Saturday, August 30, 2008

Some conclusions

So it has taken me two weeks to put some pieces together about why I've been feeling disappointed by the workshops/orientation set up for teachers before the regular school year begins for students ( TUESDAY!)

As you know, I am teaching 2 6th grade math classes and 1 every-other-day 7th grade study hall (whoohoo) this Fall with Rochester Public Schools. I did a lot of HEAVY discerning when I was offered the job as to whether this opportunity would fit into my life and my "identity" this coming year. AND, whether the benefits of meeting new people, getting out of the house, and having "adult" conversations would outweigh the potential negatives of additional change and stress while Scott was still navigating his own newness at work. Since I made the decision to GO FOR IT, I have not regretted the choice for one moment. The thing is, my husband is THRIVING at work. He is supported, likes his coworkers professionally AND personally, feels challenged yet not overwhelmed, and sees major potential for upward growth in the future. He's good to go.

So, the newness of this adventure for me a) won't be stressful (The program I've been hired to teach is designed for students needing remedial math help and is VERY laid out, structured, paced, and sequential. PLUS, no grading - all assessments are done on the computer. AND, it's a pass/fail course so my documentation won't be AS detailed. Basically, ALL the icky components of teaching that zap teachers' energy to the point that they don't have enough to give when they're PRESENT with the kids - poof! gone! It's gonna be what I love - developing strong relationships with kids so that we can work on their confidence and growth both academically AND personally... geez, kinda makes me tear up, that's how much i love THAT part of teaching) AND b) won't be hedging in on being present for Scott with his newness - the man's got it down (that is to say, there's still lots to learn, but he's not overwhelmed).

PS... the past two paragraphs were background.

Back to the theme of this entry: I've drawn some conclusions about why I had been disappointed. I had built up some big expectations about the two weeks which just ended (week 1 : new teacher orientation only for those new to the district, week 2: all teachers come back for meetings, room prep, etc). I thought, "YEAH. Watch out Rochester Public Schools, here comes TRICIA ARTHUR!" I mean, I was thinking that in the most humblest of senses. And it wasn't so much I was excited about what I could offer them. More about what re-entering a social network such as "TEACHERS" could offer me. Or maybe, to be fair, what we could offer each other. Needless to say, I was excited.

So week 1, day 1 (mind you, these are the NEW teachers only) I enter these meetings with such enthusiasm, participating and eager to be involved. And I'm greeted with kind of grumpy people. Or maybe they were quiet. Or maybe they were just nervous and a little anxious/insecure about all this newness that they weren't sure whether they wanted to "extend" themselves all that much. Or maybe they were just introverts, and took a little while to come out of their shells. But none of those rational and quite probable thoughts entered my mind at the time. Those first couple days when I kept attempting to engage and getting NOwhere, all my consciousness was able to do was revert to the 7th grade mentality: THEY MUST NOT LIKE ME! Did I come on too strong? Do I have something in my teeth? Did I say something inappropriate? Is my underwear showing?

It's so stupid. And ridiculous to be 29 and still enter into that mode of thinking. All I knew was that I was not getting good vibes. And after anticipating so long this neat-o teacher-powwow, it was not fun to not get good vibes. My conclusion was that something was wrong with ME!!!

So then I sort of shut down. I figured I'd just stop trying to befriend and stop being chatty. And maybe then folks would engage with ME. by this time I had exhausted my effort in week 1 and moved into week 2, which was primarily with my building of teachers (EVERYone comes back at this point). So I played the keep-quiet-and-hold-back card.

Plan foiled. Nobody. And I mean NOBODY (besides the woman responsible for me as my "mentor" and the few math teachers I had already met) introduced themselves or even seemed to recognize that I was there that first day of week 2. I'll give you a little tip: If you're a stranger in a foreign land (aka, Buckeye in Minnesota), there's nothing more likely to remind you of your foreign-ness than when you are made to not feel "apart" of whatever is going on. Ugh. I was so frustrated. At lunch that day, which was provided by the PTSA, I stood quietly in line waiting for a "What was your name? I don't recognize you?" or a "Dr. Jennings mentioned in that meeting you were our new math teacher. Are you new to the area?" Nope. So, given what I had deemed as negative reactions to my bubbly approach week 1, I just stood in the line - with people I didn't know on either side of me - silently (you all know what self-control that took). Through the lunch line I went and when I turned to face the tables where half the crowd had already seated themselves, my armpits started sweating. LIKE A 13 YEAR OLD! My heart rate went up. Where to sit? I knew like 4 total people in the room and I felt like a pathetic little pimple-faced teenager standing there scanning the room to find them. I eventually found a good spot, but I must tell you at this point in the 2 week experience, I WAS BROKEN DOWN. The "normal" Tricia woulda just bopped right down next to someone and begun conversation. I WAS BROKEN.

So, ready for the happier ending? The latter part of the 2nd week improved. I learned a lot about the climate of the school (aka some major teacher cinicism and bitterness as a result of poorly applied pressure from admninistration about failed state test scores - in fact, the whole district of teachers is fit to be tied over the way the who's who in the district is handling things). Little did I know that folks were processing all THAT after the "downer" staff meeting instead of wondering if they could sit at lunch with the new girl to get to know her better!!! Ha. All a matter of perspective and understanding where people are coming from. As for the FIRST week, I can only chalk that bad vibe up to brand new teachers having the jitters and not sure how to take me. But the point is, by the end of the 2nd week, I had come full circle... Tricia-like to completely-not-Tricia-like to putting some pieces together and getting some insights from people and their behaviors (and growing up) and returning to Tricia-like again. Ah, it was exhausting, let me tell you!

Here are the conclusions, if you'll humor me in reading further:
* Seeds of self doubt are dangerous little demons. And as soon as self talk starts agreeing with those demons, one begins to think thoughts and behave on those thoughts in ways that are not true to the person. (the kind of confidence it takes to ward that doubt off is EXACTLY the kind of thing I work diligently to teach about to young people - and there i was relearning the lesson myself!)
* I promise myself to have a greater awareness of what state of mind my 6th graders, new to the school building, will be in when they enter my classroom that first week (aka SCARED)
* I do not want to relive my early teenage years. It was fun for many reasons, but whew am I glad it's over for many others.
* For whatever reason, most likely a learned trait from my parents, I naturally place a major emphasis on hospitality. Without ever recognizing it before, I am one who (despite my general absent-mindedness and clueslessness about my surroundings) recognizes when someone enters the room and wants to greet that person and, likewise, offers a hand shake or hug or at least a wave and "goodbye" when someone leaves the room. To me, it's just common sense. A greeting and a farewell are outward signs that it MATTERED that person was there. That they were RECOGNIZED. I didn't even realize until I felt so incomplete leaving all those meetings and workshops and seminars without anyone feeling the need to say goodbye to each other that I felt so passionate about this. Just another lesson I learned about me. Everybody: TEACH your kids to be hospitable. It's a BIG deal.
* Another self-reflection: that, daggone it, I like to get real and deep with people. And fast. I know I've probably got an even more urgent desire to move in that direction here in a new place, but even in Columbus - I just want to engage and share and find out WHO people REALLY are. I learn every day that that is not how all people operate. And it can be a bit frustrating to wait for people to be ready to take their "masks" off too. And that although I refuse to ignore my natural "energy," I also need to honor those who may not want to "go there" quite yet.
* Specific to my profession (warning, if you're not a teacher, this may not interest you): Since I have operated under a lot of different leadership (South Euclid Lyndhurst district in Cleveland, Shaker Heights City Schools, Olentangy Local Schools, and now Rochester Public Schools), I now understand the power GOOD and POSITIVE leadership can have over workers. And, you guessed it, what power the opposite kind of leadership can have. Olentangy had the first and I believe that Rochester has the latter. The climate and culture of the teachers at Olentangy Liberty High School (i admit, may partly be due to the youth of the teachers they hire and the vast number of new "fresh" folks entering every year) was such that folks felt respected, supported, and eager to do their jobs (making it VERY easy to enter in). Here, I am feeling teachers feeling unsupported, blamed, and bitter about doing their jobs. Almost like the kind of students we are trying to reach: "well, I've tried to work with the system and worked hard to get along and have dialogue with the leaders, but after so many attempts and failures, I give up. (do our students not do that?). so i'll just do my job in my room and teach the best I can, but not pay a bit of attention to anything bigger than that." (making it very difficult to "navigate" as a new person - who's on who's side? etc, etc)

The reason I mention all of that under this bullet is that a community of teachers charged with frustration and bitterness, confused and better yet disapproving of the political ways that govern them (all, from what I can tell, VALIDATED feelings and reactions)... are NOT thinking about hospitality. Now that I get it, I am no longer disappointed in them. All is now well with the world. :)

Lastly, I add the following comment after having re-read the above NOVEL (sorry)... this whole discussion sounds very self-absorbed. Like the "Tricia, who likes herself too much, thinks that the world should stop and everyone should show HER how much they like her TOO" show, or something. I think the reason this all made such an impact one me, reasonably, is because of how much I was counting on those two weeks kicking off my connectedness (MY connectedness, not Scott's or not because of Scott's) to Rochester. And I want to also say that, now that I am better understanding the REAL reasons for the vibes I was analyzing so innacurately, I realize I am not at all disappointed in OTHER people, I am more disappointed in myself for having my head twisted on so wrong. But I forgave me. We're friends again.

Thanks for letting me purge all these thoughts. I, in the process, sorted them out a little for myself too.

PS. I still do not regret my decision to teach. I really am excited about my students. And now that I have developed some great "allies" with whom I feel comfortable in the building, I know how to stay out of the "politics" so it doesn't bother me. I'm pumped. I'll tell you more Tues about how the first day went!

My husband is putting the patio furniture we just bought together SINGLE handedly outside. I need to help. Bad wife. Bad wife.


Sherri said...

Okay, so I am not sure what I would like to comment on first, however, I do have to share that you are definitely not self absorbed! You are, by nature and nuture, a kind, warm person and to not get that in return is just not "okay." It sound as if the teacher were the ones self absorbed not thinking about the new staff and how they could help out or make them feel welcome. I am so glad that everything has worked out for you, and Rochester is lucky to haver your family there!

Lepus said...

It is the same way in TV. Bad Management/Higher-Ups lead to unhappy, surly underlings. Unfortunatly, the bad higher ups never lose their jobs or get pay cuts, while us little people lose everything. I can't imagine working within the teaching system. Between the unions, administration that cares nothing for education and everything for test scores (cause test scores=money), yeah, I can see where people would be bitter. I'm just glad you came through it. PS-You are not self absorbed. Its is the nature of a blog to sound that way. Its a diary. You're supposed to talk about you, silly! :)

Shauna said...

I love how reflective you are. And you're also a fantastic writer. I can feel exactly what you were going through when I read it.

I am so glad that you understand those people and the reasons behind their attitudes. It's still very sad though that you have to do come into a district that is evidently struggling with it's hierarchy of power. I know that has to be tough.

I can tell from your post that you're a fantastic teacher and that you're there for the right reasons. You give them your smiling self and maybe you can help turn their frowns upside down!

Best of luck!!!!!!!!!!!!

bb mcclain said...

Soon, you will be one of the administrators/leaders there. The good people always rise to the top.