Where Am I Headed?

I’m about to end my fifth year of teaching.

When I started teaching I was told that the first year would be the hardest and it would take three years to start getting a handle on the job and after five years I would be hitting my stride in the classroom.

It hasn’t quite worked out that way for me.

For sure, my first year was the hardest. The principal at that pre-K to fifth grade school changed my job four times in that year. I have a background in journalism and other forms of writing and was hired to be a push-in writing teacher for one 4th grade and one 5th grade self-contained special education class. That was the third job I got to do that year and for only three months at that. I started as a 4th grade SPED classroom teacher, switched to fifth grade under very difficult circumstances at Columbus Day and stayed in that position until Thanksgiving when I finally started to do the job I was hired to do.

In March I took over a fifth grade class of emotionally disabled students. In my first day in that class the one girl took off her clothes and said she had been sexually molested in the room’s closet by one of the male students in the class. The room did not have a closet and the accuse boy was nearly catatonic. June couldn’t come fast enough and it was only through the support of colleagues and a magnificent mentor (thank you again Oksana Kulynych) who got me involved in the region’s Teaching American History program.

My colleagues in that school were very surprised to see me return in September. I did and was now a push-in math teacher in a fifth grade MR class and the push-in science teacher in a second grade. I managed to stay in those positions all year, somehow incurring the wrath of my principal along the way. At the end of that year I changed schools, as did about 75% of the other teachers there.

I became a sixth grade common branch special education classroom teacher at a middle school. I got hired a week before school started and had to learn the curriculum for ELA, social studies and math very quickly. The next year, my fourth I had the same job. In that year I finally was able to stay with a curriculum long enough to begin to feel comfortable with it. At the end of the year I felt like I was finally starting to be a good teacher.

All this time I was almost continually being trained to be an American history teacher. I participated in every available opportunity to learn more about the subject and how to teach it, but it seemed that the more training I got the further away from actually teaching American history I got.

This year, my fifth, my job changed again. I spent this year as a full-time Read 180 teacher. About three weeks ago my principal told me that because of shifts in the school’s population I would not have a full program of Read 180 and would have to teach something else. Science or social studies, did I have a preference? I said I could do either as long as I could do them the way I was trained, that being hands-on and multisensory. He said absolutely and it would probably be 7th and 8th grade social studies. That means American history. I was thrilled.

Today I got my program for next year.

I’ve got some Read 180 and social studies, but its 6th and 7th grade, not 7th and 8th.

Sixth grade social studies is an orphan, disconnected from what comes before and what follows. In 4th grade students study New York history and in fifth the students learn about Native Americans, the European explorers and the start of European settlement. Sixth grade starts with geography and moves on to ancient Egypt and Rome, followed by modern Asia – usually Japan or China –before winding up with a usually rushed look at Africa. In 7th grade they study American history from Jamestown until the Civil War.

Not only do I get to teach three totally unrelated curricula, I don’t even get my own classroom in which to do it. I will have a tiny Read 180 room totally inadequate for the demands of the program, and I will share a classroom with an ELA teacher.

I am not happy about what looks like it will be a difficult year. More than that, I’m unhappy that in my sixth year of teaching I will have my 11th different curriculum to learn, move classrooms for the ninth time, and still not feel like I’m becoming a better teacher.

I am happy that my principal thinks highly of me but I wish he didn’t think I could do anything. I don’t want to spend the rest of my career plugging holes. I want to learn one curriculum deeply instead of a dozen across their surfaces. I want to work with colleagues teaching the same subject in the same grade instead of not being able to attend the meetings because I’m the one with the oddly patched together schedule. As much as I treasure my PLN on twitter I’d also like to have one in my school.

I hadn’t planned on job-hunting this year, but I think I need to start.

Damn it.

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3 Responses to Where Am I Headed?

  1. Steve Brown says:

    Hi Deven,

    For us “non-educators” who read your blog regularly, may I ask for a couple of definitions?

    Please define the following:
    “push in”
    “MR class”
    “common branch”
    “Read 180″

    Thanks,
    Steve

  2. Deven Black says:

    Thank you for pointing out my parochialism. I’m happy to explain:

    push-in; to enter a class in order to remain and serve a specific purpose. (The speech teacher pushed-in and helped Johnny with his oral presentation).

    MR class; a class comprised of students who have been diagnosed as having some form of mental retardation, as opposed to an LD (learning disabled), ED (emotionally disabled) or SLD (speech & language disabled), etc. class.

    Common Branch; in secondary schools students have a different teacher for each branch (discipline), but in elementary schools one teacher instructs students in math, science, language arts, social studies and, sometimes, more. Thus, common branch.

    Read 180 is a remedial reading program published by Scholastic Inc. ( http://is.gd/10NeH )that consists of whole class and small group instruction, computer-based multi-media instruction and assessment, and independent reading.

    I hope these definitions clarify things for you and I’ll try to be more mindful of all reader needs in the future.

  3. I feel your pain on this one. I’m a music teacher and in my 13 years of teaching in my district I’ve taught a different configuration of classes almost every year. But the difference for me is that I’ve had k-3 music every year. So I have gotten to know that curriculum quite well.

    Here’s a perk for you though if you do decide to go job hunting: You now have a better idea of what you’d really like to teach because you done so many different things in your current school. Hopefully you’ve also started thinking about who you will ask at your job interviews if the position you are looking at is stable. Or maybe you need to ask if a teacher moves from teaching one class to another how is that handled? Do they apply for the job change? Does the admin just move you and you go?

    It never pays to be frustrated all the time. I hope you find some peace on this issue.

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