I’ve Failed, and I’m Almost Glad I Did

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Today was my last as a classroom teacher

My classes are being taken away from me.

My principal has lost confidence in my teaching ability.

So have I.

Oh, I do okay with my high-flying 7th grade class and they were distraught when I told them that I would not be their social studies teacher anymore. There were tears, some of them theirs.

I did not do so okay with my low-level 8th grade class.

I completely failed as their teacher.

I can make all kinds of excuses: there are 35 of them; all their other teachers struggle with them; they were a ‘bad’ class last year and more difficult students were added this year; and more, but the fact is, I did not reach them in any way.

Oh, there are one or two students in the class who I connected with, but not the other 33. My lessons were flat, my class management totally ineffective. A good day was one where the books flying around the classroom was the biggest behavior problem.

I had a double period with them today and they were oddly well behaved. Some of them even worked, but only three had the draft of their exit project written report due today. They did not know it was our last together.

They are not learning and I was getting more and more frustrated.
Tomorrow they will have a different social studies teacher. So will my other classes.

I have long championed the value of failure as part of the learning experience and I already know one of the ways this failure will benefit me (more on that in a moment), but it still does not feel very good to fail and I’d much rather have been a better teacher for those 8th graders and my three other classes.

Then again, had I not failed I would not have the exciting new opportunity presented to me.

Tomorrow I start my new job as the school’s media specialist.

I will be taking over the library and trying to drag it into the latter stages of the 20th Century.

I’d rather drag it into the 21st C. but the budget and some Department of Education regulations won’t allow it.

Even so, the late 20th C. is a big step forward from what we have now.

Now I know nothing about being a librarian.

TL09 View of School Libraries
Image by vanhookc via Flickr

Nothing.

No worries; I’m fortunate to have some of the best school librarians in the country offering to help me out.

Through Twitter I have ‘met’ Shannon Miller from the Van Meter, Iowa schools, DM Cordell, a retired school librarian from upstate NY, Beth Friese from Georgia, Melissa Techman from Virginia, and Susan Myers from South Carolina. I am sure they will get me off on the right track.

What one does as a media specialist is undefined and seems almost unlimited, but I think it will have a lot to do with helping students make connections that will be as important to their learning as those librarians will be to mine.

Today one door slammed shut.

Tomorrow a different one swings open.

I will go through it smiling.

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51 Responses to I’ve Failed, and I’m Almost Glad I Did

  1. Wow, Deven… I had no idea any of this was going on. I’m sad to see you leave the classroom. I know the kind of person you are, and I know you made an impact with those kids.

    Best of luck with the new position! You’re completely right in stating that you have a lot of great support available. Can’t wait to see you in January and talk about this in person.

  2. Linda704 says:

    Wow, Deven! Your insatiable thirst for knowledge will make you a great media specialist! When I left the classroom to become a media center teacher in 1997, I had no formal training, just a love of books and technology–and a great team of fellow media teachers. You can do it! :)

    • Deven Black says:

      Thanks for the encouragement, Linda. You and the other members of my PLN (personal learning network) have tasiught me so much and I’m glad I can continue learning.

  3. RjWassink says:

    Deven:

    Congratulations on the new job. It may not fit so well with your twitter handle, but it certainly sounds like a job that will allow you to make a tremendous difference from the start. I hope to hear all about the building of your program over the next couple of years. You’ve got a secret weapon – all of us in your PLN. Good luck an let me know if there is ever anything I can do.

    “Being mindful of failure will never allow you to totally escape it; to err is human.”

    -Ryan

  4. I am glad you are moving to something you want to do, instead of are being forced to do. It is great you have a PLN that can give advice, imagine what it would be like without them. Good luck, Deven.

    • Deven Black says:

      When I started teaching seven years ago I didn’t have a PLN and now that I know what one is I really wish I had one then. I’ve learned more from you and the others in a year than I learned in grad school and at a tiny fraction of the cost. Thanks!

  5. Harold Shaw says:

    Deven – You will have fun and the people around you will have fun with this change. As I said earlier I am jealous and you know why, but I am so glad you will be having a chance to do something you will love.

    Just think of all the Special Education paperwork you will not have to do anymore! Do well and enjoy.

    Harold

    • Deven Black says:

      Thanks, Harold. You have no idea how much paperwork librarians have to do. All those little cards for the file and labels for the books, ugh! I’d rather write IEPs. At least you have to think when you do it.

      • RjWassink says:

        Card files? Perhaps the first thing to look into is an OPAC system… :) I used to volunteer at a local library and somehow ended up with the task of creating book labels (this was a decade or so ago). Seems like there ought to be an ISBN scanner that would print everything you needed automatically…

      • Deven Black says:

        That is the first thing on my wish list, I’m not sure we have the money for one in the budget. Maybe next year.

      • Deven Black says:

        I need to see my budget, if any, before I can look at anything other than card files.

  6. kelly says:

    thank you for your post. i am sorry to hear about the loss of your classes. class management & student engagement are two tough nuts. very few people other than teachers have jobs that are to force the unwilling to work (learn), and not just work, but work in a positive, receptive manner.

    i wish you the best of luck in your new position, which must be exciting indeed! i hope you keep blogging as well; it will be interesting to hear of your progress! best of luck to you.

    kelly

  7. Hi Deven,
    I salute you for having the guts to re-direct your career to where you really want to go. Too many stay in jobs they hate because it’s too scary to break out and do something new. Your guts told you what to do, and I think you’ll be rewarded in many ways. Well done, and good luck in your new role.

  8. Cathy says:

    I’m so sorry about your struggles in the classroom. You were set up with less than ideal conditions. I hope you have an opportunity in the future to use what you learned in the classroom.

    I spent two years as media specialist with no training and no particular idea what I was doing (and no budget), and definitely no PLN. It was difficult to feel useful. Let’s hear it for PLNs!

    It sounds like you are enthusiastic about working with students in a new way. Best of luck to you!

    Cathy Crea

  9. Lauren says:

    I am SO glad I got to see that high-flying 7th grade class! I’m looking forward to hearing your adventures in media land. Great to see you and have a chance to talk.

  10. Dear Deven,

    Who among us has not been able to reach most of a class – and that’s not even in Special Ed? Raise your hands, please.
    Ah, I thought so – no hands raised.
    You go home at night and spend hours coming up with new techniques, new strategies, new lesson plans. You just KNOW that you can get through to them – but you can’t.
    And then, you often start questioning your abilities: Am I a good enough teacher? Did I do everything I could? How could I have done a better job?
    Only the really great teachers think and feel this way.

    Please don’t EVER think that you failed – you didn’t. I’ve been teaching for thirty-three years now and I know who’s a great teacher and who isn’t. That’s one of the things you pick up along the way.

    You, sir, are a great teacher.

    John Slattery

    • Deven Black says:

      Thanks for the kind words John. That very challenging 8th grade class is a general ed class even though seven or eight of the students have IEPs. I don’t think I failed as a teacher in general, just massively with that one class. I do think that my new position might make better use of my skills than classroom teaching did.

  11. Deven,

    Someone who is so willing to share successes and challenges with colleagues does not meet my definition of failure. Your school is lucky to have someone who is so willing to take on this new challenge and I look forward to your continued sharing! You are an asset to your school and your PLN!

  12. Deven,

    I am sorry this has been such a struggle. Moving from Special Ed to General Ed can and is difficult. Be there, doing that. I too have doubted my skills as a teacher,and I considered quitting. My PLN changed my view of myself and my abilities. Just remember that whenever you reach one kid, you, my friend, are a successful teacher. Personally, you have touched me and added much to my view of education and to my professional skills. You have made me want to improve my skills. In your new position you will have many opportunities to effect teachers.

    As for your new position, I am sure you will do well. Your love of learning will serve you well. If you need anything, just ask.

    • Deven Black says:

      Thank you, Karen. The great thing about a PLN is that we each get help or support when we need it and we each have the opportunity to help others. I just wish all the politicians and business leaders criticizing teachers could see how much we share each day on Twitter and all the time we devote to improving our skills at EdCamps.

  13. Lyn Hilt says:

    Wishing you the very best in your new role. Enjoyed learning with you on Saturday… I’m confident that any student who has the privilege of working with you is the better for it.

  14. Mary Beth Hertz says:

    Deven,

    You are so brave to write this post. In fact, we are, once again on the same wavelength of accepting failure. It’s tough to look deeply at our own practice and be honest with ourselves. I know that we also are harder on ourselves than anyone else can be.

    I am sure that your passion for your profession and your students will make for a successful transition. I look forward to reading about it!

  15. nycrican2 says:

    Wow, did you know this was coming? Sorry to hear it, but I don’t think you failed at all. You weathered the storm pretty well until now. Being a former student in the South Bronx, I know that even regular students there are highly resistive to the process of schooling so I imagine that emotional disturbed students in this environment would probably resist the process to a much higher level.

    Can’t really blame the students too much, how can they want to concentrate on learning when many probably have chaotic home lives with little stability, they may be worried about getting home safely, they may have adults in their lives that physically and/or mentally abuse them or whom are constantly strung out on drugs/alcohol or perhaps some of their parents or siblings may currently be in prison.

    Some of these students might have also been crack babies and sadly most cannot read yet regardless of grade level. This lack of reading ability has nothing to do with the quality of instruction that have they received, but is most likely due to their resistive behavior toward learning how or perhaps may be due to slight brain damage caused by being born addicted to crack. Because of these types of home lives and background, most are emotionally disturbed which is why they are in a special education class to begin with.

    Perhaps, what most inner city ghetto schools really need in special education classes for emotionally disturbed students, is a bouncer with a black-belt in Karate standing in the back of every classroom while a regular teacher tries to teach the few students that are not resisting the process of schooling. Very sad, reminds me of the saying, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.

    Good luck in your new position, I am sure you will do great and perhaps you can reach out to those same students in a new way.

    • Deven Black says:

      The idea of making the switch was first suggested to me last week, so it was all kind of sudden. Oddly, I had relatively few troubles with my special ed students; this class that continually challenged me is a general ed class which, in some cases, only means that their learning challenges are less well documented.

      • nycrican2 says:

        I agree that the learning challenges were probably less documented, in the South Bronx schools the behavior of the students in special education classes for emotionally disturbed and general education are sometimes one and the same. It sounds like the class you had a problem would fit into this category but was probably much larger than a special education class and therefore much harder to manage.

  16. Glad to have you in the ranks as a teacher librarian!! Chin up. I just moved you from my teacher blog folder to teacher librarian blog folder!!! Be glad to help in any way.

  17. Deven, I got a bit weepy reading this post. I am hoping and cheering for your success and that you will find joy in th new venture. This post reveals that your heart is in the right place. press on!

  18. Christopher Harris created his own database for library book management. Get in touch with him!!

  19. Annette Farmer says:

    While I’m sympathetic to your position being lost, I must say, your post and the message it sent niggled at me a bit. You say,

    “My classes are being taken away from me.
    My principal has lost confidence in my teaching ability.
    So have I.”

    School librarians *are* teachers and if your principal doesn’t know that, and the rest of the teachers at your school don’t know that, you’re going to have a tough time collaborating and making information literacy and 21st century skills instruction an important part of the curriculum in your building. It sounds like any improvement is the right step forward for your school library (and I weep for the students at your school who have not benefited from a strong library these past years).

    Have you considered taking classes through a Masters in Library and Information Science program? PLNs will certainly get you through the time being but nothing can replace a foundation in the field.

    If that isn’t an option for you right now, also consider following Joyce Valenza (@joycevalenza) and Buffy Hamilton (@buffyjhamilton)on Twitter, two powerhouses in the school library world. I’m certain your state also has a school library association which would be absolutely worth joining.

    I wish you tremendous luck.

    • Deven Black says:

      Thank you for your good wishes and your comment, Annette. It seems that I did not make myself clear. In the interest of economy I apparently used too few words to express complex discussions and actions.

      My principal did lose confidence in my ability as a classroom teacher, but he also realizes that I have other talents that can be utilized within the school. Because of those talents and interests he has asked me to take over the moribund library and turn it into a media center. I will also be teaching research and presentation techniques to two classes and will also be teaching an elective called Lights, Camera, Action.

      In that elective the students have read books then watched the movies based on them. Today I challenged that class to make a movie. I was met with blank stares and spend ten minutes convincing half the class to at least try to imagine doing so.

      Yes, I am still teaching, but I will doing it differently than I did it in a classroom.

      I have not spoken to most of my school colleagues about this change yet, but the ones I have discussed it with are unanimously enthusiastic about my new position and my plans.

      I have started investigating MLS programs and I already follow Joyce Valenza. I will add Buffy Hamilton to my list.

      • Annette Farmer says:

        Hi Devan,
        Thanks for response and clarifying your principal’s reasoning, and it is great to hear you’ll be taking on some fixed classes. I hope your colleagues will be open to collaborating so your students can put those research skills to use in the content area!

        I look forward to hearing how things go for you in your new position!

        Best wishes,
        Annette

  20. Joanne Troutner says:

    Welcome to the world of school librarianship! It is a great place and will allow you to make use of your many talents. As a veteran educator who has followed you, I know you will do well! Making connections and helping students learn to question is one of the roles of the library media specialist.

    Enjoy and ask questions!

  21. Mary Ellen Aylward Wolf says:

    had to laugh out loud w/ the book flying description! as a ‘mature’ educator…former administrator who went back into the classroom a few yrs ago…and as an ‘IB MYP’ expert/workshop leader blah blah…last year i found myself in front of an 8th grade (16 -17 yr olds) US History/Humanities class…saying..’for the love of pete, buddha, & any other spiritual being’…i didn’t have books, i had desks, kids…it took ahhh..a month before i realize that 5th period had the bloods, the crips AND ms-13’s in one room…with the 51 yr. old white lady teaching them how to write/read/investigate…highest scores in the district for middle school..but gotta laugh outloud…i walk down the hall saying; ‘please, fire me’…no i’m not a union member it’s texas! wish me luck on our school we’re building…thanks

  22. Chris says:

    Our librarian is always collaborating. She gets to do really creative and fun activities with the students and staff. I think this new job will be more exciting than a traditional classroom.

  23. reallyrosie says:

    20 some odd years ago after 15 yrs of teaching, I got to apply my library skills to our school’s set up: 3 libraries and 2 distinct resource centers.
    We’re on a pac now with a networked catalog and are getting short throw interactive white boards for the 2 children’s libraries. I love my job.

    I hope you will continue to feel passionately @yours. May u always have an understanding boss. May your grant writing skills get sharpened & may the kids lead you down every experimental path possible. Whoooo hoooo!

  24. Deven,

    I’ve always admired your honesty in your posts. You will be incredible in your new post and I congratulate you on your new 2011 journey and goals.

  25. Melissa Techman says:

    Deven,
    sorry it took me so long to see this post – I know you will do exciting things in this new arena. You already understand so much about reaching and supporting students and a library (with what sounds like a fledgling production studio!) can be such an important place for students to have choices (too rare) and follow their interests. You now have full membership in our action group, led by Ira Socol! Actually, you’ve always been a friend of libraries, just as a SpEd teacher is a friend of all. Let’s talk at Educon and Skype and share ideas.
    Take care,
    Melissa

    • Deven Black says:

      Thanks, Melissa, I’ve always been able to count on your support and encouragement. I look forward to seeing you again next month at Educon where we can meet some other top notch librarians.

  26. Susan Myers says:

    You care passionately about students. THAT makes you a great teacher in my book. You will touch so many more lives as a media specialist. You will take on so many roles – teacher, mentor, Mom (yes, one child calls me Mommy), tech integrationist. You get to work with other teachers – teach with them. Enjoy the ride and welcome to the world of library.

    Susan
    susanrmyers on Twitter
    rudimyers on Plurk

  27. Robin Phares says:

    Deven, I read your post this evening. Even though I am just beginning to know you through the” twitterverse ” my heart goes out to you. I know how it feels to be unsuccessful in the classroom. Somedays it feels like I am in an old cowboy and indian movie. I am the cowboy that is tied up and my students are the indians running wild around me.

    The great news is that with the new year brings new beginnings for you. The fact that you blog and are active on twitter is two giant leaps in the right direction.

    I hope you have a relaxing holiday.
    Robin
    http://talkingtechwithrobin.blogspot.com/

  28. Karen janowski says:

    Sunday mornings are my times to catch up on RSS and just read your post, Deven.
    It sounds as though you have an incredible opportunity out of “failure” and there are many outstanding resources in your PLN.
    You may want to consider using Donors Choose (http://donors choose.org) to get some of the supplies you need now.
    Keep us posted. You are one of the most eloquent writers I follow.

    • Deven Black says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Karen.

      I have been given an incredible opportunity and, particularly after an unusually useful training session yesterday, I’m very excited about the possibilities. Before yesterday I just knew I had a large task before me, but by the end of the day I had a solid idea of the immediate steps I should take, responsibilities of the position I had not considered, and some of the supports available to help me.

      My success in this new position will to some part depend on my ability to create a clear vision of what this library could be and convince my principal to give me the resources to make it so. I am starting to develop that vision and it helps to know that I have a PLN full of smart, creative, experienced and generous teachers, librarians, administrators and parents to give me advice, share information and critique my ideas.

  29. Charlie Roy says:

    Best of luck in the new position. I’m sure you’ll do great.

  30. Thanks for sharing this post

    Mary

  31. A thought provoking piece

    Jac

  32. Thanks for your salute to librarians. I am a teacher-librarian in a brand new high school in Pleasant Hill, Iowa. We stay busy with so much to do, but the kids love to come to the library. Some come for quiet get-away time and read, some to research and process work on the computers, others to be social. The social ones have learned to grab a book or magazine. It is fun to see them actually showing the others something they found in the book.

    Hope your time as a librarian is fun!

    Thanks for using my Flickr pic!!!

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