This class I teach is filled with children who live lives I will never fully know or understand. I have to accept them for who they are and what they bring as they enter our space - and be ready for anything on any given day: happy and sad and angry and confused, filthy and clean and hungry and unkempt and tired and alert and kissed/hugged and satisfied and filled with dreams and ideas and ready or not ready to face the day ahead.
The dynamics that play out in my classroom are as predictable as the day is long; these children have been together since first grade. The first grade teacher struggled, the second grade teacher nearly gave up, the third grade teacher left the profession, and now they are with me in fourth grade. The structure of my school is such that this group will stay together until they go off to middle school - and so here I am with this class I teach.
At the beginning of the school year I began as I always do: rituals and routines, community building, proactive social teaching. I tried to be more intentional than in other years, in response to both the reputation they arrived with and the issues that immediately presented themselves. My administrator's words were encouraging: "Don't be afraid to ask for help."
When the first patterns of nitpicking surfaced, I problem-solved in the classroom and role-played in morning meetings, talking with students about how to handle situations. When different situations began - work avoidance, bullying, minor disruptions - I continued to problem solve and document but a few weeks in I sought help. I was then called into the administrator's office, only to be told that the children were "taking advantage of my good will" and that I needed to stop being so "empathetic" and begin teaching. These kids were behind - they needed instruction, not all of this class meeting, social curriculum stuff.
And so I heeded the advice. I bucked up and taught - I did away with the morning meetings and buckled down to the business of curriculum and instruction. Fast forward to now, to this class I teach. To the extreme bullying situations, to the climate of distrust: so much so that I will not leave my room without locking it even for a moment for fear of having something stolen from myself or from one of the students. To the constant disruptions, the level of disrespect toward myself and one another and the nuances that exist within that disrespect. The learning lost, the discomfort I feel arriving at work each day. The fact that I feel there is no one to turn to in my building who can offer anything except for an encouraging (yet unhelpful) "hang in there!"
I am almost a decade into my practice and never have I felt so ineffective as a teacher. My frustration is transparent, I know I am visibly rattled, I cannot help but talk about it because I care so deeply about my teaching and especially about each and every student and I feel so defeated... and yet, I came to a realization last night. I know now that back in September when I asked for help and was instead reprimanded, I walked away from that meeting and took my administration's directive without question, ignoring what I know in my heart about teaching and learning. Ignoring my core beliefs about children. I spent half a school year allowing this class I teach to slip out from under me.
I have three months to get them back.
All is not lost.