…kinda like trying to pump a tire with a hole in it

Wow, it’s really been almost a month since I last posted.  This is bad because not only am I doing poor job of keeping people up to date, but I’m probably also losing thoughts I will wish I had written down to look back on in the future.  I had this crazy idea when I started journaling that maybe when I can see my whole TFA experience in perspective, there will be this “aha” moment when I see some radical insight that’s invisible to me in the moment.  Now mid-September through mid-October will be the missing piece that ruins my dream.  Oh well.

Seriously though, the last month has been pretty rough.  I’ve felt too bogged down and exhausted to keep up with most things outside of the day-to-day, much less journaling.  There’s a lot I’d like to write, if I had the time, but to make a long story short, I’m pretty frustrated and demoralized.   Sure, my room isn’t the circus it was last year.  But I’m frustrated for/with my students and I’m demoralized about my own performance.

I wrote this partial entry 10 days ago:

I am so frustrated right now.  We’re almost 6 weeks into the school year, and I’m still in Chapter 1 in my curriculum.  I have no idea what to do with these kids.  I feel like there is something going awfully wrong in my room.  I have spent 2 weeks on teaching students how to find the measure of angles in diagrams using angle relationships (like complementary and supplementary angles).

My first strategy was to give my Honors students packets with examples and definitions, and to have them read the packet and attempt the work.  Then, they were to come back to me with questions, which we would address as a group.  They, after all, should be capable of reading and interpreting examples.  The only difference is that I wouldn’t be reading it to them.  They threw an absolute fit, that I wasn’t going to go through examples first, yelling that I wasn’t teaching them.  After my administration witnessed a full-scale rebellion in my class against my strategy, they sat me down for an intervention concerning my methods.

So this week, I’ve brought the rigor waaaay down, and we’ve been talking about acute, right, and obtuse angles.  As it turns out, my kids are still struggling with the very basics.  But it almost seems as though I can’t possibly make class move slowly enough for everyone to succeed.  Today, we spent our second day on the very basics of complementary and supplementary angles with my regular geometry class (simply put—they  are pairs of angles that add up to 90 and 180 degrees, respectively).  I told them after reviewing the material that we were going to have a short, easy quiz.  I told them that the only 2 things they needed to know to score 100% on this quiz were that a) complementary angles add up to 90 degrees and that b) supplementary angles add up to 180 degrees.  I told them that if they had trouble remembering which was which, they could think of it this way:  90 comes before 180, C comes before S, and complementary comes before supplementary.  One of my classes just missed an 80% average, but my second regular geometry class averaged about a 65%.  My last class was so crazy that we didn’t even get to the quiz.

Well, today, 10 days later, we did a quiz today in class over complementary and supplementary angles, at a level of true high school rigor.  Frankly, they should have been ready for it.  At this point, we’ve spent more than 2 solid weeks on one concept.  The results were not encouraging.  My honors class averaged 63.5%.  My two regular geometry class that typically stay on task averaged 53.5% and 41.5%.  My last period class averaged an absolutely dismal 27.5%.

At the root of the problem, my students seem to be refusing to think critically.  I can slow down the material.  I can review.  I can reteach.  But eventually, the kids have to do it on their own.  And it’s not happening, and I don’t know what to do about that.

Which brings me to my second point.  I really don’t have any faith left in my ability to do my job successfully.  And by “my job”, I mean achieving the goal of providing expanded life opportunities for all of my students.  It’s not okay for me to have a lasting impact on just a couple students’ lives.  And that’s not just my own personal standard–it’s not okay by my administration, TFA, or many of my students’ parents.  But I am not reaching that standard, and I don’t know if I realistically can ever come even close.

I’m struggling just to achieve the awful results I’m achieving, and I’m drawing fire from every direction.  I’m not writing and delivering effective lessons and I’m not properly keeping up with my professional responsibilities.  Last week, the shoe finally dropped when I was put on an formal improvement plan.  I’m going to try with the little bit of reserve capacity for additional work I think I can put in to fulfill my improvement plan.  I’ve been working on new systems to help keep myself organized and to hold the students accountable.  But on the whole, I’m not going to lie, I just can’t visualize myself improving a whole lot.

There are people who do this job well, and there are fabulous teachers in some of the inner city schools.  I used to believe I could do most things that someone else out there is doing.  After a year and some change in teaching, it appears that teaching is not one of those things.  I feel like my efforts are severely misspent.  Hence the title of this post.

But, all of this is somewhat beside the point, because, dismal data and personal failure aside, at 7:50, I still need to be in school, ready to go again.  And it’s the prayers and encouragement of all y’all who are far away and the support of my ever-optimistic girlfriend that make it possible.  So I despite my dark mood, I do have plenty to be thankful for.