Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Red Pen

I try to look for the bright side of things, and this past year has been no exception. Starting out my teaching career as an assistant to another teacher had its perks.

I didn't have that notorious Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad First Year. I was given plenty of opportunities to teach, and plan, and grade- I just didn't have to do ALL of it. I could share those responsibilities and not feel overwhelmed, while still getting a teacher pay and compensation.

Honestly, even just getting a job as a teacher of any kind was wonderful.

I wasn't the only teacher in this kind of position in our school, and a lot of us became friends. We were together in just starting out and wishing for our own room.

And for a few of the teachers, that happened. By Spring Break, they knew they had their own room for the following year. They were thrilled, but of course, didn't want to brag. I made my best effort to bring it up and congratulate them so that my friends wouldn't feel awkward, but it's hard to see other people getting what you want.

When I was evaluated, I was cut down hard for my classroom management. I know it's something a lot of new teachers hear, so it probably shouldn't have bothered me as much as it did, but it was unexpected. We were having some discipline issues in our classroom and I knew that, but never before in ANY evaluation (even all through student teaching) had I been criticized for my ability to keep the class under control. I had my weaknesses but that was not one I knew.

I was told that even as an assistant, the kids had to know that when I was in front of them, teaching, certain things were and were not acceptable- regardless of the classroom climate when the other teacher was up in front of them. If they could get up and get a drink mid-lesson with the other teacher, they had to know they couldn't with ME. I wasn't sure what else I could do- many times I already felt like I was tougher with discipline than the other teacher, but the system in place didn't have much in the way of consequences. I would have loved to change it, but couldn't do more than suggest a change. I also wasn't sure I even wanted to force inconsistency of the rules on the kids- I felt it would be confusing and probably not work well without consequences to back it up.

It was hard for me because I felt that it wasn't necessarily a weakness of my teaching, and I wasn't sure how to show improvement. I was told the principal saw improvement on the next evaluation, but I could tell  much more was expected. In none of my evaluations did I get better than a "Satisfactory" in any category, so I was left feeling like I was bad at this, and not especially good at anything. Despite the words that came out on the evaluation, the tone and suggestions still said, "You aren't good at this."

It was interesting to me, too, and I wondered if the principal noticed- the lead teachers who were struggling with classroom management had assistants who also struggled, and the lead teachers who did well with classroom management had assistants who also did well. Coincidence? Well, to me, this speaks of classroom climate having a very strong impact, and it being hard to evaluate each individual independent of it, especially assistants who have little control over the climate. But I'm not sure the principal saw it the same way.

When time came to get my assignment for the next year, I knew better than to hold out much hope that I would join my friends in having my own classroom. I could tell the principal didn't trust me to have my own room yet.

Honestly, from the principal perspective, I know they only want to put people in a classroom that they have seen demonstrate really doing it. It makes sense. But the principal has to know it is hard on us to see our colleagues- the people who are just as new as us, and who were on the same level as us before- moving up, when we don't get to.

It's hard, and I'm jealous. If there just wasn't room, that would be one thing. But there are rooms with no 'head teacher'- including the one I'm assigned to for next year. I don't know who I'll work with, and may not know until the last minute. I don't know if this is someone that will let me do much actual teaching. I don't know if this is someone who is strong where I'm not and will teach me a lot and make me a better teacher. I don't know if this is someone I'll even get along with at all.

The hardest part for me is that except for my evaluations and this whole issue, I feel this year has made me a better teacher. The teacher I worked with was great and let me be a partner. I know my first year will be easier because of this year. But overall, my confidence in myself running a classroom has diminished.

I was scared before, but knowing that the principal doesn't have faith in my abilities makes me terrified. What if those opinions are right? What if I CAN'T control the kids? What if I'm NOT cut out for this?

If I ended up getting one of the open positions for the fall, it would be at the last minute. And while this whole thing speaks to me wanting my own room, I'm not sure I want one this year. Not a week before school with little time to set up and plan. Not knowing that the administration doesn't trust me and sees it as a risk. Not with my self-confidence so low.

I don't know what would have made them better, but I know for sure that evaluations shouldn't leave me feeling like this.


ms.understood said...

Is there really huge class sizes at your school? I am just really curious about the whole assistant teacher thing because we don't have anything like that around here. In any case, you should seek what you want. Principal's can be wrong, and maybe another school would see it differently. You can always learn from feedback, but don't be defined by it.

luckeyfrog said...

We actually don't have big class sizes. The 'assistant teacher' thing isn't common around here either, but was brought in as a type of NCLB restructuring, with heavy help from Title I and stimulus funding.

It's been good for the kids, and last year I honestly did have a good experience. I learned a lot and my head teacher and I worked well together. After this year, the assistant program will end anyway (goodbye funding). At that point, I should get a chance to have my own classroom as long as there is a position open. If not, I'll be applying elsewhere. For better or worse, it's one more year of the program and then it'll be something different (and hopefully my own room anyway).

It's just been a unique situation, and some days it weighs on me more than others, especially when it's the summer and I don't have as much to focus on. I know I shouldn't let it define me like that, but it's a struggle. It will be hard to make myself believe in myself until I've proven I can do it better.