We’ve moved more than 200 miles from Baltimore so I obviously couldn’t keep teaching at the same school. I knew when I started there that it would almost definitely be only until David finished medical school since his residency would have to be at a Navy hospital because of his scholarship. Even though I had plenty of time to prepare for it, it was still difficult to leave. There were many challenges, most of which exist in any school in a low-income area where earning money is valued by many students (and their families, though sometimes out of necessity) more than completing high school. These challenges sometimes made the class period or day seem impossible but I also had some wonderful students who made my job more enjoyable. Over my three years at that school I had some wonderful colleagues with whom I got to plan, teach, and commiserate. Two of these colleagues were not in my department but became two of my very best friends during my first year and both of these women were right there next to me when David and I got married. I will truly miss the second family I had in Baltimore, especially Shea and Sam.
Yesterday was the first day for teachers in Portsmouth. The New Teacher Institute was held the three days prior so I’ve been back working for almost a week. It was tough even for those three days because the only people I know here are through David – his co-interns and their spouses/significant others. At the New Teacher Orientation I attended when I started in Baltimore I still didn’t know anyone when I first got there but I quickly found familiar faces from my undergrad and graduate classes. Like in Baltimore, on the last day of the Institute we got to spend time at our schools (conveniently mine is the same school where the Institute was held). This was the first time I met (briefly) my department chair as he hadn’t been at my interview and the first time anyone had actually told me what I was going to be teaching. I had already figured out the course and my classroom numbers by logging onto the attendance/gradebook system but I didn’t know for sure that I was co-teaching inclusion classes. I co-taught a few classes my first year in Baltimore so that’s not new and I’m not unhappy about it, but right now I’m not thrilled about my co-teacher.
Unfortunately my co-teacher was only one of the things that made the first day overwhelming and frustrating. Antonio, my co-teacher, though a couple of years older than me, is fresh out of college – with a degree in political science and absolutely no background in education aside from substituting (and if it was anything like the subs at my previous school, that could mean that he was just a warm body in a classroom). I had been anticipating that my co-teacher would be a special educator and I had assumed that they were not also new to the school. In Baltimore County all of the co-taught classes have a general educator (like me) and a special educator, and part of their responsibilities in the class is to ensure that all IEP and 504 accommodations are met. So it seems like I will be responsible for that as well as the lesson planning and teaching. I’m really hoping that after a few weeks it will become more of an equal partnership but right now it feels like I’ve been given mentor-teacher duties that I didn’t ask for and that I don’t feel prepared to take on. My department chair also informed me yesterday that I need to submit the next week’s lesson plans to him by each Tuesday and that I should always have a printed copy in the event anyone from the district office pops into my room. It’s one thing to figure out co-planning with someone who apparently hasn’t the slightest clue about structuring lessons but on top of that he certainly doesn’t know how to write a lesson plan, so I guess I’ll have to teach him that too.
Other things that made yesterday not good:
- My department chair said he’s retiring at the end of the school year and maybe because of that (or just because it’s what he does) he seems to like complaining about former department members (he and Antonio where chatting about the teachers who were in the department when he was a student at this school) and members of the district curriculum office. Even if you really don’t like these people, it definitely doesn’t look good if you complain about them in front of your brand-new department members. He is also completely inflexible about the set up of the classroom and I teach in his room two periods (the teacher whose room I share the other period is also quite particular about the room set up). I understand that both of them have been teaching for decades but the polite thing, in my opinion, would be to ask if I had preferences about room set up and then figure out some sort of compromise, even if that were just that if I change the set up to please have it back to what they prefer for their class instead of demanding that the room be exactly the way the they left it when my class leaves.
- Initially my department chair told me he had no idea when I’d be given a school computer and then found out that I’ll get one when the teacher I’m replacing brings it back (apparently she was teaching summer school and still has it) which will apparently be some time this coming week. But that could potentially be Friday, in which case I’d have only the three-day weekend to familiarize myself with it’s functionality and use it for whatever planning I need. I do have my own tablet that I can use since the district has the full GoogleSuite but I haven’t been able to get on the school’s WiFi on my phone so I’m not very optimistic that I’d be able to hook onto it on my tablet.
- Both my department chair and mentor seemed to keep forgetting that although I’m a new teacher in the building I’m not actually a brand new teacher. It’s frustrating when people keep talking to you like you have no idea what’s going on or how to do something. I tried to subtly remind them a few times which seemed to work at least for a while but I also don’t want to make a bad impression if they somehow take my reminding them of my prior experience as rude or disrespectful when they probably think they’re just being helpful.
- Basically none of the classrooms have windows. I’m not a fan of fluorescent lights and would often have only one row of lights on in my previous classroom because I had a wall of windows that let in plenty of natural light. Each teacher also has a desk/shelf/closet space in the huge room of faculty offices which again, have no windows. Apparently the building used to be one of those open schools (which I still don’t get) and part of it being an older school also means that there are chalkboards instead of whiteboards. We do have super fancy BenQ boards which are basically giant computer screens with built-in computers and they do have “whiteboard” functionality built in but I really don’t like writing with chalk which would be my only option if I need to use the board. I also have a bunch of whiteboard markers already that I now have no use for.
- In general it was the most unstructured first day back of the now five I’ve experienced. The principal took the staff out to breakfast which was nice but also awkward since I only knew the six other new teachers I’d met and there were no empty seats at tables where they were sitting when I got there. After that it was literally a complete unplanned day. The last few years I’ve heard and sometimes contributed to complaining about wanting and needing more time in our classrooms to get ready for students but almost all of the time for the six teacher days is unstructured. New teachers have also yet to be given any information about school policies and procedures of any kind. It’s pretty difficult to write a syllabus or formulate a classroom management plan when you don’t know what the school behavior expectations and consequences are.
So when I got home yesterday I was feeling pretty overwhelmed and even a bit defeated. It was the kind of day when I’d have felt really grateful for our weekly happy hours at my school in Baltimore but I don’t have that here and I don’t even have friends here that I can go to to vent about whatever. On top of that, David was working until about 8 so I was home by myself and not in a good mood for about four hours. Thank goodness for technology which allowed me to message Shea and Sam and vent a bit that way, but that was also yet another reminder that my best friends are a few hundred miles away and made me cry a bit.
Starting over is hard and it’s tougher when things seem to be more challenging or even just not as good as we’d hoped for. I’m trying to keep my head up and move on but sometimes that’s easier said than done.