Have you reached the disillusionment phase yet? asked a friend who recently completed her 2 years as a corps member in NYC. Yeah, I'd say I may be just about there. I'm not sure. I am sure that I need some kind of boost in my classroom really soon. The end of this week will be the end of the quarter and finally the end of my memoir unit that really should have ended a couple weeks ago. I'm hoping that the accomplishment of completing a final draft of a piece of writing will motivate my students and me. I'm also hoping that they actually complete a final draft this week....
For whatever reason I am required by my school to teach one semester of composition followed by one semester of literature. This seemed like a fine enough idea when i was planning and struggling to break down state standards, but in practice i am struggling with the separation. It's hard to be excited about writing when you aren't reading any good writing. The two just go hand in hand. And these kids have so little exposure to any kind of writing, much less good writing that they have no context for what their own writing should look like. The first time i asked them what they needed the most help with to become a better writer the vast majority of them said "writing neater" or "spelling". Which, if you know me at all you could probably guess are the two things i am absolutely least concerned about in writing. I'm not sure that i've managed to teach them very much about writing so far, but i consider it a step in the right direction that when i asked the same question last week i got responses like, "Thinking of good topics", "Knowing where to begin and end my sentences" and "organizing ideas in my writing". So maybe at least they have a better idea of what we're shooting for. I think that a lot of things are going to change when I reteach this course next semester. Next year I may even ignore the course title and teach an integrated language arts reading/writing class all year. No one is actually keeping track of what I do in my room anyway. Most days I feel like I could be teaching underwater basket weaving in my room and no one would know or care- that's about the level of support I feel like I have from my school or TFA right now.
Some days I feel like my class is a huge waste of my time and my students, or even worse, that I'm doing more harm than good and just confusing them or making them feel worse about their writing or something equally awful. I'm sometimes not sure that I have the patience, energy, and passion necessary for this job. I've discovered that my level of excitement and engagement with the material needs be be at minimum 100% to get even 10% engagement from my students, and a lot of days I'm just not there, especially when I'm scrambling to come up with the material day to day without always having a bigger vision of where this fits or why it's important. There have been plenty of times in my life when I have felt like I'm not doing the best job, but it's never been as deeply upsetting as it is here. What's more upsetting is that a lot of the time I just don't know what else I could do to improve. I should be working harder I guess, reaching out and seeking more resources.
The bigger difficulty is maintaining the drive to want to work any harder. Lately I'm feeling more content to settle with how i'm doing now and the amount of work that I'm doing now. I'm just not sure that a whole lot more work on my part would make much more than a little difference for my students. It's very emotionally draining to care deeply about them and feel like I'm constantly failing them. It's much easier to step back, get by with minimal planning, and say- well at least I'm doing more than the awful teacher they had last year, and leave it at that. I think that there must be some balance in there somewhere where I am able to care about them and work hard, but still get 8 hours of sleep and not have nightmares about students and lesson plans. I've sort of swung from one end the other, and am not sure where I will land. I want to be a good teacher and a stellar corps member. I also would like to preserve some part of myself out here and not be too burnt out to even consider teaching as a profession beyond these 2 years.
I think that I am somewhat confident that I will be able to do this. At least that I can continue to oscillate without getting stuck in either extreme. I'm writing a blog at least, so that's a step in the right direction! I hope that I will find inspiration and get excited about my curriculum again. I'm worried that it won't happen until next semester when I get to teach literature, but we'll see. Persuasive writing can be exciting too, I just haven't put enough thought into that next unit yet, I need to start reading more essays and editorials.
Part of the difficulty with the whole life balance thing out here is that it feels much of the time like there isn't any life other than school... It's either school, the inside of my tiny trailer, or staring at cows and hills.... Ok, that may be a little extreme. There are the other corps members out here who are pretty fantastic, I just wish that we saw each other more often and that everyone was less stressed and exhausted.
There is also the Lakota culture and the modern culture of life on the Rez which is continually fascinating/frustrating to me. I think this post is to long to write all my thoughts on that right now. Part of the reason I haven't been blogging is the overwhelming amount of stuff I am thinking about and encountering every day that I feel very strongly about. I hardly ever know where to begin.
But I'm teaching writing now, so I should be writing more, not less. I will endeavor to write much more and be more specific and less abstract than this has been.