March of the Pissants

Today was a rough day. You come to expect to catch hell from the students from time to time–and I definitely did–but today, adults were the bigger problem. One in particular–my mentor teacher.

Let me frame this by saying that my summer mentor teacher (SMT) is old-school. She’s got like 30 years in “the system”, as she refers to it, so she’s got her own way of working that doesn’t necessarily align with the very new-school, touchy-feely TFA way. We’ve come to know her as very experienced and wise, but also quite brash and negative. Working with her has been helpful, but also extremely challenging. I try to deal with her the TFA way, with respect and humility, and in keeping with asset-based thinking, which is to say I try to focus on what she can do to help me reach my goal of reaching students, rather than the things about her that make her difficult to work with. But today…

I don’t want to get into the specifics of what happened. Suffice it to say that a certain aspect of the classroom, which she unilaterally set up, has been disrupting our classroom environment, and we acted to try and mitigate the disruption in a way that would also serve her purposes. We figured it wouldn’t be necessary to consult her, since the change we made would have no effect on her. And mind you, we had discussed the issue with her on Friday, and it had seemed to us to have been resolved. While we left the room to retrieve our students from where they arrive, she discovered our change. I wasn’t there to see this, but she apparently perceived this as a personal attack by us on her and launched into a public tirade in the hallway, in front of other teachers and even some students, which reportedly included berating our TFA advisor and referring to my co-teachers and I as “pissants”. Although, we wouldn’t know this until later.

Our first indication that something had gone awry was when our school director confronted us in the hallway, informed us of how upset our SMT was with us, lectured us on professional communication, told us that we’d need to apologize to her for what happened, and stated that there would be a big meeting after school between all of us to sort this out. We were dumbstruck, since we had no clue anything had been done that could possibly be such a big deal.

Fast forward to the meeting at the end of the day. Our school director allowed us to tell our sides of the story, and then proceeded to more or less throw us under the bus. The meeting ended with our SMT berating us for “trying to weasel out of responsibility for our actions”, on our lack of respect for her and one another, and our continuous lack of professionalism over the summer. We bit our tongues, despite the blaring irony. And that was that. Fortunately, I don’t think this ridiculous incident has ruined our working relationship entirely, and our SMT went on to give me feedback on how I could have handled my other situation of the day better (which I’ll also mention).

I didn’t take the whole thing personally, because at this point I feel like I know what to expect from my SMT, but two of my co-teachers were deeply affected. One was infuriated with how far such a silly situation had escalated and the way our school director hadn’t stood up for us. The other was extremely frustrated with the way our SMT has approached us so negatively all summer long. For my part, I understood why our school director did what he did; he’s got a school to run smoothly for one more week, so he did what was most expedient. I chalk the whole thing up to preparation for dealing with difficult adults in the fall.

So on to the other incident of the day. I had probably my worst day of classroom management all summer long. The students were grumpy after a day of testing, and the fact that it was a Monday, and they were in no mood for my review session. I had assumed that the fact we were taking the final exam tomorrow would be investment enough for them to participate. Wrong. Two of my more difficult students were cutting up from beginning to end and being a major distraction. I took them out into the hall so that everyone else could finish their practice finals. Yet they continued to be a problem as the review session went on.

I probably should have removed them from the class, but I wanted to avoid that, since they both needed the review. So I tried to contain them. It worked, tenuously, for a while, until I put one of them on the spot. I told him that we’d wait as a class until he was ready to participate. Naturally, the members of the class who were invested in the review session got exceedingly pissed off, and before I could restore order, the insults started to fly and a full scale verbal fight started between the one student and one of my more motivated students. Eventually I managed to get them out of class and sequestered, but too late for my lesson to not be derailed. Embarrassingly, this whole scene took place in front of my SMT, my advisor, and was loud enough to attract the attention of the entire hallway.

I know I could have handled the situation differently, but on the plus side, I didn’t get flustered. And for better or for worse, I no longer take constant failure so personally. Lesson learned: aggressively handling minor misbehavior can prevent many of the major incidents from occurring. I intend to do a great deal of reflection on how to set up my classroom culture before I get started for the fall.

Four more days…

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