Time for Another Transition

Last Friday, I withdrew from student teaching.  The decision was a culmination of many things, but what it came down to was that I realized that teaching was not what I wanted to pursue as a career, and I thought, If I know that much after spending two weeks student teaching and can still withdraw without losing my tuition, then why finish out the semester? I decided all of this on Thursday night.  It had been a slow realization that teaching was not the right path for me—that had been dawning on me gradually throughout the program, and student teaching made it even more apparent.  Until Thursday, however, I had planned on finishing my certification before deciding for sure what I wanted to do next.

What changed on Thursday was that I had my first observation with my teacher from UB.  I didn’t think it went terribly.  It didn’t go as well as it could have, but it was only my second week teaching, after all.  I was observed during third period, and we were supposed to have a conference to discuss the observation fourth period between my UB teacher, the high school teacher, and me.  First, they asked me how I thought the lesson had gone.  Then, the high school teacher began to go down her list of what I did wrong.  Eventually my UB teacher had to cut her off in order to start going down her own list.  Then she asked to meet with me again seventh period to discuss more of what I had done wrong.  I taught again eighth period, and ninth period the high school teacher went over even more of it with me.  That’s a total of about two hours of being told that everything I did was wrong.

What I Did Right:

  • I had “good board writing” for a beginning teacher.
  • Parts of my lesson plans were okay.
  • I am smart. (?)

What I Did Wrong (a small sample of what essentially amounted to “everything else”):

  • My clothes were “all wrong” for a teacher.  (I do not think that this was true, but I was told that I should be wearing a suit jacket every day.)
  • I almost completely lacked an “authoritative presence.”
  • I did not have enough inflection in my voice, or volume.
  • My lessons were not cohesive enough.
  • I failed to anticipate possible student behaviors.
  • I failed to remain aware of what was going on in all parts of the classroom.
  • I tended to talk over the students, rather than waiting for complete silence.
  • The questions I asked were ineffective.
  • I did not circulate through class enough.
  • I lost my train of thought.

I agreed with most of what they said and tried to think of ways of improving.  It was not so much this criticism that bothered me, because most of it did not surprise me.  What bothered me was the talk I had with the high school teacher after I taught again eighth period.  She berated me for failing to show significant improvement between third and eighth periods in any of the 150 different areas which she and my UB teacher told me needed improvement, implied that I was not trying at all (which was pretty frustrating because I had been trying the best I possibly could), and implied that I had no enthusiasm for teaching or literature.  I explained that it was difficult for me to show a lot of enthusiasm while I was teaching because I was still new and nervous and didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing.  Truthfully, it was pretty harsh.  But I did manage, just barely, not to cry in front of her.

So I did a lot of thinking Thursday night.  I realized that a lot of the criticism they had given me was right on.  I do not have an authoritative presence because I am not an authoritative person; I never have been.  I am not comfortable being in charge of 30 adolescents and bossing them around.  I feel like I would do better teaching college, where theoretically I am not holding people in class against their will.  I’m not a loud person, and I have an extremely mellow demeanor—it’s difficult for me to act animated.  I’m a “big picture” thinker when planning in general and have trouble ironing out details, which is a big problem in teaching.  I am not and have never been a fan of public speaking, and although I am improving, I do not enjoy it.  Losing my train of thought is a very common occurrence in my daily life, and it was definitely interfering with my teaching.  I think that is just part of how my brain functions, and I have no idea how to go about changing it.

Most, if not all, of these issues are things that I could work on and improve.  None of them by itself would have been a deal-breaker.  Taken all together, however, I feel that this list indicates that I do not have the ideal personality for a teacher.  Maybe I could become a good teacher, but I would have a long, difficult way to go.  I had expected it to be difficult going into teaching but I had not realized just how far I was as a person from who and where I needed to be in order to do this job well.  The problem was not that I couldn’t do it—I could have, if I had wanted it badly enough.  If teaching had been my one true passion in life, then I could have done it.  But I went into this program weighing and wondering whether teaching would be for me, and the answer fluctuated daily.  I did not have the passion or commitment necessary, and I knew this.  Because of all of these things together, I decided to withdraw.

Just to clarify, NONE of my reasons included:

  • I didn’t like the students.  (I did, very much.)
  • I didn’t like the teachers.  (I liked them, too.)
  • I had a bad observation.  (I did, but that was not the reason I withdrew—rather, I think it was the catalyst that gave me the impetus that I needed to actually take action by withdrawing, rather than wallowing in uncertainty indefinitely.)
  • Teaching was “too difficult.”  (It was difficult, but I could have surmounted this had I had the necessary passion and dedication.)

That was a week ago.  I felt bad about inconveniencing the high school teacher for whom I was student teaching, as well as the high school students and the other student teachers in the program, but I knew that I couldn’t base my decision on that.  And I haven’t regretted it.  I feel better deep down knowing that I’m not in a program preparing me for a career that I am increasingly uncertain that I want to pursue, and that is how I know that I made the right decision.  I’ve learned a lot from my time in the program and I certainly would not consider it time wasted—however, it’s time for me to move on.  Now I’m looking for a job just to support myself while I figure out what I want to do long-term.  The career center at my undergraduate school is helping me with the long-term aspect, and today I applied for a call center job that would use my Spanish language skills.  I have more tests to take for them on Monday, after which I should know whether I got the job.

So I hope you enjoyed that extremely lengthy update on my life.

What I Learned in My First Week of Student Teaching

◊  Even for tenth graders, you have to make your instructions HIGHLY SPECIFIC for them to complete a task.  For example, instead of saying “Make two lists,” you need to say “Take out a sheet of paper.  Divide it into columns like this.  Now make a list of ______ and ______.  Make sure you have at least [#] examples in each column.”

◊  You have to make sure the room is {silent} before you start giving instructions.  This is extremely difficult to accomplish.

◊  If you tell students to work on something silently for a while, then if they work well they may speak with a partner afterward, sometimes they just talk the whole time in spite of you.

◊  A lot of teaching high school involves policing the students.  I don’t like this part.

◊  Students give you a whole range of effort levels in projects, from creating artistic masterpieces to scribbling a face in marker at the beginning of class.

◊  Grading projects takes a REALLY FREAKING LONG TIME.

◊  I have no idea how to grade.

◊  UB paperwork is a pain in the a$$ sometimes (okay, a lot of the time).

◊  Elaborate lesson plans do you little good in the actual process of teaching.  It’s better to have a bulleted list of what you need to say and remember.

◊  Most online videos are blocked by the district, along with my Gmail.  Hooray, censorship.

◊  There is a significant amount of drama between teachers and administration.

◊  There is not enough time in the freaking day.  This one is really getting to me this weekend.  It took me so long to grade everyone’s projects, and I still have to re-create lesson plans from last week to hand in for my class at UB on Tuesday, make lesson plans through at least Wednesday of next week, read through the beginning of Macbeth and mark down things I need to point out or discuss with the students, and go through the various materials I want the students to view and analyze after Act I.  I would also love to see my friends and catch up on sleep—two dreams which I anticipate being fairly elusive throughout this semester.  It’s pretty frustrating because the things I care about the most are what ends up getting shoved aside.

Conclusion:  I don’t know yet.  At the beginning of the week I was thinking that teaching was definitely not for me.  On Friday I was almost enjoying it.  As soon as I started getting emails from UB again, I considered dropping out.  I will keep you posted.