“The stages new teachers move through during their first year -Anticipation, the short period that usually begins during training, comes first. The beginning teacher looks forward to the new career with a mix of excitement and anxiety. Survival follows close on its heals, soon after school starts. The overwhelmed teacher struggles to stay afloat. This period normally lasts six to eight weeks but can go on indefinitely. Then there is Disillusionment, a phase of profound disenchantment when new teachers question both their commitment and their competence.Rejuvenation, eventually follows. For the lucky ones, it begins after winter break and continues well into spring. For the not-so-lucky, it can take weeks, if not months to kick in. Finally, as the school year winds down, there is Reflection, the final phase of the cycle, in which the teacher begins to envision what the second year in the classroom will look like.”
- From Relentless Pursuit, Donna Foote
I have always wondered why people take on impossible tasks and keep at them, even when things look hopeless. What motivates them? Especially when tangibles like money, ambition, fame, recognition etc. are not involved?
Perhaps this was one of the reasons for signing up for the TFI fellowship. To figure things out. But I am far from it. In fact, things are more baffling now, than before. After a 5 week boot camp training and 8 weeks into the classroom, I am confronted by questions every second of the day and I have no answers. Is this a mere masochistic experiment? Why do I do what I do? And more importantly,why should I keep at it?
Two weeks back, during a group debrief, my Program Manager* talked of the 2-month low. Having been a Teach First Fellow herself a few years back, she knew what she was talking about. Two months into the classroom is usually the time around which the fellow hits the lowest point. (This is not to mean that the lowest low cannot hit one at other times.) She recalled her own experience saying that during her stint, schools in UK started in September and the 2-month low hit around November, coinciding with bitter dreary dark winters, which certainly did not help her cause.
I can understand this two month thing. The novelty (beginner’s enthusiasm) of teaching in a low income school slowly wears off only leave one with a certain hopelessness. One balks at the enormity of the task ahead. Move the class ahead by 1.5 years? A 7th grader that cannot write his name in English? Oh my God, but he does not know his alphabets! Add to the mix – violence, arrogance, rebellion, malnutrition, dire poverty, dysfunctional families and self destructive attitude, adolescent confusions (if teaching a higher grade). You have one depressive cocktail. Gulp. And it is bound to hit one hard.
At the two month point, one begins to take stock differently. These things existed before, but earlier there were excuses. One could always tell oneself, ‘But I am new, I don’t know my class, I haven’t established rapport with the parents etc.’ But what if, after two months, things are still quite bad? There is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, nothing to do except to confront one’s demons.
There are some hard questions to face. Let me keep aside the Whys for just an instant. Things are tough, as they are. Am I doing everything (and I mean, absolutely everything) I can, to push my class ahead? Can I keep doing this in the face of absolutely no progress? Then of course, the most baffling (to me) of them all – Why am I doing this? Why can’t I just quit and leave?
The truth is I sit in my classroom today confronting a low point. I sit where Priyanka usually sits – near the window and I can feel the drizzle on my back.
I am not ready to talk about specifics. Yet. What happened? What triggered it?Details don’t matter. While not a great proponent (personally) of sharing feelings, somehow I am more comfortable sharing it here, on the blog. It is like a message in a bottle thrown into the sea, hoping someone would read it.
I sobbed like one of the children in my class, felt instantly better and looked around my classroom. Enclosed by plastered walls, and a barely-there roof and window shutters that don’t close, this classroom is where I do my daily Dandi March, 5 hours a day – round and round. Without the children, it is quiet and non nondescript. Benches strewn around, light streaming in through crevices. A sea change from the air conditioned conference rooms and cubicles. Sometimes I feel a strange ownership towards it – something that I haven’t felt towards any of the houses I have lived in.
And then, there is always a to-do list. It seems to miraculously grow longer, even after a 12 hour work day. I flip through it and my first thought is – Wait, I cannot sit here and ruminate. I have to visit two families of my class today! So, here I am, a limited being, trying to work my way down a never ending to-do list. Perhaps I should add to the list – “Take time to think why you are doing this.” Is this how life is?
It is not time management that bothers me. Its the lack of progress. Not the progress of the students – but the progress of me, as their teacher. I am beginning to think that the achievement of my class is limited most of all by my inadequacies. Sometimes, just barely, I notice that the more structured my life is (which it seldom is), the more structured my class is. But it is hard to achieve a structured life when most questions are unanswered.
The only thing I am aware of is a strange instinct to keep at this even though its difficult, and put my students ahead of everything else. It is not because of some weird brainwashing or auto suggestion. It is not conscious at all but I realise its presence on hindsight. Especially in situations where choices have to be made. I don’t understand the cause or the nature of this instinct. Perhaps that is all that is required.
But the truth is, I need a sign. From the heavens. Like now.
(Great! All I can hear is the rain on the leaking roof.)
Ah well, this post is all over the place, just like me. One thing is for sure – I’ll be back tomorrow even though I don’t know why. Praise the lord and pass the ammunition. That sort of thing.
* for the uninitiated, Program Manager aka PM manages a group of Fellows, mentoring them during the fellowship.