Friday, February 6, 2009


It's an ugly fact of life, but not only do most people fail from time to time; we also take comfort in the fact that other people also fail. Maybe it's not an ugly fact. Maybe it's just keeping it real.

I was reminded of this yesterday when I was talking to one of my younger sisters about her (relatively new) job as a math teacher. She is having a rough time of it, and I have to say that I have never known of a first-year teacher who hasn't. I remembered last year-- my first real year of teaching-- and I remembered one conversation with my mom, in which I was bemoaning my many inadequacies as a teacher, and finally she shared one of the more embarrassing moments of her teaching career: her first semester of teaching, as a graduate student, she put an unsolvable problem on the final (math) exam. She did not discover the fact that it was unsolvable until was grading the exam, and at that point all she could do about it was give everyone full credit (which she did).

When I told Klari about this, she laughed really hard and said, "I should talk to Mom more." I agree.

On a more personal note, my worst moment teaching (so far) was when I was substitute teaching at a Jr. High in the Utah Valley region. A math class, now that I think about it. The teacher had left a note that I should be really strict, not allow any talking, and call the principal's office if the kids gave me any cheek whatsoever. I sort of raised my eyebrows, because I am personally a little more laid back than all that, but I tried to follow instructions. By third period, if I recall correctly, I had called them something like five times. Fourth period I called again, and they said that I was going to have to learn how to handle discipline problems myself, because they just couldn't handle that many kids. I turned red. I did not eat lunch in the teacher's lunch room because I was so embarrassed and sure that everyone would know that I was the stupid substitute teacher who had called the principal's office so many times that they had to tell her to stop.

By the end of the day, I had developed my own method of classroom management (or maybe I had just developed trust in the method I pretty much had at that point anyway). This method, if it could be called that, worked so well that almost every single time I have been observed teaching since then, I have gotten comments on the positive rapport in my classroom and/or how willing my students are to do what I ask them to. My students also frequently comment on how nice I am. I sometimes worry that this means I'm a pushover, but I'll take what I can get.

I know I'm always begging for comments, but especially here: I would love to have any extra, validating stories about failures that did not end the world and even are pretty funny at this point in time.


ltandjbcox said...

When I got my AA from the little community college in town I was persuaded to apply for an "emergency sub" position at the local school district. $65.00/day (or something like that). Well, I was called numerous times by the Jr. High. The worst stint was the last week of school for the choir director, who had to leave town for national guard duty. So in this class I had students who varied from intense music lovers and wonderful singers, to those stuck in the class because no other elective was available. My notion that "we could all get along" was quickly discarded in the face of students answering to the wrong names, laughing behind my back because I didn't know who was who. . . (or should that whom was whom?). Anyway, with nothing to teach them. . . . no test to prepare for. . . .no concert looming in their future. . .I decided to get a few musicals to watch. If students didn't want to join in this but would rather visit, they were excused to one of the practice rooms. I felt very beat up at the end of THAT week. Give me the elementary school. . .they love us over there.

Welcome back.

Greg Hendricks said...

So... Are you going to share your excellent method of keeping kids in line?

SAC said...

Thank you, Joyce! Comments are a joy to my heart.

Greg: anticipating your question, I had already started drafting an answer, but it isn't quite ready for posting yet. Look for it in upcoming days! (Now aren't you excited!?)