12 March 2014

eighth grade!

at the middle school where i work, we have just one eighth grade class. when the school started last year, the plan was to open with just sixth grade classes, and add a grade of students each year. but the parents that had earnestly petitioned our school leaders to start a charter middle school in the community of east san jose had children entering seventh grade that were struggling and falling behind in district schools. so one self-contained seventh grade class of thirty-eight students was formed, and that same group of kids now makes up one self-contained eighth grade class.

and that eighth grade class's teacher is having a baby in the next few weeks.

and on monday morning, march 24, i will be an eighth grade teacher.

i am incredibly overwhelmed by this job transition and new mammoth responsibility. i have spent the past month arranging for all of the work that i have done and developed as a learning coach and blended learning specialist at my school to be done by others or abandoned for the time being. it has been a remarkably stressful time as i've scrambled to both hand off those tasks and programs and to immerse myself in the eighth grade classroom. i've felt sad to leave my past work behind, very inadequate in confronting the challenge of thirty-eight students (who are certainly not angels) and all subjects (remember polynomials? and covalent bonds? and the technicalities of verb tenses? me either), and just convinced that my brain cannot process another element of classroom management (grading, parents, detention, field trips, planning, state standards, student performance data, homework systems...). it's just a lot.



last week i had a trial run teaching english with my thirty-eight eighth graders, who are currently studying shakespeare's as you like it. it just so happened that they were on act II, scene i that day, wherein the character duke senior, quite the brilliant optimist, gives this little speech:

and churlish chiding of the winter’s wind,
which, when it bites and blows upon my body,
even till I shrink with cold, i smile and say
‘this is no flattery: these are counsellors
that feelingly persuade me what i am.’
sweet are the uses of adversity,
which like the toad, ugly and venomous,
wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
and this our life exempt from public haunt,
finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
sermons in stones, and good in every thing.
i would not change it.

as we broke down shakepeare's words together, and students argued that this passage suggests that challenges make us stronger and difficulties have hidden benefits and hardship can be precious and beautiful (their words, not mine), everything aligned and my heart just sang. and later when i taught them math and history and advisory (we have an awesome social-emotional learning curriculum at our school), i felt exhilarated.

i am empowered to rise to the occasion and relish this new adventure. it is going to be really, really hard and probably completely consume my life for the next three months. but - sweet are the uses of adversity; the churlish wind will be my counsellor.

and i love those non-angelic thirty-eight eighth graders.


{two of these students are my eighth graders, and this video just came out today! - it totally makes me choke up. see more here.}

6 comments :

  1. You will be a fabulous teacher. Those kids are so lucky to have you. Good luck in this next adventure!

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  2. Exciting! Teaching is one of the hardest jobs as well as one of the most rewarding. Good luck! You are going to be great!

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  3. Oh man I LOVED the video. What darling kids! I'm sure they chose the cream of the crop to make it and there may just be a few problems but WOW! This is going to be a fabulous opportunity to use your extraordinary gifts to raise these kids to a new level!

    You are perfect for the job! Hard IS good!

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  4. Is is the great north wind that made the vikings.

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  5. Hi Charity,
    It's Sunday, March 23rd here in the UK. I just wanted to wish you the best of luck for your new job.

    I know you'll be a brill teacher & the pupils/students will love you.

    Have a great week:)

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  6. Random comment from a total stranger (but former bunk-mate with Sarah McConkie in London, so there's that wonderful connection): I am a (currently "retired") middle school teacher myself and my first year was very similar to what you are describing as I had five totally separate classes to prepare for every day, and I am in a similar demographic (Alameda, at the time--which is right next to Oakland). This job will be very, very hard and just know that that doesn't mean that you are any short of amazing at what you do and what you are providing for these students. I felt like I was a step away from insane 90% of that first year--the stress will do crazy things to your body, mind, and spirit. I personally gained 10 + lbs, from sheer stress alone and almost committed myself to an insane asylum multiple times. But it will be worlds better the year after that. Teaching is exhausting in ways no one understands unless they do it. And teaching in the way you are, and to the students you teach (however lovely many of them may be) is over-the-top challenging even for the best of them. "Keep on swimming" and forgive yourself for hating this job on the days you do (might be most of the time) and keep sight that the most important thing these students can take away from you is not your amazing lesson plans, but is your love for them. (Also, I must add that teaching is acting--you pretend you aren't mad when you're irate, you pretend you're confident when you're anything but, you pretend you're upset and stern when you want to laugh, you pretend those kids with full back tattoos don't intimidate you when they do, etc.) I know you don't need any advice, but in case you face the I-think-I-might-die-this-job-is-so-hard periods, just know that you are not alone and be OK with those feelings and keep the eye on the prize, which is staying sane and loving those kids who need it desperately. At the end of the day, nothing else matters. Oh, and if you need lesson plans email me!

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