Monday, January 28, 2013

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly...of Teaching

Sitting in my staff room today, I felt the urge to sit down during my break to write this blog post because today has been a rather interesting day.  By 12:55pm so much had happened that Melissa, my roomie, asked “what was in the water today?" when I briefed her on my day.

The events that took place, to me, showed how much of an emotional roller coaster you can be on, at times, when it comes to teaching. It is never simply about teaching the content but also being able to perfect your acting skills because there are days where you will play the role of teacher, others where you are counselor/psychologist, mediator, friend, mother,  adversary and everything else in between.  It can be mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting because in most situations, your hands are tied and there is not much you can do so you opt to focus most on the things within your control and simply hope for the best.

My day in a nutshell...

My School
5th Lesson: 11:45am
5th lesson on Mondays is with my Form 1 class.  This class is a teachers dream.  They are all extremely bright and well behaved students who still very much have their innocence in tact, as it should be given that they are only 11.  Since the Half Yearly exams are two weeks away, practice was on the agenda for today.  Today they reviewed Poetry and understanding Personification in Poetry and were amazingly good at it. Some needed explanation while most did not, giving clear examples from the text.  Violet, the teacher I work with, used her laptop in class and had a background picture of Hagar Qim, one of the megalithic temples here in Malta.  She was giving me some history on the temple and the girls noticed our conversation, raised their hands and asked if they could do presentations on places in Malta and cultural aspects so that they could teach me about Malta.  Now, this is a big deal given that I am doing a very similar project with my Form 3's and they are not as pleased with the idea of doing a presentation and yet here are Form 1's who suggested the idea themselves, are excited to share information about their home and to present it to me.  Did I say they are a dream class?  I think even if I didn't it would go without saying.

7th Lesson: 1:30pm
During this lesson, I have what is usually my toughest class.  Well, remember the “what's in the water" comment?  Yeah, believe me I am still trying to figure it out.  I walked into this class to find the girls eager to talk to me, asking me to come up with games where they can practice their speech more, telling the teacher that they wanted me to do the lesson and even though they were loud and talkative, they actually worked.  There are about 3-4 students in that class that make it difficult for any teacher to handle them and they were so focused on what we were doing that part of the loud talking was them telling one of the difficult students to be quiet and stop disrupting...WHO KNEW?!?!?!  More shocking was that one of the other difficult ones actually participated...A LOT! Weird doesn't even begin to describe it.  Now for as difficult as they are, you know the underlying reasons...issues at home, lack of parenting and guidance, learning and social issues that are not being properly addressed so you have to keep this in the forefront of your mind to simply help you get through the lesson most days.  You have to have a strong will to deal with them and know that you are and will always be physically, mentally and emotionally spent after every class with them...and the lesson is only 40 minutes long.  Can't complain today though because they were really good...still exhausted from all of the stimulation but not complaining one bit.

1st Lesson: 8:40am
This lesson was with my better Form 2 class and as they were settling down to prepare for Half Yearly test review I noticed one student who was visibly upset.  She was crying. I made eye contact with her and mouthed "Is everything ok?", she responded by shaking her head no and sobbing uncontrollably.  I motioned for her to follow me outside and she did.  Now to give you some background on this student, this is not one of the stronger students so her English is not the most developed and she also tends to have a bit of an air about her, but in this moment she was what we sometimes forget that these girls are...a child...a 12 year old child who was upset over something and needed some reassurance to calm her down.  When we got into the hallway, I asked her if all was ok and she began to explain that a fight had broken out last week between some friends of hers and now they were turning on her because of her reaction to the situation and therefore made her feel very uncomfortable...oh how this brought me back to Middle School and why it is my least favorite age group, kids at this age are just SO MEAN! I then had to deal with multiple students coming out into the hall to explain what happened and also simply to be nosey so in trying to support her, I had to play hall monitor to get the other girls back to their classes. The crazy thing is that as much as any other teacher would have shrugged it off as she being dramatic, I understood what she was going through and felt her pain because girls here can be pretty rough so any threat should be taken seriously.  Needless to say, I was concerned.  I did what I felt she needed, I offered her a sense of support and protection and waited with her until the Head of the Form 2's appeared so that she could further discuss the situation.  Before she appeared we talked about what happened a little more in detail and why she thought they were treating her badly.  I also asked to see if any direct threats were made that would concern me for her safety but it seemed to be more of a dispute than an actual threat (or at least I was hoping that would be the case).  In the end, she thanked me for staying with her and for being there for her.  What a way to start a Monday morning!

3rd Lesson: 10:55am Lesson 3
This Form 2 class is not as strong as the original class above but there is one student in this class that has really gotten to me.  I feel for her and all she has been through in her short life that for all of her outbursts, acting out, and lack of focus at times, I simply can't ever be mad at her.  She is one who has been dealt a heavy hand of cards at a very young age and is simply doing the best she can with what she has to work with.  Her good days are REALLY good, she is focused, smart, really bright and she actively participates.  However, the strikes against her are great, especially being here in Malta: she is severely ADHD, lives most of her time in an orphanage that does not believe she needs her medication, she only sees her mother on supervised visits and she is half black/half Maltese so she gets teased for that, oh and she's 12 so with all going on in her life, she is also trying to deal with being an adolescent.  When Mondays come around, it is usually a rough day for her because she has not been on her medication all weekend to help keep her calm and focused. This is the only form of “therapy" that is being offered to her at the moment so for that to not be consistent is truly just awful for her.  Today, she bounced around, walked in/out of class and acted out.  She said things to me like "You should go back to New York, why are you here?" and continued to say inappropriate things in Maltese to the teacher and eventually admitted in the end that she was saying these things because "Ms. Rivera is not paying attention to me, she is ignoring me" and looked at me with pained eyes.  Again, just can't bring myself to be mad at her.  We continued through the lesson but you can't help have that affect you because you know where it is coming from and you can't let it go from your mind as you sit and obsess about why she is the way she is and what is really going on.  Apparently, the Head of the Form 2's has said time and again "If I told you everything she has been through and witnessed, it would destroy you".  After a day like today, I believe it and that breaks my heart.  i wish I could fix her and her situation and I know I can't and that feeling of helplessness is like kryptonite to a teacher.

So what is my reason for writing this post...well basically it is to help paint a picture of what teachers face in the classroom everyday alone, this doesn't even include what one deals with when it comes to Administration issues.  Most people have a very tainted idea of what is involved when it comes to being a teacher...usually all they see (or choose to see) is the vacation time and supposed early hours, when do you think unit and lesson planning and grading papers and exams happens?  What most don't care to realize is that we are dealing with the emotional highs/lows that these students face on a daily basis. We are dealing with no less than 24 different personalities, home situations, learning and social levels and are expected to actually teach and educate these students and be able to do so completely composed and unscathed and in the end give them a grade for their progress or lack thereof.  Keep that in mind the next time you think a teacher and students today, have it easy.

Until Next Time,

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