A New Chapter
A year ago last November. Tim a very good friend of mine helped me get my foot in the door with Albuquerque Public Schools. Even though I never considered Education as a career path I started working one day a week as an Educational Assistant. At that time I had no idea what an Educational Assistant did, and I am still figuring that out to this day. There were a few reasons I did pursue the job and I won't lie a bad economy and lack of jobs in the private sector was very high on my list. But having the opportunity to contribute to the kids and community and most importantly knowing it was a job I knew my mom would be very proud I was doing were the main reasons I vigorously pursued this job. I should also mention that going back to work at the same middle school I went to some forty years ago sounded kinda cool too.
Now working one day a week for the second half of the school year did give me a taste of the job but not a real complete picture. Seeing the complete picture and the reality of the job wouldn't have mattered because once I experienced that first ah ha moment when a student finally understands I was hooked. If you have never experienced that moment it's difficult to explain. Mine came after working one on one with a particular student that was struggling with math, she just couldn't grasp the concepts. What made matters worse was she had never learned her multiplication tables. I kept pushing her to take the extra time at home to learn how to multiply and not get frustrated. Towards the end of the year I came in on my Friday and this student was so excited to see me so she could show me how much she had learned and she had learned a bunch. I don't know how much I contributed or even if I was a factor at all it was great to be there to share her excitement and pride for her success. I wanted more of that feeling!
From that point on I started bugging the principal, Dr Alexander every chance I could for extra hours. I would check the APS website looking for openings I was even willing to leave the security of Hoover if it meant more hours. School ended without anything coming up and I went to summer break frustrated. After giving up hope I got a call in mid August from a Mr Dahl. it turns out there had been a shake up at another middle school that resulted in a new administration at Hoover and Mr. Dahl was the new assistant principal. He was calling to see if I still wanted to pick up some hours, God once again answered my prayers.
I went from a .1 employee to a .7 employee just shy of full time, it was perfect. It was going to be hard enough getting my body to adjust to 4 1/2 hours 5 days a week. I ended up being there pretty much full time for the boot camp phase (a week or so before the students start) with no problem. It took a while to figure out how many hours I was suppose to work and where I would be working them. For a while I thought I was going to be assigned to help out with the autistic students. That kinda terrified me because I wouldn't have had a clue soon I was gonna find out just how clueless I was.
It was decided my shift was 4.33 hrs a day and I was assigned to Mrs. Hill-Morgan, one of the teachers I worked with last year. Her largest classes were her 3rd and 6th periods we decided, well I volunteered to work a split shift so I could help her with both those classes. After about two days I found out just how incomplete my vision of the "Life of a Educational Assistant" was. Remember I wanted this job to be able to teach kids well after 2 days I was sent to help Mrs Dolan out during 2nd period, this was going to be the scene of some great personal victories but also a very humbling defeat.
This also leads to some of my confusion as to what my duties and responsibilities as an EA really are. Mrs. Dolan's 2nd period science class was a group of 8th graders with bad attitudes and a pack mentality. In Mrs. Hill-Morgan's class I was given full authority as a teacher in both helping the students and managing the classroom. I hate managing the classroom (keeping the kids in line) I've never had kids to manage and I am not by nature a hard ass. so back to Mrs. Dolan's 2nd period, I want to say these kids were complete assholes and they did act that way. Every single day there were problems kids coming in the classroom out of control, kids would talk continually, throw things, every day if it wasn't one kid starting things it was another. And once one kid started and exposed a weakness the pack mentality would kick in. I couldn't believe it in my school days even the worst of students wouldn't act this way or be so disrespectful. How humbling it would become.
At the first of the year I thought it was the EA's responsibility to keep the students and classes under gontrol so the teachers an teach. Not necessarily so, it is pretty much up to the teacher to draw the line. In that 2nd period science class I wanted to take control but I was taking it too personal and letting the little farts get to me making me angry to the point I exploded on a certain kid, not bad telling him to "shut up!". In my defense I never really had any authority in her class I couldn't sign any agendas or write anybody up, the one thing I could do was pull a kid out of class to talk with him, something I believe I have become pretty good at doing. It turns out Mrs. Dolan's didn't want an EA and her teaching style to inconsistent to support, what I mean is one minute she would be letting kids talk between themselves and a few minutes later it was zero tolerance.
As I was saying it was the scene of some great personal victories but also a very humbling defeat. It was during this period I learned how important it is to let the students be heard. By listening to the students I began to realize it wasn't a class full of little ass holes, it was a room full of kids with very different backgrounds and problems so what can you expect. I found the 95% of the time taking a student outside letting him vent on you for a while you can figure out what's bugging them and be able to quiet them down and back into class. often times it had nothing do with school at all. The victories were learning my strengths and weaknesses but getting the respect and trust of a few students, maybe even nudging a few in the right direction.
The humiliating defeat? We never really turned the class around or saved any students(well maybe one) One student 'Charlie' oh he had a bad reputation with all the teachers I never thought he was a bad as people thought, I think a lot of times he would be singled out for things he didn't do just because of his reputation, hey teachers are human there perception of things can be influenced. This is something I don't just think but I know because I saw it on numerous occasions. I still believe Charlie could have been saved, but I will never know, he was transferred out. And that is the ugly and humiliating loss, in the end the classes will always be brought under control. But it isn't because we won the hearts and minds of students, or turned a single one around. In the end the classrooms sure brought under control by transferring unruly students out. I think it's a loss because every kid has so much potential, But honestly the teachers don't have the time or the tools to correct or "save" troubled students, nor do they have access to them. At most a teacher will have access to a student 2 hrs a day, not nearly enough time to overcome a lifetime of poor parenting and being pushed through an imperfect system.
Ah yes my vision of reliving that ah ha moment is getting further from reach because the same week I'm assigner to mrs. Dolan's 2nd period I am assigned to oversee Detention during 'B' lunch which instantly evolves into including west hall duty during "B" lunch, oh yeah did I mention I stop getting paid when "b" lunch begins. I decided not to say anything because I am new and I figure it will be good experience, I hate breing an asshole to the kids but I have to enforge the rules.........rules I don't always agree with.
The time I do get to spend teaching kids runs hot and cold most of the kids I work with resist learning anything new and all of them ate content to do just enough to get by if even that because if there is one things these kids have learned is they won't get left behind. It ie very sad because even though none of these kids have the tools to be successful all of them will move on to high school simply because the amount of time they have spent in school....
....these kids that can't write a decent sentence, paragraph, let alone an essay, kids that read words but comprend nothing will move onto high school. These kids that refuse to try harder and have no idea what it is to have their own ideas and thoughts, these kids that for some reason have never had to think for themselves well get into high school and be forced to read and comprehend, to write essays that arent just words thrown together, essays that make sense, to develope their own ideas and thoughts, and be responsible for themselves...well these kids won't have a clue. I'm afraid that most of these kids will begin high school so far behind they will drop out in the 1st two years. They have no idea how to struggle with something until you fuigure it out, they have no idea how to learn from mistakes, or take constructive advice, they don't know what it takes to succeed.
I'm not at all happy with the way things are looking but I am kinda proud of the work I have done, all the extra hours, all the power points I've made and all the research I've done. It makes me feel good that my students are developing a respect for me and in certain situations respond better to me than to the teacher...........but unless I find a way to engage and motivate these kids to do better this chapter of my life will be a catastrophe.
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