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
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.
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.
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!
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.
- 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.)
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.