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Year 9 of Teaching

Although this past Friday was the last day of school for students, it wasn’t until after I’d attended a final meeting Tuesday morning that I could officially close the book on my ninth year of teaching.

You wouldn’t have known, from looking at the picture above, that the following was my face just an hour before . . .

Y’all, that is the face of a teacher who had gone through one of the hardest years in her career.

Truth be told, the year had gotten off to a rocky start early on. I remember telling my friend, Megan, after less than a month in, that it was already a hard year.

Little did we know that, a month after that conversation, what we would be called to deal with would stretch us to our limits.

I have always started out each school year with a fresh perspective; summer vacations are restorative must-dos for teachers due to the taxing nature of our profession.

It had not taken long, though, before I and fellow teachers were completely up to our eyeballs in oversized classes and too many preps. I considered myself fortunate that I only had two; some teachers had three or four with 30-40 students in each of them. Personally, I had 180 students – the most I’ve ever had and way too many considering that most of my students were low level 1 kids with great deficiencies in reading comprehension skills. Some of the kids came to me twice because of the way the scheduling was done, and many were resentful of that.

I can’t say that I blamed them. One class period with Mrs. Auburnchick is enough for anyone.

Ha!

Another thing that was hard at the beginning of the year, and quite frankly continued throughout, was that I had to fight hard for everything. There were kids who did not belong in some of my classes, and it was a real struggle to get them placed appropriately. A few wound up staying, which was frustrating because I knew that this wasn’t in their best interest.

Despite all of the angst, I settled in the best I could – determined to help my students pass the stupid FSA or make a concordant score on the SAT or ACT.

Hurricane Michael’s landfall and utter destruction threw everything out of kilter. It hit the day we were supposed to take our first School Day SAT, and my students were devastated. All of their hard work, because they knew that their chances of passing the stupid FSA were slim, felt all for naught.

We did the best we could, returned to school over a month later, but found ourselves with a half-day schedule (which I loved) and housed at a small middle school.

Kids had a hard time adjusting to beginning their academic day at 7am, although most were thankful that we were getting out at noon. Many of our kids found jobs because a huge chunk of the adult workforce had to relocate due to businesses being closed and homes being too damaged to live in. Places like Walmart couldn’t hire enough people, so they closed early.

I actually felt more of a community love during those hectic months. Being housed in a tiny school put us in closer proximity. We shared more conversations and had to be especially flexible in all things. As an introvert, this was both difficult yet soothing. I don’t do well in chaos surrounded by a lot of people, but this brought me out of my shell.

I did return to school with the same expectations for my students. Some were grateful for the academic challenges; others expected to sit and do nothing, which did not work in my classroom at all.

We made do, though, and eventually returned to our own campus. We had yet another schedule to adjust to because the state was demanding that we make up some of the time, and classrooms were a half-mile apart because of the portables that 3/4 of our teachers had to move into since so many of our buildings were too damaged to use.

Y’all, a Cat 5 hurricane wreaks absolute havoc on everything it touches, and repairs do not happen quickly at all.

We adjusted, though, but it was about March or April when I started seeing more extreme signs of PTSD emerge from my students. They were emotional wrecks with so much STUPID testing ahead of them.

You want to know why I was so teary-eyed in my second photo? It was partially because of how extra hard the Florida Department of Education made things for us.

This office on high refused to even consider test waivers for our sweet kids who had endured so much.

We had seniors who were scrambling to pass because the state refused to look at them as actual human beings – traumatized beyond anything we’d seen.

Do you know how hard it is to have students tell you that they probably won’t be at school the next week because they are getting kicked out of their rental, can’t find a house, and will be moving two hours away?

This happened many times a week.

Our school district had an increase in student mental health issues and a ridiculously high number of kids who were Baker Acted. When kids don’t feel like they can make it one more day but are required to take ten to fifteen exams, you know something is wrong with the Powers that Be.

Disillusionment set in – for all of us. Students repeatedly told me that the state didn’t care about them, which I agreed with, and I myself felt that the state didn’t care about teachers either.

We were still expected to jump through performance evaluation hoops – some mandated by the state and others mandated locally. There were other things teachers were told to do that I did not agree with ethically.

Sigh.

Now, I know that I’m sounding all negative, so I need to change gears for a few minutes and talk about the good stuff.

First of all, I loved watching my students put up their phones when they walked into class each day. I’d decided, last summer, to get much more strict on this policy this year, and I’d started from the first day. Students grew to be less distracted by their phones, although there were times when they would look at them hanging in the pocket holder and wonder who was texting them. I think this freed them up to really keep up with what we were doing and participate more in class discussions.

Of course, there were the celebrations when students did make their concordant scores. One young lady was ready to give up this spring. She was burned out from all of the testing she’d done, so it was very satisfying to tell her that she’d passed the stupid FSA (every now and then, one of my struggling readers will pass it).

I loved hearing, near the end of our final week, kids thanking me for being a good teacher. That meant the world to me.

I loved watching my kids from last year and the few who did early graduation this year walk across the stage to get their diplomas.

I’m not Mr. Flint, but I can imitate him quite well, thank you very much.
Pre-graduation shenanigans in the gym
This young man headed out to Marine boot camp the morning after graduation.
You’d never know from this silly photo, but this young man took care of an elderly woman through the hurricane. They both stayed, and he bailed out water from her home in the middle of the storm. When I saw him after the storm, I asked, “Were you scared?” He said, “Yesssssss, girl. I was screaming my head off.” Ha! He’s one of my heroes.

Graduation has always been the highlight of my year. It represents all of the hard work put in over the years – all of the loving poured into these kids – making them believe in themselves.

In fact, one of my students told me one of the last days of school that I was her favorite teacher. She told me that she’d been afraid to come into my room because other kids had told her that I was super strict. She said that she understood why I was strict, and that while some teachers said, “Poor girl” if she didn’t understand something (she’s ELL), I would tell her, “You can do this.”

That’s what I love most about teaching. It’s moments like this one that the people who wear fancy suits and work in beautiful, window-lined buildings (wish I could see outside my classroom) do not understand and that no amount of tweeting will get them to take notice of.

This year, I taught two English 3 classes. Y’all, after I figured out that my kids couldn’t do subject-verb agreement, we went back to the very beginning of grammar – to the parts of speech.

That is ALL we did for an entire semester because when kids don’t understand something, I slow down and teach them until they do. Even if they don’t do well on my tests (because the state says that’s the only way to measure growth), I know that my kids have progressed when I see what they are doing in my room on a daily basis.

I watched as wheels started turning in my kids’ heads as they started piecing together the different components of the grammar puzzle – how those parts worked together in their writing.

I heard one guy say, “My mama will whoop me good for talking all proper at home, so I have to talk a different way and not act like I’m better than her.” That might seem sad to you, but it was an aha moment for my kiddo who recognized that there are certain situations when you speak in certain ways.

Progress – not perfection.

My class was a safe place to make mistakes in the journey as they progressed.

What a journey it was this year too.

I was able, in the last few days of school when we were on a whack testing schedule, to talk to Flint (the Flint of the sign above). We reflected on the year. He always tells me what a wonderful teacher I am. Compared to him, Megan, and a few others I can think of, I don’t feel so great. I am not the SGA extraordinaire that Megan is. I’m not the fly-easy kind of guy that Flint is. As he and I talked, I told him that I have to manage my energy levels carefully, so I’ve tried to be more balanced and, instead, put everything I have into my lesson planning. We reflected on how grateful we were that we are veteran teachers now who have prior years’ worth of plans to lean on, tweak, or create from. With all that we had going on this year, we didn’t have to add the heaviness of being new teachers in our first or second years on top of that.

Despite that, we were exhausted.

It’s no wonder that the last day of school found me dressed, well, not in my best stuff, although Auburn attire is always spot on.

Floor decor courtesy of Hurricane Michael

I had prepped my room all that last week, so by Friday, I was able to lock my door for the summer.

I ran to the school that Monday to make the obligatory visit and turn in my keys before heading home to hang up my bag and lunch box.

I did return that afternoon to celebrate the retirement of three of our teachers. I’ll miss them and will admit to being jealous that they are closing out this chapter of their lives. State and local mandates are making me long for the day when it’s my turn. I am physically and emotionally depleted.

For right now, I’m content to retreat to my home, lick my wounds, and let God restore my tender heart, which has been too busy taking care of my teenage charges to completely mend from a beyond-challenging year.

If you need me, I’ll be working out, sunning myself, napping, and knitting – whilst enjoying homemade margaritas and yummy vegan dishes prepared by yours truly.

Here’s to Year 9 – a year when I lapsed a bit on #findingjoyinthejourney but plan a more positive approach/return to Year 10.

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