Friday, April 14, 2006

Good News/Bad News: End of 1st term

Here's the good news: I survived my first term of teaching. And there's a ten day break from Good Friday to ANZAC Day.
Here's the bad news: I cried a lot. I feel like quitting a few times every week. I'm miserable.

I can't quite identify one single cause for my job being so miserable. I guess it's a combination of the following things:
1. My students are younger, less mature, and not as well behaved as what I'm used to. There's a lot of nonsense going on all day every day and it wears me down.

2. The style of disciplining students that worked for me in America doesn't work here for whatever reasons. I used to be able to win students over with my personality (ha), and then they would want to be good for me. I would also keep the lessons fun and interesting so they wouldn't misbehave. I don't really know the formula for success here, but it appears that these 12-year-olds don't respond to cajoling or disapproval.

3. The curriculum is different and the planning is time-consuming for me as a new teacher. Everyone has to turn in unit plans for the entire term ahead of time. The first problem is that I don't even know what I'm going to be teaching! In addition, unit plans are done in an unfamiliar format with a lot of unfamiliar jargon about learning intentions and achievement objectives, etc.

4. My students are of lower ability than what I'm used to. There's a couple of reasons for this. First of all, my school is located in a mixed neighbourhood. New Zealand schools each have a demographic decile label from 1-10. A decile 1 school is in a very poor neighbourhood while a decile 10 school is in a very wealthy neighbourhood. My school is decile 4, which doesn't seem that bad – Alder Creek might have been a 5 or a 6. The second reason is that there are 2 classrooms at my school full of the "accelerated" 7th and 8th grade students. The remaining three 8th grade rooms (like mine) have only the middle and low kids.

5. I haven't been as successful at brainwashing my students into enjoying reading. Most of the books in my classroom library are too hard for them. The 30-40 thinner books I had for reluctant readers (low ability/high interest books) are the ones that most of my kids read. Nobody's reading Holes. Nobody's reading Frindle or Among the Hidden. Actually, there's not a whole lot of kids reading at all. In previous years, about 95% of my students would read during class and again for homework, which was required. Here, about 50% read during class and only 10% read at home for homework, which is still required but isn't getting done. Some fake it and just look at the pages. Some misbehave.

6. I haven't discovered the motivation for kids to do the work. There's no grades at the end of the term. There's no points to add up. There's descriptive remarks at the end of next term which will say the child reads at a certain level, etc. But there's no concrete reason for them to do their homework or to finish an in-class assignment. As a result, many students stall and go R E A L slow. Wouldn't you? The only consequence that works is making those kids stay inside during lunch to finish their work ... so I miss my lunch too. I'm pretty sure other New Zealand teachers are able to motivate their students somehow, but as I say, I haven't mastered the system yet.

7. I was spoiled in America with more supplies and more technology. My school doesn't have internet or networking or email. I do have a teacher computer in my room but no printer and it's not networked to a printer, either. The only TV is in the library. Each teacher is allowed 1.5 reams of paper per term. There's no construction paper anywhere in the school, even in the art room. There's no scissors or rulers or glue. I was issued 4 whiteboard markers and 4 overhead transparencies. (I've been spending a lot of my own money) The lack of supplies and technology hinders so many of the lesson I teach. How can I do the fun and interesting things like show Schoolhouse Rock? ... or make Schmoo ads or parts of speech booklets?

Individually, each of the problems listed above are probably surmountable. Together, they weigh me down. Add to that the fact that I'm adjusting to a new country and whatever stress that entails, and you can imagine my frustration level is quite high. I'm not sure what the solution is. Curt says perhaps I need to lower my expectations just so I can survive. Perhaps I should quit. Perhaps I should gut it out. Perhaps I'd be better working at a different school. Perhaps I'll look for a job in a library instead. But I'm coming to the realization that this job just isn't the right fit for me.

Meanwhile, I like the country fine. Curt likes his job. I like the people I work with. I like the gi-normous 1kg chocolate Easter eggs. I like the view. I like the 80ยบ weather today. It's Good Friday, a national holiday, and all the stores are required to be closed. There's also no commercials allowed on TV today! Easter Monday is a holiday too, so Curt gets both those days off. Plus April 25 is ANZAC Day, which is a holiday similar to Veteran's Day or Memorial Day. We thought about flying to Sydney during my 10 day break. It's only a few hundred dollars. Besides, exploring this quadrant of the world was one of the reasons we moved here! Ultimately we decided, however, that I needed to loll and recover instead. Maybe we'll go to Sydney during my next break.


Corrie said...

Megan- My heart is aching for you. Thank you for your honesty about your job. I feel as though what you are doing right now is the beginning of one of the many inspirational teacher movies that are out there! I am so sorry that this job has been so difficult. I am assuming that there are no "new teacher" programs at this school? The situation you have described sounds like it is about 2 steps out of hell. I'm pulling for you, Megan. Do what you need to do for yourself - no job is worth sacrificing your health for!

Internet Street Philosopher said...

Don't give up on the teaching, you'll get it sooner or later!

nolan said...

inspirational teacher movies usually suck. did you ever see "Stand and Deliver" with Edward James Olmos? I was required to watch it in calculus in high school. what a fantastic use of class time. maybe you can be the subject of the first inspirational teacher movie that inspires teachers to quit their jobs. it will be an entirely new genre.