Saturday, April 5, 2014

March Madness

March Madness is not just a catchy alliterative name for the NCAA basketball championship season. It’s a real thing  that teachers (everywhere?) are experiencing. This eight week stretch from February vacation til can’t-get-here-soon-enough April vacation has been trying for everyone, and as a new teacher, all of these ups and downs are especially arduous.

Last year, as a student teacher, I left my high school placement and started my middle school placement halfway through this stretch. I was feeling confident after a successful run at the high school and looking forward to the new connections I’d make with my 8th graders. When I arrived at the middle school I barely knew the students and wasn’t always privy to all of details of the issues the team faced. The “madness” I experienced was learning 100 new names, planning a fun six word  memoir lesson, and finishing up my work sample.

This year, it’s not so pretty. It’s been over 100 days with my darlings - and over 100 days of them with each other. Do I need a break to catch my breath and renew my spirit? Yes. But I think they need it more.

The incidents of bullying in the classroom, in the hallway, in the cafeteria, and online have shocked me. I don’t want to believe that my students are involved in this vortex of name-calling, threats, and physical violence. It is disheartening to hear the stories of events at home and not knowing the best way to proceed other than informing the other professionals at school and making a plan. I worry so much about the choices the students make when they think no one is looking or that no one cares. I worry so much about the circumstances the students are involved in where they have no power or opportunity to change the situation.

We at schools do the best that we can with the resources that we have, but, undoubtedly, things - and people - fall through the cracks. When I spend so much time working so closely on a behavior plan with one student, I spend less time ensuring that the needs of the other students are met. How do I balance this in order to be the teacher that each of my students’ needs?

Well, one of the perks of teaching in a middle school, is that there is a team of teachers consistently interacting with the students and also consistently meeting to discuss those students. I am lucky to have common planning time every other day. Also, once a week, that time is strictly devoted to RTI where we identify the students in need of further intervention, create a plan to address those needs, design a way to collect data, and then analyze that data together to determine adjustments.  Now, we are starting to see some of those benefits of that hard work for those selected students - which feels very rewarding.

And these little successes are what I will be trying to keep in mind over these next nine days. It’s way too easy to get overwhelmed by March Madness and drown in all of the work that hasn’t been done. I will remind myself that I am also only one person. My job is not to fix students - it’s to create opportunities for them to learn and become better versions of themselves. Even if the situation at home is less than ideal, if I create a safe environment in my classroom with clear expectations and positive interactions, then I am  doing what’s best for all kids.