Saturday, August 17, 2013

Anxiety... and EXCITEMENT: Back to School!

Monday morning, the students return.  We teachers have been back for a (little under) a week.  Starting my second year in this particular school, I am definitely in better shape.  However, I'm feeling the strong pull of the "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing" paradox because I feel less prepared knowing how much I have to do.  I have been overwhelmed all week.

A few things have me particularly anxious:

  1. I got a pretty decent rep at my school last year as being alright at what I do.  This will help, but it also means I have hype to live up to now and the expectations are higher.  I'm not a "noob." What I did last year won't be good enough.
  2. I'm teaching all new preps, save one (the AP class), and have three different preps in fall.  No, I don't know what we might be reading on Wednesday yet...
  3.  I have a student teacher.  I'm so excited for that--I think changing jobs so often has kept me "in touch" with new to service teachers more than other people with my experience, and I so respect and empathize with how awesome/challenging/impossible/wonderful/horrible that first year of teaching is.  He's cool so far.  However, I feel like I should feel a lot more like a "master teacher" than I actually do (see #2 and my lack of plans for Wednesday).  I know I've been doing this for nine years on two different continents, but still... Doubts eternal.
  4. My spring students' AP scores were... not good.  I hesitate to post about this because it is somewhat questionably private student information that they need not have broadcast on the internet and because I really shouldn't (even in this political climate) put so much stock in scores.  As much as I truly believe that standardized tests tell you little more with accuracy than the income range of the test taker's parents, I cannot avoid the reality that (1--and more importantly) the AP test has the potential to help my students avoid taking an extra class in college and therefore is great if they pass it and (2) we teachers not only are judged by others on our students' scores, we really feel overwhelmingly personally responsible for their failures.  Like, I see a student in my class get a high score on a test, and I'm like "WOW... John did so GREAT!!!"  I see a student get a bad score, and I'm like "Oh MY GOD!!!  What did I do wrong?  I'm the worst teacher in the entire world!"  I realize this is ridiculous, but it is my first reaction to credit students entirely with success and blame myself entirely with failure.  Reading too much political educational rhetoric?  Perhaps.  It's one of my few remaining holdovers of growing up with sub-par self-esteem.  All this is to say, that I'm feeling the test score pressure.  AP Language and Composition is basically my favorite class to teach (only American Culture came close; though perhaps Creative Writing and Drama would be up there, should anyone ever give me the chance to teach those).  I don't want it to be taken away from me next year because of scores.
  5. My schedule blows.  I won't go into details, but I got screwed*.  These are the things about teaching in public schools I don't love.  At all.
  6. New principal/bosslady = extra pressure + extra uncertainty.  However, over the last few days, I have a very strong positive first impression.  Cautiously optimistic?  Yes, I am.  Aw... I'll just admit the truth now.  I'm giddy with glee basking in her positive glow.  I love this woman already so much, I know she's bound to disappoint me sometime because she would not be human if she could live up to the amazing feeling of AWESOME I'm getting from her at this point.  I will have to temper my giddiness.  Fortunately, I have my anxieties... see above.

Typing out my anxieties has made me come back around to my blinding optimism that always seems to win out around this time of year.  The students I've met so far have been really awesome.  At Back to School night, some of my kids from last year stopped by to tell me about their summers and said really kind things to me (and apparently about me to other teachers).  I have a new classroom that is way bigger and more flexible than my previous one.  I'm in much better shape with preparation for the whole semester than I was at this time last year, even if my day-to-day is not fleshed out...  Overall, most of what I'm feeling is excitement.

I have a feeling I will not be sleeping much this weekend.  I plan to spend my last day of summer with my lovely menfolk at the pool.

*honestly, I believe no one did this to me intentionally, so I hold no particular grudge about it.  And I have the most supportive colleagues in the world who made me not only NOT run for the hills, but find some positive ways to approach some classes I'm less than enthusiastic about teaching.


  1. One of my coworkers once said "If a student does well, the coaches take credit for it. If the student does poorly, it's all on me. How is that fair?"

    Yeah, it seems the idea that "they're all our students" only extends to student successes, and all of their failures are on the teacher's shoulders alone.

  2. Hey, I came across your blog, we went to Blair around the same time but I doubt you remember me (it's fine). Anyways, I just started teaching a class - the circumstances are a little different, these are college graduates taking an expensive prep class for a professional school entrance exam, but I'm finding the same things. Some students do well on practice tests, some mediocre, and some terribly. I think the best approach for me is to have emotional distance -- give them most of the credit for both failure and success. I do the best job teaching that I can out of sheer arrogance, not because I care about scores. The ones that have both the innate talent and the drive to do the homework, take notes in class, ask questions, meet with me during office hours, etc are succeeding. But there are some that claim to be doing all the work who aren't improving at all. At first that really bothered me, but then I realized many of these students are what I call "multiple losers" - people who took both the class and the test in the past, failed (possibly more than once), and are now back in the class. The worst thing was, as a rookie teacher I tried extra hard to help them, with absolutely zero results, and taking class time away from the ones who actually have a chance of passing. I suggest the best thing to do is write off the failures. Do the best you can, regardless, but mentally realize some people just aren't smart enough, and others don't have the work ethic (shocking, considering how much the class costs, but still true). I never understood these idiotic assumptions in the public education system about success and failure. Either your system has integrity, in which case it's challenging enough that failure is an option, or it has none, leading to things like social promotion and dumb jocks graduating from Kollege being functionally illiterate.



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