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Virginia Journal of Education


First Person: Narratives from the Classroom



‘You’re Like the Nicest Teacher Ever’

by Amy Issadore Bloom

We spent the last 10 minutes of each class reading The Outsiders.

Another teacher suggested the read-aloud as a way to settle the students, stir their interest in literature, and have a shared reading experience.
 
Despite the chaos that usually ensued during our 85-minute block together, those last 10 minutes were nice. Everyone was quiet, and in their seats. Finally. 
 
I began reading.
 
Scott clicked his pen. Click click click. I tried to ignore it. Click click click. I gave him a look. Click click.

I took the pen away, and began reading again.

He started rubbing his binder on the edge of the desk. Zzp zzpp zzp. I gave him another look. He didn’t stop. I took the binder and put it under his desk.

I picked up the book and began reading again. A couple sentences in, the dismissal bell rang. No wonder we were still reading the same book after eight months.

Scott sat front and center, making it hard to ignore his little habits. Of course, I placed him in that spot. He was the exact type of student that the experts tell you to put in the front of the room—difficulty focusing, always a few steps behind, easily influenced by his peers.

The class spent so much time working in groups, or moving around that he really wasn’t in his assigned seat for very long. But when he was, it was excruciating. I could watch as he organized his papers the wrong way, despite my standing directly in front of him and demonstrating the exact order to the rest of the class.

I heard every little noise he made as I read something aloud. I just couldn’t tune him out, or let the disturbances go. Perhaps I would have had more patience for him if the class dynamic were different.

It was last period of the day, and mostly boys. They were unruly and vulgar—as seventh-graders can be. It’s not that I expected any different when I transitioned to middle school. It’s why people say things like “Are you crazy?” or “It takes a special person...”

I just didn’t expect to lose control so frequently in the classroom, in my classroom. Lessons that worked so well in other classes bombed with this group. If there were one class to make me cry, to make me quit, to make me regret the switch to middle school, this was it. I frequently felt like a failure as a teacher. I dreaded the period, and felt bad about it. They were after all, just kids.
 
Technically, it was a literature class, though they already had a literature class. Mine was a mandatory “elective.” They had all scored poorly on reading and writing assessments, and qualified for the extra support.

The problem of course was that they didn’t want the extra support, let alone the label. Half of them were losing interest in school in general already. I’m usually good with these students, setting realistic expectations, helping them discover their strengths, creating lessons that are fun, and providing an atmosphere that is more relaxed than their other classes.

Yet none of my efforts seemed to work with this class. They really needed small-group instruction and shorter class periods. I believe they also still needed recess.
 
We had more bad days than good, and the student who made the annoying noises during read-aloud was the least of my problems. But, just like we all have favorites, we all have students who test our patience, who just irritate us more than others. The trick is hiding it, making them all feel equal. I was failing miserably with Scott.

I often felt mean and irritable with the whole class. I assumed the feeling was mutual. They must have thought I was one of those bitter, frazzled teachers.

One day, I announced that a teacher had been hired to replace me during my upcoming maternity leave. I joked, “I’m sure she’ll be much nicer than I am.”

Scott responded, “But you’re like the nicest teacher ever!” He was serious too.

Had I succeeded in helping students realize that we can be tough on them, but still care, that we have their best interest in mind? Or had I just failed at being strict and mean, unable to hide my soft side?

It doesn’t really matter. We affect students in many ways, even the ones who seem to care the least, who don’t pay attention, who goof off.

I learned to laugh a little more with that class, and to give them opportunities to be themselves (annoying habits and all). I think it worked better for all of us.

Issadore Bloom a former member of the Fairfax Education Association, is now a freelance writer in Washington, D.C. Read more of her writing at www.bloomindc.com

 


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