#Teach2Teach Question 3: Most Troubling Teaching Experience

While I am generally satisfied with my college experience and the preparation I received prior to entering the classroom, one of the things that could have been better was if we had enough opportunity to maximize our contact with teachers currently in the field. Lately, I’ve been sort of quietly following along with and enjoying the #teach2teach series; it’s a great chance for pre-service teachers to interact with those already in the profession and at all points in their careers – from newbies to veterans.

So far my participation has been pretty much limited to just reading and nodding along with what my colleagues have been adding to the discussion. I felt compelled to respond to this particular question in part because of the other thing that disappointed me about my college preparation experience – and that was in how everyone seemed to perpetuate the good teacher myth. I know you’ve all heard it…

If you’re a good teacher, you won’t have any classroom management issues. If you’re a good teacher, you will have 100% student engagement, every day. If you’re a good teacher, all of the students will always love you and want to keep taking your classes. If you’re a good teacher, you will be able to motivate every student to always do his or her best work…and so on.

My Most Troubling Teaching Experience

I spent a lot of my first year teaching being extremely concerned about being a good teacher and, consequently, also spent much of that first year feeling like a failure anytime a lesson went wrong, a behavior issue got out of hand, or a student didn’t do well on an assessment I had meticulously prepared them for.

I started at my current building in the middle of the school year. It was February, and the second semester had just begun. I had learned of the position at this school in October, barely a month into my student teaching experience – the French teacher that had been hired to replace the teacher who had retired after 30 years, had simply failed to show up on the first day of school with absolutely no prior notification. The district was having trouble finding a teacher that was a.) up to their standards and b.) willing to accept first-year teacher pay and so they contacted my student teaching coordinator, who in turn came to talk to me about it during one of my observations. At the end of October, the principal and two Spanish teachers came to observe and interview me, and in early November I learned I had gotten the job. Because I had to wait until mid-December to graduate, and I had already committed to acting as a long-term sub for my mentor teacher who was on maternity leave until the end of January, I could not begin the new position until very early February.

During this time, I had tried repeatedly to contact my future principal and department chair to find out a little more about the program – who were the students? What had they studied so far? What textbook were they using? What levels of French would I even be teaching? The answers to all of those questions were the same – we’ll talk about it when you get here!

And so, I walked into the first day of my job with not so much as a class list to my name. The students had been through three long-term subs before I got there and had effectively given up – each class had only made it to chapter two of the textbook. In February. They didn’t trust me as far as they could throw me and had gotten quite used to having French as a personal study hall or social hour; nobody really cared what I had to say at all and classroom management was a disaster. Every single lesson went over like a led zeppelin. I had one particular class of French 3s that was such a nightmare that one day I broke down in tears in the hallway before class and a colleague from the English department came and taught my class for me on her prep hour. Oh, and did I mention that about two weeks after I started, scheduling cards for the following year went out?

When I voiced my concerns and worries to a colleague, she went to the administration to see if maybe I could get a little more support and the response was overwhelmingly negative.

Well, what does she want? Would she rather be teaching in an inner-city school?If the kids love her, they’ll keep taking French.

When I referred a student to the office for discipline, after he froze an image of his middle finger on my projector, the assistant principal came to my classroom and said, “He just really feels like you’re picking on him.

When I was evaluated for the first time, my principal said she had to take points off of my evaluation score because my classroom was cluttered with mess that was left behind by the previous teachers.

Needless to say, I was not feeling like a “good” teacher in the slightest. I dreaded coming to work every day. The kids were not learning any French, and didn’t want to – or the ones that did were swallowed up in a sea of classroom management problems. It was literally the semester from hell.

Ultimately, no amount of college preparation or “good teaching” could have saved that year. There was simply no way that I could overcome the context of being the fourth teacher in a single school year. I did what I could with what I had, and you know what – I survived. The kids survived. And getting them (and myself!) just to survive that year did not make me a bad teacher, despite what I spent that year telling myself.

And wouldn’t you know it, but I did have some kids continue on to the next year of French. And the next year after that. Right now, I have about 10 kids left from that terrible semester – and they are my little crown jewels. Even some of those most difficult students still come by my room to say hello and keep me up-to-date with what’s currently going on in their lives, though they’ve long since moved on from French, and I love talking to them and knowing that in spite of everything, we still did manage to forge a relationship.

So all of you out there, dutifully reading these (sometimes long-winded!) #teach2teach posts – don’t worry so much about whether or not you’re a good teacher…because sometimes good teaching doesn’t look anything like you thought it would.

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