Wednesday, August 11, 2010

“In my other life I would’ve been a teacher.”

Says my gynecologist after she has done the deed. In my other life, I will be anything but a teacher. In my next life, I will hopefully be a dog, like a great yellow lab that I know who eats until she bursts. That’s what I’m coming back as. No more saving the world crap. That’s clearly going to be this life and this life only.

Alright, so today I need to tell you what this blog isn’t. This isn’t going to be the kind of blog that tries to find any moral lesson. I had this discussion with a friend today and those are the worst kind of blogs. The ones where people have terrible stuff happen to them and try to “find the bright side in it.” That’s not me. I couldn’t find the bright side of a light bulb. But I will try to be as funny and entertaining as possible in my antics.

So, this blog is shaping up to be the account of a former DC Public School teacher. I can’t tell you about my new job because I haven’t started it yet. Also, it’s too small and I will have to be much more ambiguous. It seems like a great place and I’m so excited to start it at the end of the month.

Here we go. I was desperate to find a job after college and the economy was starting to tighten up. I was a media studies major, people; there aren’t many jobs for us. So, a friend was finishing up her commitment with Teach for America (“TFA”) and told me I should apply. Well, I also applied to DC Teaching Fellows (affectionately known as “DCTF”) and New Orleans Teaching Fellows (“NOTF”). I did not get into TFA (a story for another day). I got into both fellows program, but had already spent time in DC and loved it, so this is where I ended up teaching. What the eff was I thinking? That’s all I have to say.

These are the facts: I would get a subsidized master’s degree and I had to commit to two years of teaching in a high needs school. Well, I just didn’t know how “high needs” the DC Public School System was going to be. As it turns out, very high. That summer following undergrad, I was to attend a 5-week crash course on teaching, go to two master’s classes, and teach summer school with a veteran teacher. Okay, I can be a little bit of an overachiever. When it comes to personality types, I’m like a type AAA.

That summer I was so idealistic, it didn’t even matter that I was doing so much. I was going to close the achievement gap. I was going to be Michele Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds or Hilary Swank in Freedom Writers. Except I wasn’t going to be any of those things because I started in elementary education thinking (very wrongly) that it would be easier than teaching high school gang members. I’m a wimp. Well, turns out that it’s much harder to teach little kids than big kids and I did eventually end up in a Dangerous Minds-like situation. Again, you’ll hear about that as well.

My first teaching job ever was in a classroom with autistic children. Now, I had heard of autism, but I had no clue exactly how it manifested itself in a child. Well, as it turns out, it manifests itself in about a million different ways. I suppose that’s why it’s a “spectrum disorder.” Autistic children do a lot of things, some of which I can’t even remember from that first summer as an assistant teacher.

What I do remember from when we got switched from primary autism (which is grades K-2 in DCPS) to intermediate autism (grades 3-5), is when Artie (names are changed to protect the innocent special education students of course) came up and grabbed my boob the first day we were transferred. Boy, that shocked me. Artie would scream at the top of his lungs “Goodbye for now,” as he ran out the door. He did that at least 16 times in any given day. He was an interesting kid, to say the very least.

There was Larry, who was just so sweet, but could barely talk or write. I still see him every so often because he lives in my neighborhood. Such a nice kid, I always hated seeing him get frustrated. You just wanted him to be able to do the things that you could do because you knew he wanted to.

I don’t remember many of the other kids. There were 10 of them and they were a handful, but not as much of a handful as the ones I was about to get assigned to for an entire school year. One of my fellow fellows (redundant, sorry) took that class for her fall assignment. She quit by December, poor thing, and this was a girl who knew about autism. She had worked with autistic kids before and she quit.

Now, imagine how bad it was for me, little old me from Delaware. Me, who didn’t know the first thing about autism or how to help autistic children or how to teach them. Well, imagine a failure. Because that’s how I felt the minute I set foot in that classroom with seven little children who were diagnosed with autism disorder. But I was desperate for a job. I thought, “Hey, the summer wasn’t so bad, how bad could this be?”

That question will unfold over the course of this blog. Or until I get bored of writing, but I learned today that I have two followers and now just like Julie Powell (Julie & Julia), I have readers. Readers who need me or at least my self-centered brain is telling me need me. So, I dedicate this blog to my readers, but then I dedicate it to my students. Those special students who have so touched my heart that it’s bringing water to my eyes. I hate to see me go, but I love to watch me leave DCPS. Forever.


  1. I can completely relate to the bright eyed and bushy tailed days of DCTF Summer Institute, and how we all knew we would change the system. As one of my fellow fellows stated as we realized our true plight, the BHAGs (big hairy audacious goals) we set that summer soon began to suck some big hairy audacious balls. Sorry for the potty mouth...DCPS...and teaching teenagers will do that to you ;-)

  2. This "poor thing" is still teaching kids with autism. I may have quit the DCTF program, but I go to work every day and continue to teach children with autism and other disabilities. Luckily for me, I teach in a program that is open to anyone regardless of what they can pay, so I work with children from a range of socio-economic backgrounds and lifestyles and my work isn't limited to children who come from solid homes or children who have parents that can afford private services. I may have been shaken when I left DC, but I promised myself a few months later that I wouldn't let a negative experience in the nation's worst public school system interfere with my dreams to work with kids with special needs...

  3. So, I'm thinking about applying as a fellow at the Center for Inspired Teaching, that serves the Capital City Public Charter School. Also applying to another program that is in partnership with the Kipp DC schools and the E.L. Haynes school. I'm probably as idealistic as you all were when you first began teaching. Am I making a mistake in applying to work in the DC public charter school system? I know the DC public schools have a terrible reputation across the country, but what about the charter schools. I've always wanted to teach inner city school children, but I'm afraid they'll eat me alive. Your thoughts?

  4. My thoughts are that teaching in DC Public or a DC charter schools is hard work. I think a lot of the charter schools are disorganized and haphazardly run (there are good ones too!). So, that kind of leaves some of them in the same boat as a lot of DC Public Schools. I can't tell you if you are making a mistake. I would say that teaching here was a burden most days and stressed me out constantly. Does that mean I would take back the experience? I don't think so. I hope this helps.