Thursday, February 16, 2006

Oops - I almost forgot

I have a personal life! A few short months ago I had forgotten that I had a professional life, and now I've gone the other way. I don't know why I go to extremes (insert Billy Joel song track here). The past few weeks have been pretty nuts, and the next few look like more of the same.

I don't know whether to write about the excitement of our personal/adoption life, or the ups and downs of student teaching. At any given moment I feel like I might burst into tears on either account. Yesterday was an amazing test for me and I'm not so sure I passed. It was an afternoon that I will never forget. Enough suspense?

Yesterday afternoon I taught three middle school classes a capella. It was terrible. It was the first time that I totally understood why some people quit student teaching. I am still getting over it, and even today I still tear up thinking about it. I want to teach them music. I didn't sign up to be a babysitter.

Up until now I have received a lot of positive feedback about my positive and encouraging demeanor as a teacher. I feel comfortable in front of a class and I seem like Amy when I watch it on video (it's painful anyway!) I flew solo for the first time on Tuesday afternoon with a 6th grade fine arts class. I was not prepared for this, as I did not remember being informed that I would be in charge of class that day. I felt pretty good about it! Not great, but OK. Later I received a comment from my cooperating teacher that the theater teacher, who was in the room as I taught, said that I was more soft-spoken then than they were, and that I might want to be more whatever. Granted, I am a sensitive person, but that made me feel bad. I am me, not someone else.

I know I need to be firm and consistent. I know I am not the students' friend, that I am their teacher. But I'm sorry, I am not an authoritative, stern person. Teaching that way seems ridiculous for me, because I would be pretending.

But pretend, I did. And it stunk. I had the worst time. I sent a kid to the office, after I would not let him go to the nurse. I gave out warnings, raised my voice, and did not keep my poker face on. The students did not know what hit them! For that part I am glad, because I know they expected me to let them do anything they want. Do they think I'm stupid? Like telling me they like my outfit, or telling other students that they love me is going to cause me to let them get away with terrible, disrispectful classroom behavior?

One student raised her voice to me because she did not want to sit on the front row like the classroom teacher wanted her to, and as we had discussed the previous day. I told her that she needed to follow directions and she threw her purse on the floor! I gave her a stupid warning. How could I not? How inappropriate was that behavior? Another student remained seated when I asked all the students to stand up, then looked at me with this defiant look. She had done the same thing the previous day when I asked her to sit in the front row with every other Part 2 singer in the room. What defiance! Others talked endlessly, but by that time I had already given out three stupid warning slips, one detention, and one freaking trip to the office. Are you kidding me?

So today I keep crying. It's heartwrenching. They have such potential, and so do I. Nobody got to live up to it during Nightmare on 8th (period) Street. I am so frustrated with myself for not commanding the students' respect without being the prison warden. (Tears starting back up again). I like those hateful kids. (I had written "love," but come on, do not let me get carried away here.)

I've just been dying to talk about this with someone, but the last thing I want to hear is an experienced teacher with a no-nonsense, strong personality giving me the "pep-talk" about how I have to be strong, blah blah blah like I don't know that. I know that. I know I'm not their friend, I know I have to be firm, I know I have to start out being more strict than I may end up being after earning the students' respect. I know they are middle schoolers and are supposed to stretch the limits a little bit, that they are learning to think for themselves, that it's not personal, etc., but that just doesn't make it all better right now. I am disappointed in myself and I am disappointed in them.

By the way, 6th grade choir, 6th period was great. I don't even remember if I handed out any wardenings - I mean warnings. I hate those things.

So tomorrow I am back to the Texas Music Educator's Conference in San Antonio. I went down this morning and came back to teach piano lessons. It was so nice not to have to teach today. I don't know how it would have gone after yesterday. I will be ready to go back on Tuesday, but in the meantime it will be nice to have a few days off among other educators who have been through this student/novice teacher thing. It's lovely to see and hear conscientious middle school choirs perform during breaks.

I don't even have time to think about our adoption interviews on Monday!


Ann Thompson said...

Your experiences remind me vividly of my first year teaching. I had a last period general math class that remained semi (sometimes totally) out of control for most of one semester. I wanted to support the students and they walked all over me. I would try different approaches, make resolutions to be more assertive, and agonize over my inability to control the class. Eventually, I learned quite a bit about classroom management from that challenging group of students, but the class remained difficult and frustrating, and on most days, I dreaded facing that last period class. Fortunately, I also had a class similar to your 6th grade choir that helped me build some confidence as a teacher.
Even for experienced teachers, teaching remains an up and down experience. Some days are spectacular and you walk away thinking this is the most fulfilling job in the world. Other days, you feel ineffective and frustrated. With experience, the ups and downs become less exaggerated, but they still exist.
I think that all teachers work to find their teaching identity. I remember one experienced teacher advising me to "not smile until Christmas"----a technique that could never work for me.
After more than 40 years of teaching at different levels, I still have ups and downs---even at the college level. I think that when I stop having frustrations teaching, I will know it is time to retire because I think this suggests that I am no longer trying new ideas and approaches.
So my advice is simple---continue to experiment with different approaches, maintain your own identity and style, and know that it will get easier. Also, many of the things that make teaching so challenging (controlling classes, relating to individual needs of children, designing effective approaches) are the same things that make teaching rewarding and continually interesting.

Christine said...

I have a WONDERFUL friend that you should call this weekend and talk to. She takes a total Love & Logic approach in her classroom, she's very understanding (won't make you feel stupid) and she's also a recent adoptive mom of an adorable African American baby girl through Buckner. (OH - she was also a music teacher!)

Email me or call me and I'd be happy to hook you up for some wonderful tips and encouragement!! I think she'll be understanding of your situation, your subject matter AND all that is going on in your personal life.

Thelma said...

Amy, what a day!
I don't have any advice, but I just want to say that I think your mom is amazing... read her comment over again!
Praying for you, sweet friend.


Amy T. S. said...

I know it, Thelma. It's so cool. (Oh, enough with the tears already!) ;o)

Debbie said...

I stumbled across your blog one day when I put a search for "music educators". As I read this entry, I could relate to the frustrations that you are going through. My first attempt at a class by myself when student teaching was less than stellar. And it was 1st grade - not middle school - which is another breed entirely. They literally "ran over me" when I did a moving activity with them. As for the middle school mentality, I still struggle with them. My county has 6th grade in elementary and by this time of the school year, we are all ready to "throw them out!" I have been teaching for 10 years now (after staying home for 14 years with my daughters)but I haven't quite figured out how to handle the middle school persona. Somedays, I think they are the best. My percussion group the other day learned a piece in one class period! Grant it - it was not too difficult. But so what? It was great to have them actually play on the xylophones what I modeled for them. Consistency is not my strong point with them. I want the kids to enjoy coming to my class - not dread it. So hang in there - you will have those days when it feels great to be a teacher! And I almost forgot - look into any Orff training you can find. It has transformed my classes!