One of the Long Days

November 18, 2013 Reflection

Today, like many days, felt like it would never come to an end. Screaming, throwing, running, cursing, hitting, playing, laughing, spitting, yelling, jumping, falling, and crying — all of these verbs happened in Mr. C’s classroom today. Sometimes I have “off days” as a teacher. Sometimes my kids have “off days” as students. And some days, a perfect storm brings these two tragedies together.

On my bedroom wall hangs a makeshift chart showing the 36 weeks of the 2013-2014 school year. This sheet of copy paper brings so much joy to my week. I look forward to shading in another completed week every Friday evening.

OK, I don’t want to sound completely dire. There are joys to my job. Most of these joys don’t happen in the moment, but are observed in the long term. I see my kids progressing, learning, and growing as the year goes on, and this makes me happier than anything I’ve ever experienced in my life. I get to have those teacher moments and think “Yes! I am reaching them!” Nothing feels better than some good ol’ fashion validation. There are good moments day to day as well, like seeing my students conquer a new objective or having an “Aha!” moment during one of our labs. Unfortunately, these moments are often overshadowed by an immediate stream of behavior issues in the classroom: fights, walking, talking, yelling, teasing, or the worst of all: students sitting in their desks and doing absolutely nothing.

After spending a weekend visiting family back in Oregon, I realized how hard it is to convey my experience here to outsiders. A lot of my closest friends back in Oregon have no idea what I’m doing on a daily basis. What do my days look like, you ask? Don’t care, you say? Too bad! My days look something like this…

They begin early, 6:15 on duty weeks and 6:45 on non-duty weeks. I show up to school and immediately begin correcting behavior in the halls, reminding students to tuck in their shirts and get to their first period class. From 7:45-2:50 I am teaching 7th grade science. This includes six 50 minute periods and one conference period, which is usually spent meeting with parents or doing professional development. Moment to moment in the classroom, I am constantly correcting behavior, trying to get students to stay in their seat long enough to get on task. It’s extremely difficult and exhausting to have 120 middle schoolers talk back and disrespect you for 8 hours a day. Short of you being a teacher in a struggling school, it’s hard to convey exactly what it’s like. Often times I feel like the only people who can truly empathize are my coworkers. Especially after we’ve had a few beers on Friday night. When I do open up to friends and family back home, I either feel like I am whining too much or cannot express the emotional and physical exhaustion that happens when you spend days on end hollering at children to sit down.

At the beginning of the school year I met a veteran teacher who gave me his number and offered his friendship. I asked him what his first year teaching was like and he responded: “Imagine dousing yourself in pig’s blood and swimming in a pool of sharks. In a tiny, closed pool with no ladders out and no life jacket.” I think he was being modest.

Some days, such as today, leave me feeling completely defeated on every level. Today I am emotionally, mentally, and physically drained. I think about quitting and moving back to Oregon. Not seriously, but it makes me feel better. I climb in my car and cower home around 5 o’clock every day to call parents, lesson plan, grade papers, and get ready for tomorrow. Whoever said teachers have it easy because they have summers off are… well… full of shit. Most of us at my school are putting in 80 hour weeks. I love my kids, and I know that testing boundaries happens in every classroom in the country, not just mine. That said, the chart on my bedroom wall tells me that I am 33% done with the school year. And that makes me really, really happy.

Teach for America

Stories from the Corps

    Brandon Christensen

    Written by

    My adventures teaching 7th grade science in the Mississippi Delta.

    Teach for America

    Stories from the Corps