September 14, 2012

Not gonna' lie

I'm kind of nervous. 7th and 8th graders are...I don't want to say intimidating, but that's the truth (see the title?). I'm intimidated. For those of you who don't know, I just started a new job teaching small intervention classes to low readers and English language learners, and now, due to high kindergarten enrollment, a inner-school transfer was made. Long story made short- I'm replacing the 7th and 8th grade language arts teacher because she is now teaching kindergarten, starting next week.
I introduced myself to my new classes yesterday and while nothing remarkable happened (no one threw their pencil or said anything more interesting than, "Why's that chick staring at me? She's a teacher? Oh..."), the overwhelming feeling I had was, "This is going to be tough." Here's my attempt to process this feeling and get myself pumped for Monday.

Blast from the past, my middle school self (top left, second row). This will help me
picture my students as cute and adorable, and so very, very awkward.
1. I'm going from a grand total of 27 students (I know, I know, pretty sweet deal, right?) to over 150.

Uh...yeah. Quite the transition there. I've handled about 80-90 in the past, so even with my previous student load, this is going to be a lot. However, I was looking over my rosters and realized I have some repeats in my advisory, 7th grade reading intervention and 7th grade regular, at least there's something.

2. This move to 7th and 8th grade language arts is taking place in the fourth week of school.

Hmm...not the ideal time to start. I foresee them knowing each other's names (all 150 of them) and me stumbling for a while. It's a different feeling than the actual first day of school when they're nervous and can forgive a few mis-pronunciations.

"Is Gruky here?"
"It's Grace."
(Looking down at a name spelled Grauckie) "Oh. My mistake." (And we move on. And I never mis-pronounce that name again.)

That's expected. There aren't too many laughs. But kids can be more brutal to a newcomer than a pack of starving hyenas that smell fresh meat. Four weeks into the year, there are already groups and power structures forming, and I'm going to come in and mix it all up. Transitions are hard, especially to a teenage brain, which thrives in a stable, predictable environment. I will be the focal point, the visible instrument of change. The punching bag of which all frustrations will be taken out on.
Deep breath.
Stop freaking yourself out, Jessie. If I'm going to be a punching bag, I'm going to be the one that never breaks and comes back to knock you over when your back is turned, ha ha!
Many teachers have made a move or started a job even later than this and survived. If I make mistakes about names or stumble when I speak due to nerves, I just need to move past it and get over it. Teenagers of all ages are so obsessed with their own lives that anything I do to embarrass myself will be forgotten soonish (I hope). I just need to start strong, pretend like it's the first day, and make the class my own. Speaking of making it my own...

3. The teacher I'm replacing is a great one.

Nobody likes to say goodbye to someone they like. There's a lot of procedures that I will chuck because it's not my style, and that may anger a few students. However, these kids just don't know how awesome I am yet. Once they figure that out, they'll adjust.

4. I'm used to 6th graders.

It's not like I haven't taught or been around 7th and 8th graders. Heck, I was one and I survived, but the exuberance and excited curiosity of 6th graders fueled my teaching. I love what I teach, the 6th graders pick up on that and respond in kind, and that makes me even happier and energetic in the classroom.

Here's a normal reaction to a WONDERFUL lesson by a 6th grader:
"Wow! That book's cool. Can I check it out?"
By a 7th grader:
"You said duty. Ha ha ha ha ha!"
By an 8th grader:
Stone silence, no emotion, leaning back, arms folded. It's uncool to be interested.

That said, 6th graders can be tiring at times- they are so wiggly! A 6th grader's brain simply can not comprehend the idea that they are not the center of the universe. (7th graders are making that transition and 8th graders are supposed to be there, described with great humor here.) I loved to blow their minds with a simple lesson on how much a million really is during my Holocaust unit, which in turn would help send home the terrifying truth of just how many people were affected in that time. I have a lot of great materials and lessons for 6th grade, so I'm a bit worried about increasing rigor, difficulty and interest for the older kids. I am looking forward to having higher-level discussions with ties into social justice as well. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated! 

I hope that I can break through their teenage shell and awaken joy there too, I'm just not quite sure how. Yet. While I have been mistaken as a student 14 times so far this school year, I am the adult in the room, and by golly, I'm going to stay strong in the face of apathy and get them excited about reading!

Join me, friends, in future posts as I capture all the pitfalls and joys as this new adventure unfolds.

1 comment:

  1. So proud of you Jess! You're going to be awesome! I have no doubt in my mind.