Thursday, May 28, 2015

Bellaire Diaries

WARNING: Prepare yourselves for a novel, but this was a fun one to write, so bear with me as I relive my first year of teaching - full of (many) aha! moments, successes, failures, facepalms, and laughs galore.

And with that, I have officially completed my first year of teaching. W H A T. Yeah, I can't believe it either. This year absolutely flew by, but over the course of this one school year, I've aged ten actual years, I've laughed more than I ever have, I've found a few gray hairs, I've questioned the future of our country, I've heard some heartbreaking stories, I've shaken things off, I've learned to pick my battles, I've met some wonderful human beings in my fellow teachers (but to be honest, I still have a hard time calling many of them by their first names), I've had my days brightened by 14- and 15-year-olds, and finally, I've grown far more than I ever could have imagined. Wow, have I learned a lot this year, and though it's so much of a relief to no longer be "the rookie teacher," I'm a little bit sad that my first year of teaching is really and truly over. I've heard that it's by far the hardest year, and while I have no other years to go off of, I only hope the first year is the hardest. This year was tough in so many aspects of the word, but it was also better than I ever could have dreamed.

Let me explain. I've mentioned on the blog before that, much like Shakespeare's Sonnets in the third quatrain, my attitude toward my teaching career underwent a big shift halfway through the year. At first, I was unhappy and overwhelmed and lost and alone and all things miserable, if I'm being completely honest. I was anxious and stressed all the time and I marveled at the teachers who have been teaching for 25+ years, because was I even going to make it one? Teaching is no joke. And adding in coaching to the mix? Yeah, I was exhausted. And I was only four months in.

Let me start from the beginning. Remember when I started crying in my assistant principal's office when he took away my classroom and told me I was floating? Apparently, that's a common thing at Bellaire. But how was I to know that? I certainly didn't start off on the best foot with my reaction. But it was that moment when I was shedding tears in the middle of the main hallway that I met one of the kindest, most genuine men. He told me he had a son at Bellaire, and that he'd been doing this teaching and coaching thing for a long time. And while I can't remember much else of what he told me, he made me feel a whole lot better about the situation, and the next day he made it a point to come up to me and ask how I was doing. And then I found out that his classroom was located right next to one of mine, meaning I had the pleasure to talking with him almost every day, if even for only a brief second. He always had a kind and encouraging word, and I loved being able to talk sports with him, too. To add to the story, my principal sought me out one day and apologized to me about the way everything was handled. Something he certainly didn't have to do, but something that made me feel appreciated, nonetheless. And while I'm on the subject, one of my fellow English teachers, who has been at Bellaire 10+ years, emailed me and offered up a tackle box that she used when she was a floating teacher.

And while floating isn't an ideal scenario - you carry your classroom around with you on a cart, it's a cringe-worthy setup for someone who strives for organization, and it was a bit of a letdown to not get to decorate a classroom - it wasn't all bad. In fact, I'm going to consider myself lucky. And here's why. My original classroom was located on the first floor. Most of the other English teachers, give or take a few, have classrooms located on the third floor. At the beginning of the year, I would have loved that, because I'm someone who likes to do things all on her own. But somewhere around November I realized that trying to do it all on my own was hugely contributing to my negative experience at Bellaire. I absolutely loved being a hop, skip, and a jump away from the other English teachers - from those who taught English I alongside me, to those who taught AP English IV. I was able to pop in and ask a quick question, no matter how dumb it may have been. And I probably asked some dumb ones. I was able to bond with my fellow rookie teacher, and she's someone I'm so grateful to have had around and to have spent so much time with. We were able to share resources and success stories and frustrations and most of all, laughs. Because freshmen students are downright funny.

Getting to know some of the other English teachers as a result of being a floater was huge for me. Honestly, these people are some of the greatest I have ever met. They are very clearly good at what they do, as many of them have been teaching at Bellaire for more years than I've been alive. They were always quick to ask how I was doing, and they were always willing to share a funny story. Pickles was taught some truly valuable life lessons - and the tea - and she can't say enough about all that these teachers did for her throughout the course of the school year. And now, after surviving my first year as a floater, I feel as though I've truly been initiated into the Bellaire teaching community. It was a rite of passage, after all! And it taught me the importance of being flexible.

And the students. I was an AP student growing up. Always enrolled in the accelerated classes, forever attending morning tutorials (thanks, JRid and Dave Ave!), and never one to skip out on a homework assignment. So I found myself getting frustrated with so many of my students when they just didn't seem to careThey are so lucky to get to attend a school like Bellaire, and so many of them seemed to be throwing it all away. I often felt as though I should clap them on the back simply for showing up to class on time. It was so different from my high school experience that it required an adjustment period. But I came to love teaching the academic kids. They needed a little bit more motivation, and I finally got to be the cheerleader I always wanted to be. So many of my students have only been told that they can't, and I got to use my energy and enthusiasm to hopefully show them that they are loved and cared for and that they matter. That they can. That college isn't the only definition of success, but that I'll help get you there if that's what you want. Some of the stories my students told me made me want to give each and every one of them a big hug. Because some of them dealt with things that never would have crossed my teenage mind. My 7th period drove the ever-living heck out of me, I sent more than a few kids outside because I just couldn't deal with them anymore, I fought (and lost) the cell phone battle daily, but my students made getting up in the 5 o'clock hour each day more than worth it. Using novels as my vehicle, I got to talk to them about life, and that meant more to me than anything a standardized test could ever measure. And I stayed up on all the teen lingo. What more could you want?

Now let's talk volleyball. I've talked about it before, but though I felt as though I didn't have one spare moment to breathe, I am so unbelievably grateful for the opportunity I was given to give back to the sport that gave me so much as a player. The coaches are some of the greatest, and offered endless support throughout the entire year, putting up with me and my zero years of experience. I realized there was a lot I didn't know (and still don't know) about the game I gave so much of my time to. At the end of the day, I loved being able to shed my teacher persona and put on my coaches hat. Figuratively, of course. I had the spunkiest group of girls around, and it has been a blessing getting to know them in a different way than I knew my students. Looking at my job description, I was the one who was supposed to teach them something. But they taught me more than I ever could have imagined. Coaching was (and is!) hard for me, and I often wondered what in the world I had gotten myself into, but in a way, it made my transition into this new phase of life so much easier. I had a group of people outside my English team, and while it was a time-consuming commitment - as stated above - it was also the only bright spot within those early dark days.

Every day was something different, which is what I've grown to love about teaching. This whole entire year I was never bored, I was never idle, and I learned something new each and every day. I've got a job that has me at work moving and crossing things off before many people even wake up. But it evens out when I'm in my car at 3:17pm, driving out of our anxiety-inducing parking lot. If Bellaire ever gets rebuilt, that's my first request. My second is expanding the width of the hallways. But if the rebuild never actually happens, that's okay too, because the charming 60-year-old school has grown on me, despite my initial negative reaction.

And maybe I don't want it to be rebuilt because I finally know my way around it. Just a few weeks ago I went to turn in a cell phone and I had to stop and ask someone where that particular principals office was located. I just learned where the 330's are located, and you get yourself a workout when you walk from one end of the school to the other. It makes me have a little bit more sympathy for the students who are late to class each day. But only a little bit. Because they really do walk at a snail's pace.

I've learned to accept the fact that I look like one of the students. In fact, the reason I wore this lanyard is so that I could establish my identity as a teacher. 

I've got stories out the wazoo about the classic student/teacher mix-up, but for the sake of length, I'll just share one. Students aren't allowed on the second and third floors until the first bell rings at 7:25am, and one morning one of our APs was sending kids right back in the direction from which they came. I, being a teacher, kept right on going on my journey to the copy room. At first, I wasn't sure who he was talking to when he said, "Sweetie, where do you think you're going?" I gave a soft-spoken, "Um, I work here," while simultaneously holding up my ID. He was a little embarrassed. But I'll cut him some slack - it was the beginning of the school year, after all. And it probably doesn't help that Bellaire has the most casual teacher dress code I've ever experienced. Jeans are the everyday norm, and if I ever dress up even a little bit, I always receive at least three separate comments on my attire. There hasn't been one day that I've worn slacks, and I'm perfectly okay with that. I had to laugh when I heard two horrified teachers talking about how they heard they could only wear jeans on Fridays at [insert the name of any other HISD school].

Casual, but to be fair, I started out in heels
And as exhausting as it is having a job that requires me to be "on" all day, I wouldn't trade it for any other job in the world. I'm forced to make hundreds of decisions in any given day - from how to handle a student's behavior, how to make a lesson more engaging the second time around, to which battles I'm going to fight - and I gained a lot of confidence this school year. I grew more vocal within my English I team, I became less timid in dealing with my students, and honestly, I feel as though there's nothing I can't do. I've got a job where I don't dread Mondays, and for that, I'm especially grateful. This year has been an absolute whirlwind, but I truly couldn't have asked for a better one. I learned a lot, laughed a lot, graded a lot, failed a lot, gave "the look" a lot, and most of all, I've been really thankful. 

Sometimes I wondered what I was doing at Bellaire, when there was something more comfortable and familiar just up the road. But then I remember how much peace I felt in saying yes to Bellaire, and I realize how Jesus has orchestrated every single step. And I can't believe I've officially got one year under my belt. Word on the street is that year two is like having a whole new job, because everything suddenly becomes loads easier. I don't know about that one, but I'm certainly looking forward to the new adventure. After summer vacation, of course!

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