They year of 2013-14 was my most difficult year of teaching ever. There are always a smattering of challenging students every year, but that year, every class had them in spades. My day was bookended with my two most disengaged groups of kids, leaving little emotional and mental energy for my last period prep. Of course there were plenty of exceptions, but generally the behaviors of that cohort were dominated by apathy and disrespect across all subjects. The only reason these students came to school every single day, it seemed, was to socialize. My personal life ranged from my father dying to moving into temporary housing to becoming a first time grandma. Professionally, I knew I was failing, I felt it, but did not have the strength or resources to figure out effective solutions. By August, I was so afraid (scared shitless) to go back to work that I sought counseling. In the end, the next year was probably one of my best, followed by a decision to re-prioritize family.
I could dig myself into a hole of regrets. If only I had known about X, or done Y instead. If only I could go back in time. If only…. I could beat myself up for failing, or keep on apologizing for not knowing what to do. Or, I could forgive myself, learn from my experiences and my mistakes, and move forward. With the distance of time (hindsight being better and all), I now understand that the reasons for the apathy and disrespect, for the lack of learning in spite of my best efforts, for the endless battles, was that the learning needs of these children were not being met, and probably had not been for quite some time. This particular bunch of students, for some reason, had a large percentage of kids for whom “compliance” was not an option. They already had figured out that school, at least the learning part, had little to nothing to offer them, nothing that motivated them, nothing that inspired them. My best efforts, as it turns out, were far more limited than I realized. Although I had been growing over the years, I had not grown enough. When I reached the bottom of my tool bag, it was empty.
I believe this is what drives me right now to pursue purposeful and meaningful professional growth even though I am not currently teaching. I don’t know if I will ever have the opportunity to put theory into practice again; I hope someday my efforts will be beneficial somehow to myself and others. I’m not sure what the future holds. I just know that I am not done growing. It’s not necessarily easy work; after all, professional growth requires questioning what you do and why and examining honest answers. In my opinion, the challenge for educators (teachers and administrators alike) to grow and to push themselves to grow significantly is hampered both by the enormity and complexity of the task as well as the exorbitant amount of time, energy, people, and resources it takes to do it well. I keep that year and those students in mind as I work to fill my tool box back up again, to improve my practice and increase my knowledge about meeting the learning needs of every child. It’s not easy, but it is satisfying.