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.