How To: Survive a Difficult School Year
It was the first day of school.
I had *some* idea about the kinds of students that would enter in my classroom that year, but I had NO idea that the struggle would begin day 1.
Let me paint you a picture. I was in an integrated 4th grade classroom with 23 students and 4 adults. I was working along side a special ed teacher (who was actually just a long term sub for the teacher on maternity leave - she was amazing though!) and 2 of my students had one-on-one aids. Our classroom was small and the kids were active...very active.
MANY of the students had emotional behavior disorders and were truly not in the right place for success. They needed way more support than what could be provided in an integrated classroom. Most of the students in my class were reading at about a 2nd grade reading level or lower. Yes- I said lower.
Then there were the handful of well-behaved, grade level-appropriate learners that got caught in the cross fire - more than once.
Pretty grim picture, huh? It doesn't get better, I'm afraid to say. By the end of the first day of school, one kid had punched another and three others were in the principal's office.
It was the worst school year ever.
Now before you click away and say "why would I want to read about this?" - there is good new.
I survived and lived to tell about it.
Does this sound like your year? Have you been in the same situation before? If you haven't...you will. We all have "that year."
And you know what else? You will survive it, too. Here's how I made it through the tunnel and out the other side.
Yup. Simple, but necessary. And it wasn't my home-brewed drip coffee. You see, I dreaded getting out of bed every. single. morning. So, I gave myself something to look forward to. Whether it was Dunkin Donuts coffee or the upgraded Starbucks - I treated myself to the happiness that is coffee. You know what else I did? I would often grab a second cup for my co-teacher. We both needed it. And sometime she would do the same. It was our way of saying "yup, this sucks, but here's some coffee."
I was extra prepared
I could pretty much guarantee that my day would NOT go according to plan. I knew that somewhere along the way each day, a lesson would be sabotaged and the learning would go right out the window. I would have to stop and deal with a behavior issue, make a phone call, or chase a student down the hallway. When this happens, what do you do with the other students? Well, you always have a plan B. Have an extra activity tucked away on your desk that students can work on if something else suddenly takes your attention away.
I used my resources
When I first started teaching, I always felt like it was a sign of weakness to go and ask for help from the principal, the behavior specialist, or any other support staff. I thought they would view me as not knowing what to do (which I didn't) or think I didn't have control of my class (didn't have that either). But, I knew that if I was gonna make it, I needed help. If things got bad, I called for back-up. Sometimes two, three times a day. I had a "buddy teacher" that I could send a student to if they needed to cool off and step away.
I worked out...a lot
At the end of the day, the LAST thing I wanted to do was go to the gym. All I wanted was a glass of wine and a box of tissues. But, on the days that I went to the gym, I felt better. There's just something about "working it off." Our bodies need that release of endorphins to recharge and reset.
And some days, I needed wine.
I packed an AWESOME lunch
OK - this is silly, but come on! You know when you have a fabulous lunch to look forward to - even if you are eating it at the copy machine during your break- your smile is a little wider.
I met the students where they were
This was sometimes a struggle. In my perfect world, I wanted to hold each of my students to the same standards. But it my real world, all students aren't the same. A student that comes from an abusive home (as many of my students did) can not reach the same standards as a student coming from a happy home...yet. So I had to meet some of my students where they were. Sometimes this meant having a behavior plan that was unique to them. Sometimes it was letting something slide because calling them out on every little thing wasn't going to make either of us feel better.
I took it one day at a time
At the beginning of the school year all I could think about was "How am I going to make it till June?" But you know what? That wasn't helpful. I WAS going to make it till June because the alternative was to quit (and that wasn't an option at that point). So I started thinking about what I needed to do that day to make it through. What was I going to focus on in that moment?
And sometime I focused on the fact that lunch was just a mere 30 minutes away - and that was just enough to pull me through.
The truth is - every year is not going to be sunshine and cupcakes.
But on the flip slide - every year isn't going to be one of "those years" either. So when you have one, you can proceed with (caution and) confidence. See that light at the end of the tunnel? That's the sunshine from the beach that you'll be sitting on once summer vacay rolls around.