An anonymous story as told to Andrea Eads
I knew I liked biology and could enjoy doing anything with it. It was later that I realized that I loved sharing about it with kids. On the hard days, I think I could be working in a lab . . . by myself . . . with quiet specimens . . . without all the stresses.
I worked in the nature center at Calvin College, where I did my undergrad. I gave tours– usually to younger kids– but one time to a 5th grade class. I thought, that was so fun– sharing with them, exploring with them, answering their questions, teaching them.
So when I needed a job, I tried working at the Boys and Girls Club doing STEM activities. Then I decided to apply to be a Woodrow Wilson fellow at Ball State. It meant a one-year intensive program to get my teaching licence, and a three year commitment to teach in a high-need school. After a summer of concentrated classes, I was paired up with a teacher at a local middle school to teach 7th and 8th grade science.
I like that age. High schoolers can think they are too cool, young elementary kids can be all over the place crazy, but middle school is my kind of crazy. I like teasing, challenging, bantering with them. The content they need to learn isn’t so advanced, so I can be creative and have fun with them.
Before I even started in the classroom, I got a feeling for what it meant to be a teacher there. I went to lunch with a group of teachers during a teacher inservice training. At the restaurant, a parent started chiding and complaining to the teachers about how Southside was a rebel school, no place for panthers. There was tension. Some students brought the outside pressures and divisions with them. A rebel flag t-shirts, ring, folder. Most times the kids got along, but other times you could just sense a fight coming…someone was going to get punched.
The teachers were holding the school together. The teachers leaned on each other; they had a close connection. The administration seemed fine to me–I felt supported in the classroom–but you didn’t get that same feeling from those who had been there a while. I heard murmurs of feeling abused, unappreciated.
The year started with my mentor teacher teaching, and I assisted. Later, she turned over the reigns, and I taught. I tried to make it fun, explain things several different ways, so that no matter what kids’ learning styles were, they could get it. I didn’t use a lot of powerpoints or lectures. We tried to engage them with experiments and discussions. Sometimes that worked. Like, even if they didn’t care that much about buoyancy now, I hoped they would remember how the submarine we made floated in saltwater and sunk in fresh.
We wanted to make it interesting and be available to answer questions and help on assignments with everyone, but too often we had to give our attention to whoever was acting out, and the quiet student sitting waiting never got their question answered or their work checked. I know that the students need 21st century skills to be self-initiators, to use technology on their own, but many days only 5 out of 30 would have their iPads with them, or they kept getting kicked off the internet because there wasn’t enough broadband to sustain that many devices. Teachers were dealing with their own stresses. Talking about contracts, job searches. It feels hard to stay motivated when morale is down.
I don’t know what to do differently, and I know public schools are important. Important in so many ways. Like, I remember the day I was walking down the hall and saw an occupational therapist showing a blind student how to use a cane. I had never thought of that before. I hadn’t thought about all the services students can find at the school. The Panther Pantry is great! Students, who are dreading an empty refrigerator at home, can bring home a sack of food for the weekend, and students with special needs learn skills and responsibility helping organize and stock the pantry. I watched and wanted to emulate the teacher across the hall from me. The way students lingered after an extracurricular club just to have a relationship and connection with her.
I don’t know if I want to work in a classroom setting for long. Maybe in a state park, or nature center. I love being outside. Besides, it is hard to hear teachers that have taught for years complaining and wanting out, and then to think I want to to do this for my career.
This story originally appeared in Facing Teaching, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.