Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Should I stay, or should I go now?

01It’s been a hard year for me.   This is the first time in my career that I’ve been forced to change schools, rather than choosing to.  The culture at this school is very bizarre; fragmented,  isolated and conflicted.  And the transition from high school back to junior high has been, to say the least, bumpy.

The principal send out an email the other day asking the staff about who is planning to retire, transfer or  for any reason not coming back next year.  I’ve been thinking about a transfer for quite a while now, and 02this seemed like the time to let her know what was going on in my mind.  I had a very good working relationship with her for 5 years at my first  school, and felt like I owed it to her to let her know.  So I emailed her back and told her that I would like to discuss it with her before I made a definite decision.

It was a really good conversation.  She asked for specifics about what was bothering me about the school.  I told her about problems getting back into junior high mode, issues with the faculty, some of the staff, and also the isolation caused by the physical building itself.  She didn’t disagree with any of the points I made, she even told me about some of the difficulties  she’s had, and is still having, with some of the people there.  She talked about how at the other school she had seen me develop great relationships with the students, and despite the problems I’ve had this 03year, she knows that that is one of my strong points.  She asked me what she could do to make things better, I told her give me only 4 classes with no more than 28 kids in them.  We laughed.  In the end she told me she would help me any way she could, that she’d hate to see me go but she understood that I needed to do what would be good for me.

What the conversation did for me was to make me think about what it really was that is making me unhappy there.  I realized that if my classroom was running the way it should be, that if I was happy in my teaching (for the most part at least), that all the other stuff would be tolerable.  I’ve also known for a while that a lot of the problems I’m having in the classroom are my own fault.  In junior high the first couple months are crucial in setting up classroom procedures and climate.  Although I disagree with the old 04adage “don’t smile until Christmas”, there is some truth to not letting anything slide by, in discipline or routines, for the first few months.  Once you’ve set up the expectations, once they are set in the way the classroom runs, good or bad, it’s hard to change them, and way too easy for the students to fall back into the old habits.  That was my big problem, I started out the year like they were high school students, and something unique to the school I was at, like they were high school students that had chosen to be there.  It’s felt a lot like my very first year teaching, and the best advice I got that year was that no matter how bad it got, I had to try a second year.  To take everything I’ve learned (or everything I’ve remembered, this time around) and start out the year right.05

So, I think I’m going to stay.  I need to show myself that I’m still able to make a junior high classroom run right.  I’ve never left a school because of the students, my first school was because of all the other crap going on outside the classroom.  The rest of the times I left I was going towards something new, not running away from something I was unhappy with.  If and when I leave this school, I don’t want it to be because of something I should be able to change, or because I didn’t even try.



A Paperback Writer said...

Here's what I have gathered from reading your blog and talking to you occasionally this past year:
1) you like the principal
2) you're okay with the building/rabbit warren itself, but you're not in love with it
3) although you had a bit of trouble adjusting back to junior high, you've built your usual rapore with these kids and you're enjoying them -- even if you miss the maturity (okay, RELATIVE maturity) of the high school students
4) you don't have as many friends among the faculty members and for the first time in several years have a fair number of people who irritate the heck out of you and whom you cannot escape or ignore.
Of course you should give it another year if you want to, but I don't think your problem is with the kids, and I think there'd have to be a high turnover rate with some new, energetic people before you'd be happy at the school.
That's just what I've gathered from your comments this year. Take it for what it's worth.

The Gearheads said...

This is very wise advise, my brother. I hope that next year surpasses your second year of teaching. It is obvious by the amount of students that yell out "Mr. Max" while in the store, on the road, even in a podunk town in the middle of Utah, that you are a remembered teacher, and with fondness. If a student is yelling at a teacher they didn't like, the name is probably proceeded by "F U". You get to live dejavu all over again and have the wisdom of knowing it's dejavu.

Max said...

Writer: You're right on target, except that other than a handful of students, I haven't built up my usual rapore with the students. I think that's why I need to stay for another year. There will always be a lot of things that irritate me at this school, just ask Mrs. P about my whole department, and you've heard me comment on some of the other staff. This year has shown me how lucky I've been at my last three schools, faculties that actually worked together to make the job easier, not a single teacher that would look the other way as I walked down the hall. But I don't want to leave with a negative feeling towards the students, and unfortunately, for the most part that's how I've felt this year. I know it has a lot to do with the way I started out the year, I made a lot of rookie mistakes. I just need to give it another year, eliminate the student problems (ok, not all of them) and see how much the rest of the stuff still bothers me. Then I can leave knowing there was nothing more I could have done.
Gearhead: Thanks, and I kow next year will be better.

A Paperback Writer said...

When I first arrived at the school where I teach -- many, many years ago-- I had one teacher (you don't know him) who was absolutely out to get me (and he wasn't even in my department). He lied about me to the principal, the parents, the kids. Ugh. Then we had a spineless principal who was a joke. He always accused the teachers when parents or kids had a complaint. It was horrible.
However, I was too young and inexperienced to know that it didn't have to be like that, and I loved the kids, so I stayed on.
As you know, things are much better now: we have the best principal we've had in the whole time I've been there (out of 4 ), and that nasty guy retired years ago. So I'm glad I stuck it out. Here's hoping you'll soon be glad, too. (How long til some of the nasties retire?)