Teaching is so hard! | #3

Now, beginning week 3 in the classroom with my rising fifth graders, I can truly say that this job is the most challenging I’ve ever had. Last week, our supervisors let us know that, because of the behaviors and a lack of enforcement of behavioral expectations, we’d be “reseting” our classrooms with their help. For the last three days of camp, our supervisors led our classes and modeled teaching strategies for us. It was really helpful to see how former educators attempt to tackle problems that they have seen over and over again (and that are very knew to Ben and I as first-time teachers), like kids leaving class without permission, using disrespectful language, or misusing materials. I am feeling optimistic and also a bit nervous for the upcoming two weeks. So far this week, I have seen both excellent and troubling behaviors from my students, ranging from engaged, focused learning and bonding to physical fights and barricading doors. I will say now, though, that I have come to know and love every one of my students. They have huge personalities and very specific interests, and I admire their ability to learn even when they can’t see it in themselves. We never get bored in that classroom!

I know that in terms of my teaching style, some things need to change. I’ve noticed that there are times that I respond more sternly or in terms of consequences, when I could really be asking questions about why or how a situation occurred. I would also like to try to detach myself a little bit from the concerns of the students in terms of how much fun class is or how many options they have. In the past I’ve been really worried when students express boredom or stress about the strictness of the classroom during the “reset”, but I’m coming to see that kids have a hard time in transitions and an even harder time when transitions involve a loss of freedom. I know that the structure we’re providing benefits them whether or not they know it in the moment, and so I’m working hard to see that I can be more of an authoritative figure and still feel sure that I’m setting them up for short and long-term success, even if that means not being everyone’s favorite teacher.

Another challenge I’ve run into concerning my ownership over the classroom and my personal identity involves being a woman in a workplace. I don’t think that this is specific to teaching, or to any specific fields of work — it is almost always harder to be taken seriously in a professional environment, whether or not it is male-dominated. I am finding that, with a male teaching partner and supervisor, I have been taking more of a backseat to lesson planning and implementation. Even among my students, I feel like my identity as a woman sometimes interferes with my perceived level of authority. I’ve even had students refer to me as a “helper” or “assistant teacher” to other adults in the room. I’ve been wondering, because of all this, if it’s something that will always be true of me as a woman in a work environment, or if I’ve allowed my fear of not being taken seriously to limit me. Am I taking steps back and acting less authoritatively because pressure is put on me to do so, or do I simply anticipate that pressure and back off for fear that it will happen? Just something to think about as I continue with this work for the next month. Having worked in child care, restaurants, and a biology laboratory in the past, I’ve experienced varying levels of misogyny or out-of-place-ness. This is one of the most difficult to overcome because, even being so much older than the students, they still may not take me seriously as an adult in their classroom.

This feels like more of a ramble than a cohesive blog post, but I’m noticing that this is the most I’ve been thinking of my identities recently. I anticipated thinking more about the privileges of being a native English-speaker, but in fact it has been my identity as a woman that I find making the greatest difference now.

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