Last year I interviewed and taught at E.O. Smith Educational Center for a week and then was transferred to Alexander Hamilton Middle School. This change occurred after my first week of teaching. I was mad at the world, I was pissed and ready to go home. I had spent the entire month of August at E.O. Smith getting to know the staff and when I got to Hamilton the school year was already under way, so I was introduced to the building through an email.
Outside of sixth grade teaching team and English/Language Arts department I didn’t know anyone. E.O. Smith had an entirely black staff and most of the students attending were black. There is nothing wrong with teaching students who are not of my same race, but it’s extremely rare in Houston, TX and I was very proud and excited about the opportunity to teach young black students. I was hurt when that opportunity was taken away from me.
It all worked out for good though because E.O. Smith was turned into HISD’s new all boy’s school for the 2011-2012 school year and outside of the principal hired an entirely new staff. Also, in general Hamilton is a good school. There are not many serious behavior issues because our principal runs a tight ship! I have all the supplies I need, and there is a good teaching staff. Also, Hamilton has a nice mixture of students. The majority of students are Hispanic, but there are black, white, and even Asian students. (That may sound odd for me to mention because that’s how my school was growing up in Cleveland, but in Houston many schools are completely Hispanic. I wish I knew how to speak Spanish fluently because I could be a much more effective educator but that’s another blog for another day.)
I taught sixth grade English last year, and by the end of the year had so many ideas for what I could do differently the following year. So many ideas about what I could do better. Then there was talk of budget cuts. HISD was going to have to cut a lot, and that also meant jobs. My principal verbally told me one-on-one, he had to get rid of probationary teachers. He said he liked me, but he had to. He was willing to write a letter of recommendation. I wasn’t happy, but I wasn’t that mad or sad. E.O. Smith’s principal liked me and perhaps I could work at the all boy’s charter school. Maybe I could go down to elementary school like I originally wanted. Other schools would be hiring, but what if they weren’t because of budget cuts? The worst-case scenario is I have to go home, which actually didn’t sound that bad. When teachers on my campus started getting their official letters saying their contract would not be renewed, I didn’t get one. Wednesday it was evident that people were getting letters around the school, on through Thursday and Friday. Still, I received nothing. I spoke to my mentor teacher about it, and she said not to worry.
I’m not sure if she talked to the principal about it on my behalf, but I went into the office and they were both there. The principal excitedly says, “I’m not getting rid of you!” A mix of emotions ran through my brain. The first was confusion, the second relief, and then a little bit of anger.
“Okay,” I managed to breathe out, “do you know what grade I’ll be teaching?”
“No, we haven’t figured that out yet, but you have a spot at Hamilton for next year,” he replied.
As I was walking out, he said, “You’re welcome!”
“Thanks,” I smiled and left the office.
The only response appropriate for that strange encounter is WTF? I thought I didn’t have a job for about two months, and now I have one. I should be happy, but I’m kind of cheesed off that you didn’t tell me that sooner! Eventually, it was decided that my mentor teacher and I would be moved to 7th grade for the next year. Mixed emotions again. On one hand, these kids already know me and I can really connect with them on another level and possibly make significant gains! On the other hand, I cannot stand some of these kids! Some days I feel like I don’t want to see them another minute, let alone another school YEAR! Overall, the thought of knowing my students already won me over and I was excited about teaching them again, even a few of the ‘bad apples’. Instead of teaching English, I would be teaching English and Reading in a double blocked 90-minute period. I had never taught reading and never taught blocked periods so that worried me a little. But, I had the entire summer to prepare and I had a great mentor teacher who would be moving with me. Then she decided to take a 7th grade position at a different school. Still I felt good about teaching 7th grade.
In August, I developed an amazing culture, management, and theme for my classroom–College. But not just talking about college, my classroom would be a college. The classroom jobs available would be ‘University Positions,’ such as President, Registrar, Resident Advisor, Librarian, and Academic Services Assistant Coordinator. Fancy names for leader, decorator, passer outer, and helped, but I had it planned out very well. Eventually, I wanted my students so invested in the classroom that they ran it themselves. The President would be in charge of Classroom Culture, making sure we were behaving and focusing on who we wanted to become in the future—college graduates. The Academic Services Assistant Coordinator would make sure we were focused on our Academic Big Goal. It all looked really good on paper, and even in real life when the school year started the kids were excited about the jobs. The first week I went over drop out statistics, NPR.org had a great five-part special on students aged 16-44 who had dropped out. We talked about colleges, degrees, and majors. The best part of it all was that I knew all of my students because I taught them in 6th grade, I only had about 10 new faces and names to learn. It was great!
Then, they switched my kids. I kept the 10 new kids, and they took the rest of my babies from last year.
So for the second year in a row, in the second week of school, I started over.
Still I learned these 90 new faces and names and they applied for University Positions. It wasn’t running quite as smoothly as I wanted though. My classroom management was fine, but I didn’t want to classroom manage anymore. I wanted the President and Academic Services Assistant Coordinator to become leaders of the classroom, and eventually all students to become leaders. At any rate it was a good year.
Until November, when an administrative issue arose and I was moved again. So after teaching 7th grade for three months I moved to 6th grade (within the same school). By the way, this school year Hamilton decided to have grades separated by floors, which is a good idea, but that meant I had to move my classroom. I wasn’t happy about it, the kids weren’t happy about it. But I’ve learned to roll with the punches.
My first year of teaching taught me that perhaps the only constant in education is CHANGE. Get used to it. Embrace it. Make the necessary adjustments because change is inevitable. It will happen to you….and then it will happen to you again.