Reflections of a First-Year Teacher

    Toward the end of third period, the principal came to my room. "Read this to your class at the beginning of the fourth period," she said, handing me a short memo.

    I glanced over the first sentence: "Earlier this morning, one of our students, Trevor Grover (not his real name), died of an apparent suicide..." I looked up in alarm.

    "Please read it exactly as it is written," she continued in a slow, firm voice.

    "I will." We stared at each other for a few seconds. Then she was gone.

    It was May 24, the last full week of the semester, almost the end of my first year of teaching high school English at "Westy," as everyone called it. Westminster High School in the Denver metro area had been my first choice after graduating from Project Promise, a one-year teacher licensure program for mid-career professionals. I was attracted to Westy because of its diverse population (about one-third of the students are Hispanic and 10 percent are Asian), because education - not family resources - was going to determine whether or not most of the students "made it." And because I thought I could make a difference.

    As the fourth-period sophomores tumbled into the room, I pored over each of their faces. How familiar those faces were to me now, after a year studying language arts together, testing one another, and learning to trust one another with varying degrees of success. How much I had come to care for them as individuals. But did they know this, and did it matter? I must have seen Trevor go into the room opposite mine a hundred times to take his Future Studies (future studies!) class, but I had never noticed.

    Many Questions, But Few Answers.

    Could one teacher make a difference? That's a question I have been asking myself since I made the decision to switch careers at the age of 46. I stopped being a university professor, a scholar of Chinese poetry and textual criticism, and a teacher of comparative literature who read seven languages, and started being a K-12 teacher.

    Over the course of my first year I taught students with remarkably different abilities. In the same class, I had students who read at the fifth-grade level and students whose abilities were comparable to college students. I taught students who were eager to learn, students with a "who-cares" attitude, and students who were just plain angry about being in school. Some kids benefited from strong support systems. Others were struggling to function in unstable family situations. Students entered my classroom with different skills and different needs as human beings - and my days (and often my nights) were consumed with trying to help them.

    Teaching in a public high school is much more complex than those outside can imagine. Every day, you are running five different classes, designing and adapting learning activities that you hope will meet the needs of your students while simultaneously fulfilling departmental, building, district, and state standards. Most days, you work from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., often with just a break for dinner. Despite diminishing sleep, you need to maintain an energy level that matches that of teenagers, while remembering to remain the adult in the classroom. And you must constantly remind yourself of the power you have to affect your kids, for better or worse. You can't afford to be careless, indifferent, hurtful, fake, or oblivious (as you might on an off day with adults) because kids never get over it.




    “我会的。” 我们俩对视了几秒钟,然后她离开了。