of these things increase with time. 

For those of you are teachers, have been teachers, or have truly known what it is like to be in a school as a non-student on a daily basis, you know that it is an absolutely insane existence. Being around children all day and furthermore, talking to them all day, is utterly strange. They are so magnificent and so horrifying simultaneously that one wonders how one could have ever been 12 years old.

All of this is still completely true. And one thing that makes being a teacher so strange, I’ve realized, is that you are on stage all day. It’s like a play with a 180-day run and each show is 8 hours long. 

I have definitely enjoyed having my own classes, creating my own activities, and not having to “run things by” someone else. The kids have no idea how old I am and I could not be more pleased about that. Some have guessed over 30 and I have heard a kid in the hallway exclaim to a friend, “Damn, she looks like she’s 2!” The last thing I need are 120 sets of parents (or single parents or grandparents or guardians – inclusive language!) calling the school and creating a stink about the 22 year old in charge of their children’s education.

When I was about 26, I finally started telling my students my age. I wish I hadn’t hidden it ever. I think I should have been proud to be 22 and to command a classroom. It wasn’t my age that made me powerful or weak, it was my me

teacher-appreciation.jpg

I still receive notes like this with some comment along the lines of “She’s nice to us even when we’re rude to her.”

 

I spent 3 weeks addressing a “child” named Gabby using the following phrase for Gabby and friends at the same table, “Gentlemen, please stop talking.” During week 3, Gabby raised Gabby’s hand and politely said, “Um Ms. Doran, I’m girl.” I, trying to play it off, replied, “What’s your point?” In any event, I certainly learned my own lesson about checking the class lists for gender before making any assumptions.

It’s probably best I work in an all-girls’ school now because the event above was not the last time this happened. Maybe 2 years later and about a month into that school year, I had a kid with a gender-neutral name and long, shiny locks. During roll I said, “Welp! K, she’s here,” to which K replied, “Uhhh Ms. Doran, I’m a boy.” Oopsies.

Yesterday, I decided that if I ever own a textbook company for middle schools, I will not include a page 69. My books will go from page 68 to page 70.  It is far too emotionally distressing to have 7th graders giggle over the direction, “Do page 69.”

Giggling about page 69 is nothing compared to the things I’ve heard over the past 7+ years. Check out the artwork I found on the inside cover of a book a few years ago.

Book Art

Maybe an anatomy lesson was in order.

 

Additionally, the new “word” to say is petty (it used to be ignorant). Apparently petty covers: mean, stupid, annoying, rude, dumb, lame, boring, and a slew of other negative adjectives. I am thinking of including it in their next vocabulary list to have them see what petty actually means…there’s a good chance they will describe this action as…petty.

See my previous post for updated teen slang. (Kids do still say petty–okay, Deb?)

I had my first observation this afternoon and it went very well. I know that I have a long journey ahead of me but, honestly, I am excited. I love having goals. I love interacting with humans (even if they are 12). I love being in a position that at least feels like it matters. I can’t say that there will be a week anytime soon in which I won’t have at least one solid sob session. And I certainly can’t guarantee that my 120 kids will all pass the Reading MSA but every single day and every single 45 minute block is an opportunity to eek these young minds forward.

Each subsequent observation sent me into a complete tizzy. During my second year teaching, I taught a lesson for an observation and walked in the principal’s office for the post-ob and immediately burst into tears. And the lesson had gone well. That emotional release was too much. Up until 3 months ago when I had my most recent observation, I still struggled with anxiety.

Please forgive me for being busier than usual, as Ms. Doran, I’ve certainly developed some severe OCD. Thanks for listening!

 

MONTH 2

Ciao!

Since I decided to publicly reflect on Month 1 of teaching, I figured why not steal away your attention for a few addition paragraphs at my 2 month anniversary? This might technically be cheating since I missed over a week of school for the Baltimore blizzards (and February is so short) but…being off for snow is just a part (a perk) of being a teacher! In those 12 days…I worked 3 days (EACH 2 hours late) and made normal 2-week pay. Don’t you just love paying taxes to employ people like me?

I will never forget the blizzard of 2010: Snowpacalypse. I remember being snowed in with my parents. I was such a newbie, I didn’t know how to best use a blizzard. By the blizzard of 2016, I was ready. I spent the first three days writing two weeks of lesson plans. I spent the subsequent two grading every single paper I had. Then, I spent much of the rest of the time ordering things on Amazon to use in my classroom: plastic ice cubes on which to write de-stressing strategies, fly swatters for vocabulary games, and a beach ball to use as a reading debrief. Aside from all of that, there was beer. In a year with no snow, things are so much less choppy and unsure. But, there’s no feeling like waking up on a March morning to glittery white on cherry blossoms and an unexpected day off. 

cherry blossom with snow

I wish I could tell you that the crying has stopped. I wish I could tell you that my students are angels. I really wish I could tell you that it’s so much easier now. Alas…and I don’t think I need to say more than, “alas.” But truthfully, somedays I do think these things are true. Today for example was utterly adorable and it made me feel good about my kids, and consequently, myself. We did a quick theatre lesson to prepare for the MSA (the only thing that seems to matter to anyone these days). My most learning-disabled, easily distracted, self-isolating, and at times, completely shunned child was welcomed by his class and felt good about himself. He took care of the stage directions in the Alfred Hitchcock play, “Sorry Wrong Number” which entails a series of onomatopoeia phone noises. It was AWESOME and for once, the kids were laughing with him instead of at him. GLORY! It’s so amazing to see a child that’s typically dark and dreary switch to bright and cheery (Did I mention we’re in a poetry unit?). I literally (and I probably shouldn’t admit this) nearly peed myself standing in front of 20-some 12 year olds and only partially because before I assigned him his role he was singing the “Cha Cha Slide.”
I remember this victory so vividly. It still warms my heart and makes me want to teach “Sorry Wrong Number” again. I can still recall his face and stature. I wonder how he’s doing. I wish I had a way to look up former students and just check in. I love when I bump into them. 
Back to the MSA…I am basically REQUIRED to say that acronym in every single class period. If I marry a man whose last name begins with “A,” I will do everything in my power to not name our child “Michael Steven” or “Megan Sarah.” The letters MSA haunt me in my sleep! I know most people have work dreams, it’s not abnormal. Mine include worries that kids “won’t meet the objectives” or will be confused by a worksheet I made…and in my dreaming head, these things will end the world! I guess they’re nightmares really. 
Now, we use the PARCC. I have learned that these tests come and go. What seems like it is the most important assessment ever will be old news and no better than used toilet paper in a few short years. As for above, I would never name a child after one of these putrid lifeless tests. In addition, there are many, many names that are off limits for my future offspring because of kids I’ve taught.
The steam-roll of education continues. And the stress probably isn’t worth it. What is worth it? Notes like the one below (and the accompanying brownie). The other day I ran into a male student from a few years ago and I couldn’t remember his name. I think I taught him twice. But then when I realized that I’ve taught over 1000 kids, I feel slightly better. I was able to tell him, “I remember that you were always a really sweet kid. Stay kind.” I think it’s more important to have that memory. 
Hallie Note

I remember her and her handwriting so vividly. There are so many kids I miss, even if I hardly ever think of them.

I’ve easily talked to 20 parents of children this week alone. This action yields one of the following reactions:
1. No change. 
2. Child sits in class, suddenly raises hand, and stops talking to neighbor. (Alleluia!) 
3. Child becomes radical schizophrenic, mumbling to self phrases such as, “I hate Ms. Doran,” “She’s such a bitch,” or, “Why doesn’t she ever shut up?”
Sadly, #3 is typically reality. 
The above is still true. It is so much more effective to work with a child directly. And I’ve finally learned how to do that. 
A few quick tallies from the month then I’ll leave you alone:
Tear sessions to 7th graders’ guidance counselor: 5
Planning periods wasted entirely by crying alone in office: 3
Documents already submitted the Baltimore County Public School System that they have “misplaced”: 6 (most impressive stat)
Number of days my entire homeroom has been on time (promised donuts when a total of 5 is reached): 2 
Current F-students out of 135: 40
Current F-students who care: 3
Reasons I actually think I am supposed to be a teacher, at least for now: 823748923
I hate that I called them F-students. Ick. I don’t do that anymore. It is funny that I thought it was impressive that BCPS had lost 6 documents–that’s nothing. I know any teacher reading this is laughing right now. 
Until next month…Keep encouraging me because I need it badly at least 3 of 5 days. Love to all!
On top of all of the emotional ripple effects, are the intellectual ripple effects. I now have fascinations with:
  • Maryland’s communities of enslaved people (Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass)
  • Japanese internment camps (Farewell to Manzanar)
  • The French Revolution (A Tale of Two Cities)
  • The Dust Bowl (Out of the Dust)
  • The Battle of Gettysburg (Killer Angels)
  • The Holocaust (at least 5 books)
  • Conspiracy theories (Chasing Lincoln’s Killer)
  • Falcons (Frightful’s Mountain)
  • Rock-climbing mountain goats (YouTube this–you won’t regret it.)
  • Migrant workers (Esperanza Rising)
  • Dialects in English and in other languages, also urban gardens (Seedfolks)
  • This list could go on for a while. Being a teacher and pretending to love a topic, really makes you love a topic (Except for Dracula, I hated reading it, teaching it, and watching bits of the movie to try to show in class.)
classroom with Ben Carson

I found this perfectly arranged August classroom photo. What I would NEVER do again is hang a photo of Ben Carson in any educational setting outside of a medical campus. I had to teach Gifted Hands for three years. Ugh.

Manzanar

I flipped out when I came across this  monument in D.C. after teaching Farewell to Manzanar. 

 

It’s hard to picture my life, as a non-teacher. I think I will always force myself into teaching-like roles and maybe find my way back totally some day. I am sure on that final day during that final writing prompt and when I dismiss my class for the final time, I will cry. But probably no more than I did from that slap bracelet.

 

6 thoughts on “Then and Now

  1. Sweet memories and certainly ones upon which to build. And I would certainly say, you are ‘ building ‘ quite nicely.
    Love,
    AC

    Like

  2. Loved reading this, Amanda! So THIS is how to comment. Hehe. Though I could never be an official teacher, I know some of your struggles because I am CONSTANTLY teaching. Adults are another whole annoying, resistant, I-know -more-than-you ballgame. BUT no parents!! I’m sure that your pupils benefitted richly from your labors and talents and that they will be grateful as years go by. Sounds like you reaped some benefits as well.

    Like

  3. Though I do not always comment, I do enjoy reading your posts. I like the structure of this post and the insights from a first year teacher compared to a slightly more seasoned teacher looking back. Seems like the only way to last in teaching is to not care or work harder than the kids do….but if you subscribe to that line of thinking what kind of educational experience and inspiration are you giving to your students? In the end, I don’t think the content knowledge is as important as the lessons we teach middle school students about being nice, having empathy, being respectful, and having passion for things that motivate us. In that regard, I do not think any of your students could have asked for a better “teacher”. Best of luck in your new endeavor.

    Like

  4. So honored to have worked with you. Truly one of the best I have every work with. Very happy that you will continue to touch the lives of children.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s