Boy, It’d be Nice to Actually NOT Fly Through Life by the Seat of my Pants

I feel like I’ve been winging it my whole life–jobs, school, relationships, etc. Everything I do, I’m learning as I go, feeling anything but prepared and competent. I know you can never be 100% prepared for everything life will throw at you, but I swear it shouldn’t be this… hectic.

It’s not like I’ve been in the wrong place. Life has put me where I’ve needed to be. Often it’s taken a while to figure why, but I eventually do. I guess that’s part of life.

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This teaching gig has me flying by the seat of my pants every day. I don’t know how I get through my day; I just somehow do. “What do you mean?” you ask?

Picture this (and this is meant to paint the extent of the challenge I must rise to meet, not one of horror): a freshly hired-teacher with only one year of college-level teaching experience flung into a classroom of high schoolers, several of them special education students, a few ESL students, a few who like to rebel at every chance, and all of them having been through a gauntlet of teachers over the years. Oh! And then add middle schoolers, spread over fifth through eighth grade, in what is probably their first year of structured gym class, one with ADHD and requiring an aid accompaniment at all times, several with emotional instability, and a few that just don’t want to get along with each other.

Did I mention I’ve never been trained to handle so many types of special needs students? Well, now I’ve mentioned it.

This position with many hats I must wear is daunting but, the thing is, I want to be up to the task. I see the good in every last one of my students, from the ones that try to hide their emotions from the world, the ones determined to slack off, to the ones ready to throw fists at each other. They are human beings, children. They are in need of guidance, a firm but fair authority figure.

This past Tuesday was a tough day. I had to boot one student offline, take away another’s phone, thus causing said student to avoid me for the rest of the day, diffuse a fight before it could take place during gym class, and constantly bring students back to focus to play dodgeball correctly, instead of repeatedly throwing the foam balls at people they didn’t like. On top of that, two students stole t-shirts during regular class hours, from the room connected to the main one I teach in, and, during gym, three other students were caught trying to climb over the counter and into the kitchen. My determination wavered. This is just my third week of teaching. Am I really cut out for this?

Wednesday rolls around it proves to be a complete 180 from the day before, even though I’d started the day with expressing my disappointment in them over the stolen shirts, along with the mess of Fruit Loops in the gymnasium. I informed them they were banned from basketball during breakfast for the rest of the week. They tested to see if I was serious and I had to confiscate and lock away two basketballs. Got a bit of attitude from them for it but they shut up pretty darn quick.

I braced myself for another day of them testing their limits and my resolve but, surprisingly, they were pretty compliant from the start. Every day starts with a whopping 30 minutes of reading, of which many of them see it as their duty to just hold a book open and chat with their friends. Wednesday, I found the magic spot to sit in that got the room quiet enough to make you wish someone would make a noise. What dumb luck.

Next came a bargain with the whole class I assumed would fail in spectacular fashion but actually did the exact opposite: if they were passing ALL their classes and on schedule with ALL of them, then they could take mini breaks and get in some YouTube throughout the day.

That was a record number of times I’ve been asked for help in one day. I’m positive a few snuck in YouTube fixes while my back was turned, but it’s just a matter of time before I figure out how to motivate them, or at least give just enough effort to pass all their classes. They just need more time to get to know me better, and to learn to trust and respect me. I’m also learning to be a proper authority figure in my own style. I don’t have that natural gravitas that commands respect, but I’m slowly learning what works.

Wednesday also brought a bunch of great news: my stupid substitute teacher cert. finally came in the mail, the board approved all the items on my wish list for gym class, and the board approved Dave Ramsey’s Foundations in Personal Finance, the high school version of Financial Peace University. *squee!* Oh, and the school is brainstorming how to have the students do at least a bit of English offline with me, since the online version is already paid for.

I can’t help but chuckle every time one student or another, awed, says, “How do you know all this stuff?” It’s adorable.

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About Angela Macala-Guajardo

Author, teacher, soon-to-be full time writer for two companies. Also a lover life in the Arizona desert, puppy butt wiggles, and kitties purring away on my shoulder.
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3 Responses to Boy, It’d be Nice to Actually NOT Fly Through Life by the Seat of my Pants

  1. Jonathan Strickland says:

    Hello Angela,

    As you know by now, winging it is about all anyone can do in the panic-driven duty diversions governed by the laws of respect and reply. It’s a crazy time.

    I spoke with the coach of the University of Minnesota Football team and he sounded exactly like you did…and on top of it added the comment….when did I leave football to become the facebook friend and foe of every student that plays for me, and every student I want to have play with me.

    It means we all make choices…And I know that many of my own choices about commitment, have left you wondering what the hell is up with this guy.

    HOWEVER
    I LOVE your mission and your passion
    I PRAY that each day you can find that spot, or key, that keeps the children wondering how you “know” all this stuff.
    I ADMIRE that you can find a way to bargain….It’s a skill that comes for a clear understanding..one-to-one at the child’s level, that is the only way to get them to see, respect, and understand your mission for THEM….(They are so used to running their own lives, and poorly, that for the most art you simply seem like a temporary trespasser).

    Keep the faith.
    Send me your address and I’ll sponsor your class with some books.

    All the best,

    Jonathan
    414-378-2480

    P.S. Choose your teaching advisor wisely….and best to find a kindred spirit in Chicago, than a teacher in the same school and district. (that’s unwarranted advice…but my guess is you are already a leader with your students….and hearing what works from other teachers in less challenging environments close to home will be of NO VALUE whatsoever for you).

    Keep up the great work.

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