While I’m still not broken, I came pretty close today. During this “teacher boot camp” (my nickname for Institute), we are being pushed to our limits physically, emotionally and mentally.
Physically – the amount of work we have to do everyday is devastating. I work as hard as I can each day, allowing myself 25 minutes for a (sometimes) working dinner and yet I still can rarely get to bed before 11:30. The fact that I don’t function well on less than 7 hours of sleep and the fact that my alarm clock has to go off at 5:35 are taking their physical toll on me.
Emotionally – As soon as the students left the room yesterday, I laid down on their reading rug and pounded the floor in frustration. While I was venting another lady in the room was crying. One of our mentor teachers, who observes us and gives us great advice, just kept telling us “teaching is hard, hard work.”
My emotional outburst was due to the fact that EVERYTHING I tried that day, from my writing lesson plan, to the reading assessment to the individualized instruction I was giving to a student years behind grade level – COMPLETELY failed. Even though we only have 35 minutes for our reading lesson, I had to ‘reset’ the lesson TWICE, while having to exert my will to regain disciplinary control of the classroom each time (students act out when they’re confused). After leaving my classroom and walking to a instructional session, I asked my fellow 4th grade teachers if they could smell anything. “Those are Mr. Miller’s ashes,” I told them.
Mentally – We are learning by on-the-job immersion. We’re learning both a foreign language (teaching terms and philosophies) and foreign skills. There is precious little time to decompress and reflect. After my lesson plan blew up yesterday, I had to rush out of the classroom to be sitting ready to go for a session on phonics instruction. We push ourselves to the limit only to have to mentally turn on a dime to try to engage instruction on yet another teacher skill set to which we’re just being introduced. Those new skill sets are piled on top of the ones we learned the day before and we’re expected to start implementing them the next day. While I’m only retaining about 10% of what the content I’m engaging with (and our sessions are pretty much hands-on) my hunch is that TFA assumes their Corps Members are smart enough that when they’re re-exposed to a teaching strategy later in the year, they will recall that initial instruction so as to begin implementing it in their full-time classroom. It’s mentally exhausting, though.
So after hurriedly tidying up the classroom during the five minutes I had between a lesson planning clinic and getting on the bus (which leaves promptly at 4:35, meaning those who miss it have to pay $65 for a cab ride back to Loyola Marymount) I squeezed into my bus seat in a very bad frame of mind. There was too much emotional and mental overload going on. I vented to my wife for awhile, graded some papers during a vegetable dinner (the food is making some of us sick) then headed to the resource room to get help on math methods from some master teachers. But someone in the middle of my 6:30-11:30 working session, I started to get back into a good frame of mind. Maybe it was from the guitar chords of Green Day pumping through my ipod as I entered info from a writing assessment into our class tracker. But sometime during that time, my brokenness was melded back into a determined spirit.
I will NOT be broken. I WILL push through. I WILL do my best to grow as a teacher since, “good teachers are made, not born”. And I WILL help overturn the systematic oppression of our nation as manifested through our inequitable public school system.