This is a bit overdue and was intended as a first week of school update, but the conclusions here have really been reinforcing themselves over the last couple of weeks.
At the start of the school year I was in a bit of a funk. I found staff development week to be particularly uninteresting, not because of the content but just for that delay of being at work but not really doing my work, teaching kids. I think it was a mix of three things.
Like most of you, I have to break down and rebuild the room every year, and I’ve gotten that system down to a science. I used to take tons of stuff home. Now it’s just one reasonably sized tub and the whole place is in October shape after 1 day. I am very into setting up my classroom, but after the 10th time there’s only so much to this. There was some uncertainty compounding the process this year though.
The massive reduction in student load really threw me off (I’m now up to 73 students). I’ve spent the last 5 or so years delivering stuff at big big scale. My very classroom management style has been predicated on the notion that there were going to be lots of kids in the room. How in the world do you readjust when you’ve got a class of 9 people? A lot of stuff was just thrown out. Named tables? Gone. Seating charts? Gone. Dumb Points Game? Very sadly, gone.
Mainly, I felt like a weird outlier. My school is bursting at the seams with kids, my colleagues are dealing with 30 some kids in classes, others are having to float, and here I am twiddling my thumbs with half that and my own room. But what am I supposed to do about that exactly? I stumbled into teaching specialized stuff, and there’s only so many kids that can take it in the first place. I don’t really know how to explain it really, like I was unneeded or something, even though that makes no sense.
More than anything, I got absolutely punched in this face this summer about my effectiveness. And of course, I was front row center when Julie Reulbach delivered her excellent keynote on Imposter Syndrome. I spent a very long time this summer thinking over and over “it’s great the kids have fun, but how long are we just going to suck?” Varsity Math, etc has put us very out there as an organization. And to have nothing to show for it really doesn’t make me feel good. I have to admit I was not enthusiastic about grinding out another year of teaching AP Calc (and the loads of work that comes with that) only to be told “yeah, nice try” yet again.
More than anything I just needed the school year to start. Being around kids is very energizing for me. I am very motivated to do my best job for them, and I need their energy to push me to get it done. Sometimes it’s as simple as a kid from last year who put a shark on top of a llama to remind me how fun and random teaching school can be.
Once school started within just a few days I instantly felt better. The kids were excited to have me, I was excited to have them, and it was back to having laughs all day long. After some deep breathes I had a look at some things that could improve in Calculus and I made a plan. I’m forcing myself to attend to a lot of things with better detail this year. The new batch of kids doesn’t know the burdens of the past, they’re ready to show me what they can do.
It has been a long long time since I have had classes this small and I am infinitely better prepared for it this time around. My class of 9 is amazing and a really fun way to end the day. The 21 in College Algebra are super chill and are eager to figure stuff out. This will be the focus of a future post, but it is amazing to me that the natural state of a student is that they want to learn something from you. So many people are just content to give them very little to do. If you set the tone that we’re going to get stuff done during our 50 minutes, they will get that stuff done regardless of their overall attitude about school or experience with previous teachers.
So despite all that negativity hanging over me during the start of school, I love being back at it. Kids are great. Teaching is great. Thank you to every student and fellow teacher alike who remind me of this.