A session during the symposium included discussion of why so many beginning teachers leave the profession. One of the factors mentioned was “teaching hazing.” As the speaker talked about that, I recognized my beginning teaching experience.
Having five different preparations. Having some of the most challenging students.
That kind of teaching assignment makes beginning teachers feel overwhelmed and that the school and its veteran teachers don’t really care about the success of new teachers.
I had five different preps. The newspaper staff was a college-level course designation. The other four classes were remedial designation. The greatest challenge was my Sophomore English class – 30 students, all but two of whom were supposed to be in special ed, but the school didn’t have enough room in the special ed class.
After my first week of teaching, I definitely knew that my teacher preparation courses hadn’t truly prepared me for this teaching experience.
Some of the students I never met. They stayed on the roll waiting until they were 16 and could drop out. The same 8 to 10 students attended every day. The others rotated. So I learned that every day’s lesson must be self-contained
In that Sophomore English class, only about four of the 30 students could read silently. Some could read aloud – with difficulty. Some couldn’t read at all. I had never had any training on teaching reading. We read aloud – stories, novels, newspaper articles, poems and classified ads. They loved it when I would read to them – they clustered around just like we were in the elementary school library at reading time.
Some days were filled with high spirits over personal triumphs –- being able to complete a job application with my help or having just gotten an after-school job. Some days were filled with tension after a fight on the bus on the way to school or problems at home.
“You’ve taught them so much,” the teacher across the hall said to me one day in March. Margaret Heaton had become my unofficial mentor. She was wonderful – with great love of students and teaching, a calm listening approach, and do-able suggestions.
“I have?” I asked, really quite surprised at her assessment.
As the class met right after lunch, she sometimes let the students into the room if she returned to our end of the hallway from lunch sooner than I did.
“At the beginning of the year, they’d say ‘Hey, lady, open the door.’ I would, and they would almost knock me down to get into the room,” she said.
“Today, they said, ‘Mrs. Heaton, would you please open the door?’ They stepped back to let me open the door, and, as I was leaving, they all said, ‘Thanks you.’ So you’ve taught them to say please and thank you. That’s a lifetime lesson.”