TFA tells us to aim for 80% mastery and we can change the life of every student. And maybe we can. But the reality is, if I get 60% mastery, it is a great day. The reality is despite hours of conversations, time spent during school and after school talking to kids about making the right decisions, listening to what they have to say, and having them help you with science experiments, they still make their own decisions. And sometimes that decision is the wrong one.
What has teaching taught me? It’s taught me to toughen up. You cannot command a classroom on the verge of tears. They will cuss you out, they will tell you that you’re wrong, their phone wasn’t out, whatever they don’t care anyways. But you know they are there so they must care a little. Then one day you will tell them a family member passed and you will be out for a funeral, and they will tell you how sorry they are and behave ok because they can.
Because at the end of the day, they are teenagers. Loud, obnoxious teenagers, with hormones running wild and 8,000 questions about that elusive virus HIV. At the end of the day, sometimes the tangents in your lesson plans are the best form of engagement and they are always honest to a fault. You can’t expect respect in your classroom, you have to demand it.
And if you are a soon to be first year teacher, you will do it all wrong. Your first day, week, month will not go as planned. Kids will fight, someone will punch someone else while you are teaching, and then a stapler will be thrown. And you will cry thinking you’re a failure. But 6 months later when one student tries to provoke another in your classroom and they don’t stand up to fight? That’s when you see the respect they are giving you.
It isn’t the perfect job. And some days it’s a thankless job. But sometimes, you have the moments you realize just maybe you are making a difference. And THAT is the reality of your first year teaching in city schools.