Middle School Hero

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 29 2013

Don’t EVER get comfortable

School starts in exactly one week. At this time last year, my stomach was plummeting with the realization that I was being switched over from a largely African American high school to a middle school comprised almost entirely of Latino students. I remember feeling shocked and upset by the switch because I had already felt a strong connection to my school. To compound matters, I found myself placed on the sheltered-instruction team, which essentially meant that I was charged with teaching writing to students for whom English was their second language. It was tough, the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I bit the bullet, held my tongue, and taught my heart out.

After a year of paying my dues, I received some great news: I would be spending my second year teaching advanced English as part of a brand-new honors track. I was ecstatic for what this meant: new students, higher investment, increased rigor, the works. This summer, I put in a ton of work for my new class, choosing challenging texts, planning out the entire year, setting ridiculous goals for my students that I fully expected my students to be able to reach. Guys, I was really excited for this year.

Now I’m sitting in the break room at school with the wind knocked completely out of my sails. I just logged on to the online gradebook to see if I had students yet and my heart sank when I saw my roster.

All of my toughest students from last year. All of them. Without me knowing, I’d been switched from teaching honors to remedial English. In addition, I was moved up to 8th grade, meaning that all of my ELL students who struggled mightily with me last year are back again, except this time we’ve taken out my high-performing kids and have instead given me the other teams’ lowest students. These aren’t just the challenging students- these are the challenging students who saw me at my worst last year, when I was so new and inexperienced and, let’s face it, bad at teaching. All the names that gave me nightmares last year are staring back at me right now from my computer screen.

I know that Teach For America is a relentlessly positive organization. “You CAN make a difference. You CAN change lives. Internal locus of control. Student actions and performances develop as a result of teacher mindsets.” Etc. I get it. Because of that, I feel like some people might look down on this post. They might judge me for giving up or giving on things already. It is difficult to imagine anyone reading this post and thinking, “Man, Dalton sure is a great teacher. I’ll bet he does some incredible things next year.”

I understand that, but I didn’t create this blog to put a happy face on things. I don’t write for the sake of public relations. I am cognizant of those factors, just as I am aware that this blog is a platform for me to advocate for my kids. However, at the end of the day, the purpose of me writing this blog is to share with the world what exactly it is like to work in an inner-city school, serving students from low socio-economic backgrounds. And in that regard, I have this to say: when you’re working here, don’t ever get comfortable. Don’t count believe any kind of luck until you’ve gotten confirmation in writing that things are going to go your way.

And with that, I’m out. I’ve been here brooding for too long and I know I’m not getting anything else done today.

Until tomorrow.

11 Responses

  1. Woefully Underpaid

    ” In addition, I was moved up to 8th grade, meaning that all of my ELL students who struggled mightily with me last year are back again, except this time we’ve taken out my high-performing kids and have instead given me the other teams’ lowest students. These aren’t just the challenging students- these are the challenging students who saw me at my worst last year, when I was so new and inexperienced and, let’s face it, bad at teaching.”

    I completely understand why you’re disappointed and I know it’s a frustrating bait and switch – especially since you put in so much planning time over the summer.

    However, with respect to the part of your post that I quoted, I think it could actually be kind of a cool opportunity for you and them. This is a second chance for both you and the students. You know these students already which gives you a leg up on knowing how to plan. You might now know what does work for them but you definitely know what DOESN’T work. And reflecting about how nervous you are about facing them again will likely give you some insight into how nervous/angry/frustrated/disappointed they are to have to face you after you saw them fail. It’s going to take bravery on your part…and theirs…to make this coming year a success.

    But, of course, it’s not a position anyone would choose voluntarily. I wish you the best.

  2. Zebra

    Dalton-
    I absolutely understand how you would be disappointed. I would be equally disappointed if I were in that situation.
    It sounds like your heart is in a good place. I have had a lot of positive experiences working with CMs and I have seen a lot of them do a lot of great things. I have no issue with the CMs, but I do have some problems with TFA as an organization. I don’t really want to get into that, here or now. I just wanted to respond to your response by saying, I understand and you have a valid reason to be disappointed. I really hope you and your students have a great year filled with lots of success.

  3. daltongoodier

    Christi- I understand what you’re saying. One year is not a career. But a year is still a long time to do something and at schools where many teachers leave every year, the decision to come back does say something.

    Zebra- I fully expected what happened last year. I knew that teaching was going to be the most difficult thing I’ve ever done and it was. I wasn’t at all surprised by how last year went. In fact, something that I think about very frequently is something that Gary Rubinstein said in one of his blog posts entitled “Why I taught a third year and why you should too.” In that post, he says something along the lines of “You committed to spending two years helping students in low-income communities. You didn’t do that in your first year (because no one does; the learning curve is so steep in the beginning) and so you owe a third year.” So I understand what I went through last year.
    And Zebra, I’m grateful for this opportunity. I’ve been blessed time and time again to end up in this situation and I do not take it for granted.
    I’m going to teach my heart out for whoever walks into my class on Monday, no matter what I’m charged with teaching.
    My problem then is not with that, it is with the fact that I was told I would teach honors, spent all summer preparing for honors and designing a curriculum, and then found out just before school started that I would be teaching remediation. Can you understand how that would be disappointing?

    Zebra, I do not think it’s fair that career teachers should have to change their positions to accommodate CMs. I would never do that to a career teacher. I did NOT feel entitled to that honors position. When I was informed last year that I would be teaching advanced students, I was surprised and honored (no pun intended).

    Here’s what I’m saying: my blog post was not me saying, “I deserved better than this. I am entitled to more than this. An injustice has been committed against me.”
    Rather, it was me saying, “I thought I would be teaching something that I was passionate and excited about. Then, I found out that would not be the case. I am disappointed by this.”
    Does that make sense?

  4. Aleta

    I agree.

  5. Zebra

    Aleta-
    I am not a troll. I actually was speaking to Dalton. Your response to my comment and your previous comment about “balling your eyes out” really speaks volumes about your maturity and professionalism.
    It is nice to know that so many people out there are fighting for us. It will be a big relief when we can benefit from this fight.

  6. Aleta

    Zebra / Troll:
    There are a lot of things I could say about this, I think what you’re saying is incredibly ignorant and totally unnecessary. As if every teacher in the world doesn’t WANT to have a great class and wouldn’t be HEARTBROKEN to have this happen to them. Give me a break and get that stick out of your ass. Now for the one thing I will say in response to what you’ve written: Those TFA people that “high tail” it out at 2 years are going into legislature. They become lawyers, senators, social workers, peacemakers, advocates for change, and many more incredible jobs, and every single one of them understands that TEACHING IS HARD and IMPORTANT, and they are fighting for YOU. And they will keep fighting. So calm down and shut up.

  7. Zebra

    “These aren’t just the challenging students- these are the challenging students who saw me at my worst last year, when I was so new and inexperienced and, let’s face it, bad at teaching.”
    Are you planning on continuing as an educator past your 2 year commitment? I’m sorry to be harsh, but what did you expect? Teaching is VERY hard. TFA ignores the fact that teaching is an art and a science that can’t be mastered in a 5 week training. Your view is shared by a lot of corps members that I work with. They come in and think they can self select the class/grade/subject they want. Why do you all feel this way? Seriously, I have seen dedicated, passionate, effective teachers have to change grade levels to accommodate a corps members preference. Said cm sticks around for 2 years and high tails it when they realize that teaching is HARD and 5 weeks was not enough time to prepare them for the demands of teaching in some of the most challenging environments.

  8. Aleta

    …And I agree with “G,” go to the principal now and see if you can stop this! You have legitimate reasons for why this should not be happening and will not be the best thing for you. Show her the planning you did.

  9. Aleta

    That. Sucks. I would be balling my eyes out.

  10. G

    If you are not happy, say something. Talk to your department chair and find out what happened. Things might not change, but if you don’t at least advocate for yourself, who will?

  11. Christi

    Sorry, Dalton, but teaching for one year is hardly “paying your dues”.

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Chronicling teaching middle school English in OKC


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