Wednesday, August 29, 2012

First Day

We all know the days...the, "who am I to think I could be a teacher?" "why did I go into this anyway?" "how can I get through another day like this one?" 

At the beginning of the year when everything is new and shiny and exciting, we can ride the wave of adrenaline and forget about those days when we feel particularly challenged and exhausted and incapable. 

Yesterday was my first day of school with kids.  I had the ninth grade in the morning, and gosh were they doing their best to impress me.  I work at a tiny school (80 students in grades 7-12 this year) and the 7/8 grade math teacher speaks of me as a legend that students are preparing for.  "You need to be ready for Jasmine next year"  "Jasmine wouldn't stand for not showing your work like that" etc.  I certainly hold high expectations for my students and launch right into academics on day one, but I'm not sure that I have quite the intensity that my reputation brings. 

I started Math9 (a combo of algebra & geometry) with the question "Why do we learn math?"  I have obviously thought quite deeply about this question myself and I always look forward to hearing what the students have to say about it as well.  The best response this year was "to keep the world organized."  Many of them also spoke about it being powerful to lean a universal language.  I start the year with this activity to encourage students to think of math as more than "when am I going to use THIS."  I want to encourage them to see math as more than for cooking and careers and sports scores (though these things are also important of course), and I hope that they will appreciate the deeper problem solving and pattern seeking that is the beauty of math. I left class feeling energized, encouraged and excited for the school year!

In Calculus we started with the question "What is Calculus?"  They had a few minutes to write their own thoughts and then we shared as a class (the class has only 8 students this year).  Every student had some great ideas to share; they had clearly heard about this forboding subject for years!  The problem was not in their responses to the prompt, but in the way that they responded to one another.  This class has a reputation for snarkiness and sarcasm and they lived right up to it on day one, laughing at one anothers contributions and making comments.  I am clearly going to have to lay out some more clear expectations tomorrow.

Yesterday was not one of those days where I question my qualifications to teach, but calculus class reminded me of those times.  It got me thinking about how I cope when I'm feeling particularly down. I work at a school with a really incredible faculty who care for each other deeply.  My first line of defense yesterday was to seek out teachers I admire to ask how they have worked with this class in the past, and get some empathy and help with problem solving.  Coming home I did some writing for myself to process the day and then got engrossed in cleaning and organizing tasks at home.  For me, finding order out of chaos at home (a closet or shelf) helps to remind me that I can be in control and the craziness is not taking over everywhere.

When I have those hard days, I want to be able to draw on the memories of "keeping the world organized" and other insightful moments to remind myself of the important work that I'm doing.


  1. First, congrats on the start of a new year! I always started the school year with a lot of excitement and high hopes. It was such a great feeling. Even though I'm not teaching now, I found it amusing that I had a dream the other night before school started that I was starting the year with my kids only to discover that I hadn't gotten my room ready yet. I don't think I'll ever escape the classroom!

    Your school is so small! My high school had about 240 students and I thought that was tiny. It's neat that you get to teach calculus with just 8 students. I know you have concerns about that particular group of students, but after working on that I can only imagine how far you'll be able to take those kids this year. Good luck!!