It’s not easy being me.
How would you feel if you had the power to foresee a tragedy in the near future, know that you have the power to help prevent it, yet also know that the beneficiary of your help does not want your help, does not believe she needs your help, and pretty much tells you, indirectly though, not to offer your help?
This is the position I find myself in. I’ve been following a blog called ‘And I thought Orgo Was Hard’ (I am not putting a link here, intentionally) for the past few weeks of a corps member who will soon be teaching middle school science in North Carolina.
At the end of one of her posts she wrote:
One last note I wanted to make: Please do not read my blog if you have negative thoughts/comments. This blog is for my friends/family. Shpanks
So I am not her family and not technically her ‘friend,’ and my thoughts / comments could be construed as negative, I suppose, though I hope they will be seen in a different way. And I’m sure that her friends / family would not like this new CM to have to go though the torture she might if I didn’t warn her with this post, so I’m going to do it anyway, and everyone can get mad at me all they want with comments, which I welcome.
As Ms. K’s friends and family won’t be able to view the parallel universe where I didn’t intervene and make this warning, there is no way for them (or me) to really know what good this post accomplished, so I’m unlikely to get thanked by anyone for doing this. I considered not saying anything and then following the blog for the next few months as a case study to show how negligent TFAs preparation model is, but wouldn’t that just be very mean of me to not help a person who is in trouble. If I saw someone on a train track and the train was coming, isn’t it my duty as a human to intervene?
Ms. K, I like your humility in your title. Yes ‘orgo’ is hard, and teaching is hard in a different way. I will not say that teaching is necessarily harder than organic chemistry. It all comes down to how well you are prepared for it. If you took the orgo final without having learned the subject matter then, yes, orgo would be quite hard, impossible, even. But with proper preparation, orgo isn’t impossible. (How I wish I knew organic chemistry so I could make all kinds of awesome analogies here comparing it to teaching and also showing off how smart I am about everything. It just isn’t worth learning the subject just for this post, though, so feel free to imagine those analogies that could have been …) Likewise, teaching isn’t that hard either if get proper preparation.
Unfortunately, from what I have read on your blog, you have not gotten appropriate preparation. You have taught a class that was supposed to be about 15 students, but turned out to be 8, which then shrunk to maybe 4 or 5. And though you started with some classroom management issues, you got better, though getting better coincided with the smaller classes, so it is hard to say if you really got better. Also, though you are going to teach middle school science, it seems that your small class was maybe a 4th grade class where you taught reading for half the time and math the other half. (My details might be a bit off, but correct me if I’m way off on this.)
As someone who spent his first year teaching middle school, let me warn you that you should not let your relatively good institute experience give you a false sense of confidence. Middle school is very very tough. Honestly it almost gave me a nervous breakdown. I still wake up at night sometimes, in a cold sweat, babbling “If I just swap Jose’s seat with Esau’s then Katarina can be a buffer. Eureka! I got it!” I sincerely believe that that first year gave me post traumatic stress disorder, something that manifests itself in me needing to write helpful, though I know unwanted, posts like this.
Now I know I run the risk of this note making you under confident. I think this is an OK risk since you still have some weeks to prepare. I’m going to recommend that you read all my old blog posts, as for the first few years of this blog it was all about teaching advice. Much of this advice made it into my second book ‘Beyond Survival’ which I’m not telling you to buy (though I won’t stop you from buying it) since you can get the advice for free here. Also, I did some presentations about classroom management which are on youtube and which I have links in some of my posts.
As always, when I do this, I do not fault Ms. K being in need of this kind of intervention. For TFA to expect someone to go from teaching a tiny class of a different age and subject from what she is going to teach in the fall is quite negligent. Will Ms. K quit blogging altogether now that I’ve done this? I certainly hope not. Instead, I’d like to see posts of her future success and know that I did my small part in changing her life trajectory from something that might have caused her emotional and mental trauma to something that her friends and family, for whom the blog is intended, will enjoy reading.
And to TFA: Shame on you for disrespecting this woman by not providing her adequate training. And shame on you for having no concern for the 150 to 200 students who she is about to teach. Teachers who only taught a few fourth graders reading and math for sixteen hours are most certainly not going to close any achievement gaps in their first year teaching middle school science. There is a reason that 15% of corps members quit (and another significant percent who probably should quit since they are not doing much good).
Well, I know some will question whether or not I have done the right thing here. There will never be a way to tell if I helped or hurt Ms. K’s cause. But to stand by and watch her get blindsided by a middle school train is not something that is in my nature.