Hello, I’m your new Special Education teacher

I know it’s been quite some time since I’ve posted on here. My bad… It’s been an extremely hectic and intense summer. Just a word to the wise – Intense is my new buzzword for the year. This summer has been full of graduate school, summer school observations, applying to new jobs, acquainting myself to a new city, orienting myself to my new school, most of which ended approximately 2.5 weeks ago. Since then I’ve been on a mission to effectively shut my brain off in preparation for the intense fall I will have being a first year teacher and continuing my graduate studies.

At the moment I’m on the Megabus headed back to Boston. September 1st marks the end of my lease. Fortunately/unfortunately I couldn’t find someone to take my portion of the lease so I got to pack all my stuff and store it here for free for 2.5 months. Moving my stuff to storage should be pretty easy, and I’ll probably head back to NYC tomorrow after I’m done. A friend of mine happened to have an extra room he’s looking to sublease to let me sublease in northern Harlem. I wont be able to move in for approximately 1.5/2 weeks though. In the meantime my stuff will be sitting in storage until I’m able to come back and get it once I get my first Department of Education paycheck. Those stipend checks are starting to run pretty thin.

Myself along with the staff of my new transfer school have spent the better have of the past 2 weeks gearing up for the 20127/2013 school year. This whole process has felt like a dream to me. Somehow I lucked out and landed a job VERY early on in the summer. I say I lucked out because I didn’t have to deal with the stress of finding a job as there are still some fellows looking to secure employment right now…. Weeks before the school year is scheduled to start. Right before I moved here I heard about a wonderful new school in Brooklyn that another Fellow interviewed with. To my surprise the school catered to a similar population as the organization that I left in Boston. This transfer school (high school) focuses on youth who have all been held back at least twice during their educational careers.

I sent my resume and cover letter to the school hoping to hear back, but not putting too much energy into waiting for a response. I received a quick response and was invited to attend an open house the school was having to review potential teaching candidates. Being that I was still new to the city I arrived about 15 minutes late for the beginning of the event. I was pretty sure I bombed the group interview given that none of the staff seemed to want to take the time to answer my brilliant student leadership questions I had prepared on the train ride over. Nonetheless I shined exuded confidence when we got a chance to meet with some of their students during the interviews closing. Early the next week I an invitation to prepared a demo lesson to present for the students so the staff could review my teaching capabilities.

I wasn’t nervous about teaching a lesson, as I had decent experience giving and running workshops with my student leaders at YouthBuild. But it was a bit of a struggle for me to think about an academic topic to present to the students. I thought back to my favorite subject in high school – Economics. It was the only subject I felt I could teach with confidence without having to reinvent the wheel or reteach myself a ridiculous math concept. I decided to run with a lesson on Supply and Demand, and used Nike: Air Jordans as my example as the engagement piece to hook the kids on the concept. My thinking was that most if not all of the students had a pair of Jordans or wanted a pair of Jordans, so I was sure that their attention would be mine as long as I kept the energy up in the room.

I arrived to the school (less late this time) and met with the Assistant Principal who led me to the room where I would be running my demo lesson. At the time there was still a class wrapping up for the day. Imagine a high school on a hot Friday afternoon about a week before summer vacation began, just minutes before the kids were going to be let out to enjoy their weekend. I kind of laughed at myself for having such a precarious time slot to teach, but it also gave me the sense that I had nothing to lose.

NONE of the kids were trying to stay to see me, yet another potential teacher run a boring demo lesson. Clearly there had been many demo lessons done here, and the kids were over all these wannabe teachers wasting their precious time. I watched the administration run around trying to collect students to stay after to get their chance to size me up. I literally was standing right next to the principal as she bribed kids to stay by promising them pie the following Monday. Interestingly enough some fell for it and some didn’t.

–Again, just another moment to laugh at myself and the awkward situation I felt I was in.- As a result, I did the only thing I thought I could do… I began striking up conversations with lingering students, one to get a feel for the student body here, and two to convince them to stay for my lesson. In my head it was really the only option. Had the students left then I would have had to run my lesson for teachers, playing the part of students. Trust me… its not a good look. We got to do this in some of our summer classes, and we behaved just as bad, if not worse then the real students. I didn’t spend 3 hours prepping this 20-minute lesson on Jordans so that the non-informed teachers could ruin my chance to grab this job!

After about 15 minutes we had a solid group of about 7 students who stayed for the lesson. There was also a group of about 4 teachers and administrators sitting in the corner to observe me work my magic in the classroom. Overall… the lesson ran pretty smoothly. The students understood the concept of Supply and Demand because they all knew that anytime a new pair of Jordan’s came out they themselves, or someone they knew, would line up outside of a store the night before to grab a pair (high demand) of these re-released pricey limited edition sneakers (low supply). I was blown away that the students understood the full scope of the theory without much effort on my part. If anything I felt like I was unprepared for their level of understanding. I should have challenged them to relate the concept to a market.

During my lesson I had an interesting and game-changing interaction with a young male student around 2 minutes into my actual lesson. There I was passing out graphic organizers (worksheets) I made to help walk the students through my lesson. There was a soft chatter that was going on throughout the room from the moment I walked in which kind of turned into background noise after a while, so I’m really shocked at what I was able to do. After I passed out my notes I happened to hear music and it was coming from inside the classroom. It wasn’t loud… but it was audible enough for me to hear and I’ve self-diagnosed myself as partially deaf. I looked down and noticed a young man looking at his phone and playing music from the speaker. His body language wasn’t that of defiance, it really seemed as though he was just in the zone, jamming out, trying to mind his own business until the administrators allowed him to leave.

It was right then that I made the decision that I’m almost sure led to me getting hired. The music was loud, but I’m pretty sure it was soft enough for him to get away with playing it for the entire time had I let him. Nonetheless I wasn’t going to let him distract me from delivering my lesson! My inner dialogue went something like this: What does he think this is!? A game? His free time? A boring lesson? Fuck that, my shit is dope and he’s going to pay attention cuz I’m talking about Jordan’s and all students like Jordans! If he blows up it’s just a demo lesson. I would rather try something and at least learn how to handle this for the next time I’m demoing for a class than let this continue. With that, I quietly walked over to the young man, bent down just a little and asked him to turn his music off, without causing a scene. To my surprise he responded ok, turned his phone off and didn’t get an attitude or challenge me back. I think we both were shocked at how easy that was.

The group of teachers and coaches who had gathered at a back table made a slight chatter. I assumed it was them expressing surprise and praise that I had the where-with-all to approach a student and redirect their attention without waiting for the official teachers to address his behavior.

I was really happy I was able to run an effective lesson. I felt like I was firing on all cylinders that day. After my lesson I said goodbye to all the students that decided to give me their time on a Friday evening. They were really cool and their connection and engagement with me went a long way to help me get hired on.

I was offered the job literally two weeks after I had touched down in the Big City. I still hadn’t even completed my first grad school assignment yet. Even now the whole experience is kind of surreal. It feels amazing to know that I was offered a job from an amazing school with an amazing staff with amazing resources. Today was the last day of a week of teambuilding, goal setting and lesson planning with my new team. Its been a bit of a battle for me this week, as I feel the need to live up to the high standard I set during the interview process and throughout my graduate classes this summer.

Overall, this summer has been one of the steepest and most fulfilling learning experiences I’ve ever had. I now have a glimpse of how much I can achieve when I bunker down, focus, and put my best foot forward, something I regrettably don’t think I was able to manage in track or my undergraduate courses back in the day. I’m working to bring this determination to my students and help them learn and achieve as much as I know they can. I’m going to work to updating you guys on everything that went down this summer. Trust me, its been an amazing and intense journey and its just now starting which is exciting… and intimidating all at the same time.

Anywho, it feels great to be back into the swing of things. Have a great weekend everyone. Check back soon for more updates!