*I wrote this for the “Reader’s Write” section of my favorite magazine, The Sun. The topic was, “The First Year.”
My first year of teaching, I taught sixth grade: three two-hour blocks and then a twenty minute “homeroom” class at the end of the day. The homeroom was supposed to be your core students, the ones you “really connected with.”
For activities, the homeroom class was intended to be twenty minutes of silent reading most days, but then once a week, we would play baseball with other homeroom classes. There were also all-school activities in the mornings that were led by a different homeroom class each month.
As a first year teacher, I had the absolute worst kids in the school in my homeroom. I never could get them to read. They didn’t ever have books. When we played baseball with the other classes, they moved the bases so that that the other team couldn’t find them. When we led the Pledge of Allegiance in front of the whole school, they pretended not to know it. At all. I ended up saying the Pledge of Allegiance alone in front of the school, my face burning with shame and anger at these good-for-nothing kids standing next to me, nudging each other and giggling.
I tried everything. I tried rewards. I tried punishments. I tried bribes. Letters home. I set a timer and said the whole class would stay after school for as long as they were wasting my time. They thought that was really funny. They let the timer run the entire class, and then they all stayed after school with me for twenty minutes. After a few months of their shenanigans, I mentally checked out. I would just sit amidst the chaos of “silent reading” and fantasize about running away- right then. Just leaving. But I never did.
One day, I kept a boy from the group after school for detention. I knew detention was supposed to be silent, but when I was alone with a student, I often ended up talking with them.
“You’re too soft on those kids,” he said. (As though he weren’t one of them.)
“I don’t think so,” I said. “When the water in a stream runs against a rock, you think the rock is stronger, but the water wears it down, in the end.”
“Yeah,” he said, “But I think you’re the rock, and they are the water. You’re being worn down, and they’re doing whatever they want.”
I was so mad at him! Because he was so right.