This year was the longest shortest year of my life. Sounds paradoxical, but it’s true. In my nearly 10 years as an educator, I haven’t worked this hard at grading student work, developing curricula, keeping a consistent dialogue with families, or even monitoring and following up with students regularly since my first year or two as a teacher.
This year, I was challenged to be better than I’d ever been. I received constructive criticism for the first time since my time in Bridgeport nearly a decade ago. And honestly, I didn’t know how to take it, at first. Not that I couldn’t handle it – I’m my harshest critic – but what did I do with it or rather where did I even start when it came to fixing some of the highlighted issues?
My lowest point came within the first month or two when I broke down at like 5:45 in the morning, lamenting to my wife if I had made the right decision to leave a place where I had established a reputation, had built a foundation.
Even if I was miserable for the past few years there, at least I had the respect of my students.
Was this new situation better? The kids weren’t responding, weren’t listening, weren’t respectful of my position or what I was trying to teach them. I had spent the summer revising my units of study, making them academically rigorous – or at least that’s what I thought I was doing until they fell flat to start the school year out. I was failing, flailing in every direction trying to find something that worked, yet nothing I did seemed to resonate. I could not help but think that maybe all the years I had spent in a cushy private school had made me soft. Maybe I just was not cut out to be an educator in an urban setting anymore.
Leading up to that moment, I actually wasn’t. I needed to adapt in order to survive. The more I thought about what was missing – higher quality work, preparedness for class, and the requisite pride needed to produce one’s best – the more I realized I needed to adjust my instruction and slow down. My students were not where they needed to be academically or in regards to their maturity. That, though, did not mean they would not get there if I developed my lessons in a way that built my students up with them.
Then, it clicked and the feedback I was receiving from both my in-class observations and unit-planning meetings started to make sense. It became clear what I had to do. Stop trying to do so much in each lesson; instead have a clear focus of how the exercises prepare them for the culminating assessment and contribute to the skills you want the students to take away.
That was really the beginning of the work. Except it now had purpose. And I began to see the results in the classroom as the quality of work increased along with student engagement across the board. Kids were excited to come to class to see what we would learn about next – or maybe what crazy musing I would utter next – and I was believing more and more that I had made the right decision to be their teacher.
While I know there is so much more for me to do in the classroom and far more challenges that lay ahead, I am in a good place professionally.
For the first time in a long time.