Saturday, October 21, 2017

My Teaching Story - #SundayFunday

This week's #SundayFunday prompt is to tell your teaching story.  I'm in my fourth year of teaching middle school math.  I started because I love math.  I continue because I couldn't imagine my life without these kids.  In just the first month and a half of school this year, twelve of my former students have already managed to sneak back into the middle school to say hi and tell me about high school and their lives.  And I am filled with such joy and gratitude that they are a part of my life.  But I didn't always think it would be this way.

I never expected that I would be a teacher.  I was (and I guess I still am) painfully shy and soft-spoken.  I've always been a behind-the-scenes kind of person.  But I've also always loved math and sharing my love of math seemed to make interacting with other people easier for me.

In college I studied Math Education and Spanish.  I tutored for the Athletic Department and volunteered in local schools.  I went through a five-year program to get my Master's in Secondary Mathematics Education.  I spent my fifth year completing a year-long student teaching internship at an inner-city middle school - a completely different setting from the small town school where I grew up.  At the end of the internship, I still wasn't sure if I wanted to teach.  I knew that I liked working with kids, but I didn't know if being a regular classroom teacher was the best fit for me.

I didn't send out any applications until July of that summer.  The only classroom teacher position I applied for was in the same district where I did my student teaching.  I applied for paraprofessional positions in other districts and an AmeriCorps position at an inner-city high school in a neighboring state.

I interviewed for the AmeriCorps position first.  The position was basically for an in-school math tutor at the high school level.  I would be working with small groups (2 or 3 students each period) to do re-teaching and pre-teaching.  More than 50% of the students at the school were Hispanic, which meant I would also get to use my Spanish.  I was very excited about the position - a feeling I had not had when I thought about having my own classroom.  Being a certified teacher in another state, I was more than qualified for the position and at the end of my interview I was offered the job on the spot.  I had until the end of the week to decide.

Three days later, I had my only interview for a regular classroom teacher position.  It was at a different middle school in the district where I student taught.  I sent in my application so late that they actually had to pull the interview team together again a week after they had held all other interviews for that position.  An hour after my interview, the principal called to offer me the job of the math teacher on a 7th/8th grade split team.  By then, I had one day to make my decision.

I went back and forth so many times.  I wanted to take the AmeriCorps position because it was high school.  It was small groups.  I would get to use my Spanish.  It felt more comfortable to me.  On the other hand, was I going to be able to figure out if I really wanted to teach by taking a job as a math tutor?  The regular classroom teacher job was going to challenge me more.  I would be working at the middle school with the greatest percentage of students eligible for free/reduced lunch in the entire state.  I would have classes of 25 or 30 students.  I would be working with a team, but I'd be on my own in the classroom.

Both jobs were one-year positions.  Ultimately, I was going to be in the same position the next summer with regard to finding a job, and I decided that taking the regular classroom teaching job was going to be the best move for deciding if teaching was really for me.  I knew I would do my best for those students for that one year, and after that, I had an out if I determined that regular classroom teaching wasn't for me.

That first year was tough.  We were a brand new team at our school, a team formed to alleviate large class sizes in the seventh and eighth grades.  Our team consisted of two first-year teachers and two veteran teachers who hadn't been part of a team in a long time.  On top of that, one of the sixth grade teachers told me that my incoming seventh graders had been her worst year of teaching in 19 years!  Man, do I have stories about that first year!

Like the time I had to call the office to say that there was a student sitting on the roof of the school outside my window.

Or the time one of my students told me that he wears multiple pairs of socks as a cushion because his father makes him stand in the corner for hours at home.

Or the first time there was a fight in my room.

And the time I stepped in between two boys about to get into a fight, and then realized that they were both much bigger than me and I'd better hope they just take a step back and not start swinging.

Despite all the discipline issues and stories of horrible home lives, I have really great memories of that first year as well.

Like the time we were practicing finding measures of central tendency and one of my students refused to do any work at all until I told him to look up the prices of five of his favorite pairs of Jordan's and use that data for his calculations.  He was done in less than ten minutes!

Or the time when the principal told me that one of our most difficult students said that I was his favorite teacher.  When he was in school, he usually spent his lunch in my room and would come talk to me during my prep period when he was having a problem.

Or the times when another challenging student who rarely lasted a full period in my class due to such serious behavior issues would come to my room after school to talk with me and get his homework done.

Or all the times when my student and I shared a laugh about how we were wearing the same sweater on the same day again!

Or the laugh I got when a parent emailed me, saying, "Apparently my son thinks he's a duck!"

And that was just the first year!  I knew I wanted to teach.  The connections I made with my students were so important and inspiring.  It must have been meant to be, because my one-year position was extended to a permanent position at the end of that year.  The following year, we followed the bubble of seventh graders up to eighth grade and looped with many of our students - an experience I absolutely loved and for which I am so grateful.  I also taught a Functional Math class that year which provided a whole new set of challenges.  Since then I have switched teams, but still teach eighth grade and that Functional Math class.  I spend my summers teaching Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2 to satisfy that itch to teach at the high school level.  Maybe one day I'll move up, but for now I'm really loving my eighth graders!

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