Just got through my first full 2 weeks of my 2nd year teaching 5th grade self-contained special education in the S. Bronx. I’m exhausted. But this year is nearly radically different than last year, thank heavens. My students this year have had a solid teacher for the last 2 years and somewhat involved parents. They’ve certainly got their problems, but they aren’t constantly aggressive, deviant, manipulative, and violent in the way that my students last year were. Every day someone in my building comes up to me and says something to the effect of “it’s a lot better this year, huh?”
I’m not only a better teacher this year–now that I know what to expect and am slightly more competent in meeting the myriad and ever-present demands of teaching–but I also finally have a chance to connect with my students and build a positive learning community. They like me, and I like them. That’s the way I plan to keep it. I’m keeping my cool, keeping it positive. I’m trying to keep up my running routine and keep mentally and emotionally healthy.
Last year was a tough year. If I had been a special education teacher with 10 years under my belt, I could have done more for those kids, but I wasn’t. I was a 1st year teacher thrown into the fire, and I did my best. I kept them mostly in the classroom instead of in the streets or in the hallways, and I got some work out of them, even if it took a lot of kicking and screaming (literally). The good thing about having a tough group of students your 1st year is that it is all good from there. It can never be that bad again.
This year I came into it focusing more on the bigger picture. I am trying to give my students what they really need, such as lessons on how to control their emotions when they are upset, or lessons on values like integrity and empathy. And of course, I’m developing a stronger ability to plan and deliver core content lessons that students that are struggling can connect to.
I’m still overwhelmed every single day, but having that positive energy and respect coming from my students makes all the difference. I am now certified in Therapeutic Crisis Intervention, and I have already performed two full Life Space Interviews with my students, which is when a child is in crisis and you support and guide them to gain insight into how their feelings connect to their behavior. It’s an amazing feeling, to know that you have just made the difference between being just another adult who doesn’t understand and can’t be trusted, to being an adult who has helped to foster new self-awareness in a child struggling to cope in an overwhelmingly stressful world.
I’m not a great teacher yet, but I will be.