Tuesday, February 10, 2004

It feels like a winter machine...

I've been a little depressed for the last few days... I guess I really only took one day off from blogging, but it feels like a week has gone by. This is a difficult time of year for everyone - teachers included - thanks to the gloomy weather and endless cold (though it's amazing how downright balmy 36F feels after you've been staring down the barrel of 10F for a few weeks). Our seventh graders have been a difficult group to deal with for a few weeks now... we sense a general erosion of behavior. I spotted the word F--- scrawled on my wall this morning, down low near the radiator - it will have to be washed off tomorrow. A lot of the students have been talking back. The ones who are always a handful seem to be more of a handful than ever. We had another fight today, leading to our first ever district suspension (one of the boys involved was also involved in the fight on Friday). On top of that is the hour or so a day I spend downloading and printing resumes, which was exciting at first but now just feels like work.

We sent our sixth graders to Albany today for Student Lobby Day - we have a wonderful school health clinic in our building, with an on-site psychiatrist and several nurses, but they always risk budget cuts.

We took advantage of the resulting schedule changes to have a staff-student discussion with one of the seventh grade classes, about why they are so frequent absent, not doing homework, coming in late, etc. I doubt it will change anything radically as far as the kids' behavior is concerned - a few will take home some things to think about - but it helped both teachers and students to get things off our chests. I taught that class last period today and felt a little more "centered" and able to be patient, to pause and ask them if I needed to explain anything again, to see the good things happening rather than just the bad. We'll see.

I mentor two first-year TFA teachers. This just started a few weeks ago, so we are still getting to know one another and figure out what the mentor-mentee relationship will be. I spent Saturday afternoon grading papers and chatting with one woman, C. She has also been struggling with depression lately, in part because a student attacked her in the classroom. And by attacked, I mean shoved, scratched, threatened with a chair over her head, tried to poke out her eyes... Apparently, this student has pushed her before, and has disrupted her classes in other violent ways, and she has reported the incidents to her administration, but no action was taken. C finally told her principal in no uncertain terms that she will not enter the classroom with this girl present. So far, the girl has not returned. Hearing C's description of her school - which is a new, small school, beginner principal, and completely chaotic - only made me sadder. My original TFA placement was not a perfect place, by any means, but if a student had ever physically pushed me, he or she would have been at the very least removed from my classes. If I had been placed in a school like C's, I doubt I would still be teaching.

Hearing C's story made me tired and sad. And then I read Mrs. Chew's response to the teacher-bashing over at Joanne Jacobs, and that made me tired and sad, too. My favorite posture in yoga is "child" - sit on your knees, shift your weight backwards, lean forward so you rest your forehead on the floor, extend your arms in front of you or by your sides, relax, breathe into your lower back. It is extraordinarily calming; once you try it, you'll know why it's called "child." I am only 25 years old, and I have this enormous responsibility to the children in my school, and sometimes, I still feel like a child myself.

I was terribly, terribly depressed my first year and a half of teaching - Zoloft-taking, therapist-seeing, barely-getting-out-of-bed depressed. Once I started the Zoloft and opened up about it to a few other TFA friends, I realized that at least two other teachers (out of about 5 that I was close friends with) were also taking anti-depressants, and those are the just ones who got medication... I know there are many out there who struggle with the ups and downs of it all but find other ways to cope, or no way to cope. One of my roommates during that first year quit after only a few weeks because she was spiralling into deep depression, partly because teaching brought up some painful things from her own childhood.

Teach For America probably has a lot of depressed corps members because the organization actively seeks intensely-committed perfectionists who have never really failed at anything (that they couldn't turn into a success in an essay...). Then they take us, move us away from our friends, family, and other support networks, and give us a brand-new, incredibly complex job working in some of the most difficult schools in the US, where every single student is very needy in some way....

But I also imagine that many teachers, not just Teach For America, struggle with job-related anger, sadness, stress, anxiety, depression...

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