For eight years starting in the summer of 1995 and ending with the summer of 2003, I presented a workshop at TFA institutes. Back then I described it as a ‘classroom management’ workshop since the last half of it had advice on that. In 1995 I was invited to do it. In 1996, I was a CMA. After that, I was no longer invited, but as long as I asked if I could come, they would allow me to. This often required me paying several hundred dollars to fly to Houston (many of those years, there was just one institute in Houston), but since I liked doing it, that didn’t bother me so much. Then, in 2004, for the first time, I was told that my volunteering was not wanted anymore. I also have presented this workshop to other organizations throughout the years, including The New Teacher Project and Math For America. Over the years, the workshop was videotaped twice, once in 2000 and once in 2003. The 2003 one has been up on YouTube for a few years, but I just converted the ‘lost’ 2000 one and put that up too.
Though this was billed as a ‘classroom management’ workshop, I always felt that the first half of the workshop was the more important part. The first part was my story of my first year, sometimes funny, sometimes frightening. My intention was to counter what I considered TFA’s sugarcoating of the first year, something they still do. I felt that if someone had convinced me that the first years isn’t just “the hardest year of your life, but also the most rewarding” but an experience that might require counseling to overcome acute PTSD, maybe I would have taken a less risky approach.
I don’t do this workshop anymore, mainly because I can no longer accomplish the climactic moment. After describing all the frustration of all the failed attempts to silence my classes, I tell the audience that I had to resort to screaming. But what people don’t understand, at first, is that I am not just talking about regular screaming. I am talking about a type of screaming that is what they mean when they say ‘screaming bloody murder.’ So I demonstrate. You can see this from 16:02 to 16:09 in the 2000 video or from 26:53 to 26:58 in the 2003 video.
It is not easy to scream like that on command. That kind of screaming is generally something that happens as a reflex, a defense mechanism, when you are getting attacked and that is your only option. Yet, by re-living my first year through retelling, I was somehow able to summon up the ability to give every ounce of energy I had into it. And if it seemed painful, it definitely was. Even though I would yell like that at least a few times a day during my first year, and somehow got used to it, when you are not ‘in shape’ for it, it takes a lot out of you.
Sometimes after one of those workshops, my stomach muscles would be sore for several days. Often I couldn’t talk the next day. Once I strained my neck from it. Even without a physical injury, it was not good, emotionally, to go back in time, mentally, and relive the experience of those moments. In the 2000 video I was 30 years old and in the 2003 I was 33. Now that I’m 42, I truly believe that if I attempted to yell with that force, just to try to convince the new people how hard the first year can be, it could seriously injure me.
I don’t know what percent of new teachers yell like this, at some point in their first year. I suspect that it is a lot. I’m someone who has a lot of patience. Until my first year, I don’t think I ever yelled at anybody. I don’t think I have a bad temper. The yelling was something that just happened. It was either that or quit, and I didn’t want to quit. The yelling enabled me to get through the year since I’d get a few minutes of silence, at least, from it, and in doing so I did manage to teach all the topics I was supposed to, even though it nearly broke me to do it (and maybe even did break me. I never went for PTSD counseling for it instead to do my own much less efficient therapy by complaining about TFA for 20 years.)
I don’t think that at the TFA institute they do any anger management training. It may not seem like a high priority, and it also seems kind of negative, but maybe if I had had some, I wouldn’t have been so shocked by my own anger when it happened. So I have an exercise for the new TFA corps members. Before you attempt my exercises, I should make a disclaimer that I am not a psychiatrist or a psychologist or any other kind of counselor. I don’t know if this will help you at all, but here it is anyway. You should get a group of four together, go into a room, and see what it feels like to do one of those blood curdling screams. It might bring up a lot of emotions. Maybe you have been repressing your anger for all these years, and this will affect you. Again, I am NOT a counselor by any means. But I feel like it was bad for me to experience that kind of release for the first time in front of a class of 30 sixth graders.
Maybe if I knew what it felt like ahead of time, I would have been more easily been able to recognize that it was about to happen, and that might have helped me somehow. It wouldn’t mean, necessarily, that I wouldn’t yell like that. As I said, I was at the point where quit or scream were my only two options.
Here is the 2003 workshop. The yell at 26:53 is OK, but not really my best work. Still, I think it may have surprised some people enough to make them really want to hear my advice that followed.
Here is the 2000 workshop. The sound isn’t very good, but the yell is much better (at 16:02). Also, as I’m a lot younger and closer to my first year, I have a lot of intensity (probably too much) and there is a lot of energy from the audience too. Especially as this was an optional workshop that was happening around 9:00 PM at the institute, it was a pretty large crowd.