It’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 this 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 year, 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 adage “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.
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.