Day 1 of orientation did not disappoint. I knew that teaching at a brand new school would have its challenges, but I suppose I didn’t expect it to play out so blatantly. Let me start with the good news. My placement school is Friendship Academy of Science and Technology (FAST), a charter school about a mile from my house. Today, I met the other faculty at the school, and I am very impressed. We have an extremely diverse staff, who all seem really focused. Our principal, Dr. Roberts, wants to create a school with a solid, positive culture. I know that in order to make my class run the way I want it to run, I’m going to have to be like a drill sergeant in enforcing my academic, behavioral and cultural expectations, and knowing that Dr. Roberts is holding the entire school to that standard will make my job much easier. I really think Friendship is going to be a special place to work.
That being said, today was nuts. I found out on Friday that I would be reporting directly to Friendship instead of the district orientation today. Unfortunately, the introductory professional development sessions held last week conflicted with the last week of Institute, so I didn’t have the chance to meet the rest of the staff ahead of time or find out what the next couple weeks would be all about, other than that the school would be holding a program called Summer Bridge. What I would learn upon arrival at 8am this morning was that I would actually be teaching the program. Starting in 15 minutes. I could have been pissed off about this, but I knew coming in that there would be surprises, and that the best thing I can do is try and take them in stride. When choosing to teach in some of the least fair schools in the country, one has to expect to take some low blows from time to time.
All in all, it went pretty well, despite the fact that the pretests I was supposed to administer never came, and I had to wing it for the last hour and a half. Hopefully things will get more orderly these next couple days, because unlike the veteran teachers, I don’t have lesson plans, activities and materials to fall back on in a pinch. On the bright side, I got a pretty nice complement from my principal’s mentor on the way I ran the class. Thank God I got the class I did, because the other class I could have gotten was about 3 times the size, and much more unruly. I won’t be so lucky for most of the summer, because although I get to keep my class for homeroom, I’ll teach both classes every day. The lovely news about the whole Summer Bridge situation is that when the full school reports in a few weeks, I will hopefully have established a culture and a routine that all the rest of the students can fall into.
One thing that was reinforced for me today about teaching is how important rhetoric is to teaching. I’ve always been a pretty taciturn person, especially when it comes to speaking off the cuff, but when working with students, teachable moments happen all the time and having the ability to ad lib a mini-lesson is an essential skill. For example, today, to get to know one another, we played two truths and a lie in one of my classes. One of my students, a black kid we’ll call Kevin, picked as his two truths that he was part Irish, and that he liked rock music. I can’t even remember what his lie was, but no one guessed it right. When I grilled one kid on why he thought the lie was that Kevin liked rock music, he said it was because he didn’t dress like a rocker. I asked him how he could tell, since all the kids were in uniform. He responded that Kevin wasn’t wearing a spiked belt, and that he didn’t walk or talk like a rocker. When I grilled another kid on why Kevin couldn’t be part Irish, he responded that it was because he didn’t have greasy hair and a moustache. Gambling on the fact that Kevin had picked his two truths cleverly, I let him reveal the lie and it proved the whole class wrong. I turned that into an opportunity to drop an impromptu speech on the dangers of stereotypes and prejudice. It’s moments like that where your rhetoric comes in handy, because those “ah-ha” moments are when what you say as a teacher sticks with the kids. I wish I could say I blew their minds with my speech, but it was probably just adequate. I guess the skill will come in time.