Out of the Blue

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Aug 23 2010

Strugglefest 2010

This past week was the first week of school. Unfortunately, it was not the fairytale week that so many CMs blog about, adoring their job and being so excited to go to work every morning. For me, so far, every morning (not counting Monday) has been a struggle, full of tears and panic attacks and bargins in my head with God that just maybe this isn’t actually my life and I can wake up now please? No such luck, though, so here I am still.

My class is… impressive, to say the least. And by impressive, we mean that the only day I’ve felt I had some sembelance of control was Friday, when only 4 kids showed up and I had 3 paras in the room, making it a 1:1 ratio. And honestly, even then it was a strugglefest for more of the day than not.

For those of you new to the blog, I’m a first year CM teaching upper elementary special education in a class of kiddos with emotional disturbances. My roster has seven students on it, although one has yet to grace us with his presence. A second, JP, was suspended on Day 2, after running away from school and having to be searched for and returned to us by the police. A third, SMB, has been restrained multiple times for aggression, and I’m quite convinced that his fists and my body are going to meet before the month is up. A fourth, SMG, is an English Language Learner with a stubborn streak unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Fifth, CC, meows like a cat almost constantly. Sixth, DBJ, claims to either be starving or need to go to the bathroom every 10-15 minutes, and stops class with her tantrums if you dare tell her “no” (which I do, and her tantrums are becoming part of the background noise). And finally, seventh is NW, who has already met with the school social worker because of his fascination/obsession with guns, weapons, and pain.

I’m scared for my safety in my classroom, I’ll be honest. Of the six that have come to school, I can easily see two of them causing me serious injury. But more than that, I’m scared for my students’ safety in my classroom. I have my two aggressive students, and then I have the fact that not one, not two, not three, but FOUR of my students are “runners” (including my two aggressive students)– that is, I have to monitor them at all times to make sure I’m not about to lose them to the streets of San Francisco because they decided to bolt on a whim. Of the six I’ve had, only two haven’t run away while I was teaching or while I was supervising them for lunch detention. There is no more helpless a feeling than having a third grader run away from you into a school that you aren’t very familiar with yet, for the record.

I have reached out for support, and I have received a lot, just not in ways that are very useful to me yet. I appreciate kind words, but I cannot hear the well-intentioned “You are the right person for this job” things everyone keeps saying without just starting to cry and wanting to yell “Shut up, because that isn’t true!”

I have seriously considered quitting more times in the past week than I think I ever have about anything in my entire life. I am not a quitter, but the panic attacks have been nearly debilitating. I’m going to stick it out as long as I possible can, and I’m making long-term plans for my classroom, but I am scared scared scared and unprepared beyond belief. TFA trained me to be a great teacher, not a great handler of aggression and runners and kids who won’t budge and emotional disturbances and 8-year-olds with PTSD. And I don’t know how I’m going to reconcile that, at least not without falling apart myself.

6 Responses

  1. Ommie

    Looks like a flatly honest assessment, to me. As for the people who blithely assure you that you’re ‘the right person for this job,’ do they honestly believe that ANYBODY is the right person for such a situation? Grr. I believe you could deal courageously and creatively with any one of these kids, in isolation, but cramming this many of them into a single room looks like a dangerously volatile recipe.

  2. Susan Ramsey

    Don’t know who’s writing those glowing TFA blogs (administrators?) The TFAs I’ve known had parents who spent the first year being prepared every single weekend of the first half of the first year to drive to [name city] and rescue them. Never actually happened, and the worst case is now in administration for TFA. I’m glad you’ve got paras and am glad you’ve got the blog for keeping a record. Would a weekend self-defense (in a non-aggressive sense) class be possible — maybe through the YWCA? (I might add that the school should pay — it’s in their interests.)

    You are the best thing that could possibly happen for these kids. It would just be nice for you to get a chance to be that. Total admiration, terror and prayers.

    • Out of the Blue

      Actually, a lot of the happy teachers are my friends from summer training! I can verify for their real-ness ;) I’ll be getting restraint training some time this fall, but I may well look into self-defense classes as well.

  3. roommate

    It is a great thing you’re doing. Even if you don’t feel like you’re managing, you’ve set out to do a selfless thing, and it’s more than a lot of people (myself included) are doing. I hope it helps to know that a lot of us are looking on in admiration.

  4. Amber

    Hello there; I’m an ’09 in Newark teaching high school English. I am so impressed by your honesty and your head-on attitude about what’s going on in your classroom. This sounds like a challenge that would have sent me into God bargaining mode as well, especially my first year. There’s probably no advice I can give you except just to stay strong. It sounds like your students need a teacher who cares for them and is prepared to work tirelessly, even more so than many others TFA works with. I admire your hard work so far and your realistic attitude.

  5. I think I should fly out to San Francisco and hug you.

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Out of the Blue… and Into the Bay!

Bay Area
Elementary School
Special Education

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