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Musings on the First Week(s) of School Redux

Wow, I have had an extremely hard time with this next post. The first draft was titled “Musings on the First Week(s) of School,” and it included a bunch of tidbits about…my first weeks of school. It just never felt quite right. As one reader said, “sometimes you’re connected, and other times you’re disconnected, so I think you need to choose one and go with it.” The day after this comment, which of course made me sulk, I realized I’d been pushing myself too hard. This blog isn’t academic. It’s not being graded. I should feel freer and write as though it’s my personal journal, which it is. Kind of. The theme here is still the first weeks of school, but I think I may have been tripped up by the lack of denouement. I’m realizing as I write this sentence that of course there is no denouement, for I just started this job.

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A slide from my PowerPoint presentation.

I created a PowerPoint presentation to introduce myself in class. I’m still not sure if it was too long, or who understood what, but I’m happy with the slides I made—as tacky as they may have been. The “I’m from New York City!” slide is a picture of the Imagine Circle in Central Park. And there are 3 whole slides devoted to pictures of restaurants and food {I’m sure no one who knows me is surprised to read this}. A highlight is one slide with four photos of the following stars (thanks, Google) overlapping each other in the center: Adele, a Jason Aldean album cover, Jay Z, and Beyoncé. Maybe 5% of the students know who Jay Z is. And that number may be pushing it. Is this what getting older is like?!

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More slides from my PowerPoint presentation.

The most significant part, or, the part I can’t get over just yet, of starting school has been the classroom atmosphere. I’ve felt confident, disheartened, defeated, and inspired all at once. This Kingda Ka of emotions (https://www.sixflags.com/greatadventure/attractions/kingda-ka, “You’ll be shooting up that impossible height so fast, you won’t even have time to think, so just hang on. It’s 90° straight up. And once you get to the top you’ll be plummeting right back down in a 270-degree spiral…There is very little that can prepare you for a drop of this intensity”) is, I presume, what teaching ages 11 through 18 entails most of the time. But to be honest, I think I was a bit naïve going into this experience.

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Even more slides from my PowerPoint presentation.

I envisioned the perfect classroom, students attentive and participating, filled with thoughts and curiosities. But I have been experiencing the opposite. I guess I was slightly spoiled by my community college students earlier this year. Most of my students are talking. Nonstop. It doesn’t matter what’s going on. There is always at least one student turned around at their desk with their back to the front, talking to the students behind them while simultaneously nudging the one next to them. And then there are the groups in the back corners of the room that are cracking jokes and commenting on everything. Or an individual comments on something which prompts a student nearby to laugh which prompts another student nearby to laugh and that’s it, it’s over. Oh and there are the students in the front and middle rows doing the same thing. So yeah, the talking is contagious. It’s more of a chat-room than a classroom.

Some teachers have the classrooms under control—this still means there is chatter—others don’t seem to care that much. Some know that they can’t possibly do much with a class of 30-35 students. One teacher will say “a ver, chicos” to get their attention a couple of times. He’ll trek onward, though, with discussion of the Visigoths and Justinian I. “In a class with this many students,” another teacher said to me, “I’m at my wits’ end.”  

In relaying my first-hand account of the classroom to a fellow assistant teacher, I decided to compare the talking to the plague. Ultra contagious. Rapid. It’s over. Dark, yes, but fitting. I know I’m not alone. I’ve heard other assistant teachers say the same thing about their classes. Systemic commentary. And beyond the chatting, every student always has a snarky response to something the teacher says. If the teacher asks a student to be the first to present their assignment, they react with disapproval or just flat out say no. This would’ve been heresy in my schools. I’m not saying that was a “better” way to handle a classroom, it was just the opposite. Apparently all of the kids in one class of 34 students get “high marks,” are “competitive,” and most of them passed a high-level English exam. So, the talking doesn’t indicate lack of interest or caring. And actually I have had their full attention. In those rare moments I try to make sure what I’m saying is worth it. Oh well, when the class is split into smaller groups I’ll be able to accomplish more.

I’ve started to go into class expecting the talking, and I think it’s helping. I can’t and won’t take it personally. It’s not malicious, either. It’s simply talking. I do perceive it as a total lack of respect for the teacher and classroom/learning, but at least they come to school? Idk. Maybe this is a horrible lowering of standards, and maybe I would rather students on their phones so at least they’re not distracting each other talking and joking around, but I know I went school with some gross and awful kids. I’m sure all schools have their fair share, but this will be a learning experience for me. I’ll have to work hard to make lessons interesting enough to hold their attention. I’ll have to suppress the urge to get angry and frustrated and retreat and give up. And I’ll have to stretch/alter my expectations for the classroom. I guess the personal growth has begun…

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Did you think I'd forget the food slides?!


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