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New Teacher Diaries

The calm after the storm

New York Teacher

When I think back to what it felt like to step into a classroom in the first days of the 2021-22 school year, one chaotic image comes to mind. It was a Friday afternoon in October after my 6th-graders’ lunch period, and the lo-fi beats I had intentionally left playing softly in the background were no match for the energy my class brought in. Four students became physical. One student, when reprimanded, became very upset, and within minutes, bulletin boards were ripped from the walls, and desks and chairs were strewn across the room.

I was 22 years old with a degree in communications and standing in the middle of this scene. I was utterly lost as to what this child needed.

The beginning of this school year has given me an opportunity to reflect on how this year could be different.

As last year went on, I gained a better understanding of my role in the classroom and in the school. I learned that my energy determined the instructional outcome of a period and built bonds with my students. I spent sleepless nights and weekends through the fall trying to figure out how to be the teacher these kids deserved. After a week away in February, I came back to school only to break into stress-induced hives across my whole body.

When the attack in Uvalde, Texas, brought gun violence back into the spotlight, the weight of my responsibility for my students’ lives slowly sank in. During a training session with staff about our own safety protocols, I lost control of my breath, fainted and came to shuddering on my classroom floor. Three women frantically hovered above me, caring for me. Their indelible kindness recentered me.

Just like the students, teachers and schools needed last school year to make the transition back to business as usual, though perhaps with a new definition of what “usual” means. Already I can recognize and appreciate the changes my administration has made to address problems that were exposed in the previous school year. The new batch of teachers fills the hallways with a bright energy, and I leave my door open to hear about their struggles and successes as they build their own classroom cultures. My new class of 6th-graders has had a year to be reacquainted with school norms and to overcome some of the severe reading loss that COVID-19 closures left in their wake.

On a recent Friday afternoon after the students’ lunch period, my students had their first chance to be true historians. Their assignment was to create their very own primary source — in this case, a first-hand account of what it was like to live through a pandemic. After 20 minutes of quiet writing, the lo-fi beats finally serving their calming purpose, my students walked over with their completed pieces.

“That’s the most fun I’ve ever had writing,” one boy said as he began to pack his things for the next period.

His remark washed away some of the back-to-school anxiety within me. I am so excited to see what might be as we get further into the 2022-23 school year.

Looking Forward is a second-year special education teacher in a middle school in the Bronx.
Related Topics: New Teachers