Friday, February 18, 2011


This is my first post since January 1, which was two days before I started my new job as a middle school ELL teacher. It's February 18, 12:05 pm, and the kids have just been dismissed so that we teachers can have a half day of professional development.

I feel like someone just handed me a snorkel. I am just now surfacing. I can breathe. I can write.

Overwhelming is a mild term to describe my transition from teaching reading to teenage boys in the juvenile justice system to working with English language learners between the ages of 11-13. Let me make this clear assertion: teaching in jail was way easier than this gig. The kids knew the drills. They knew that if they stepped out of line, there were clear and foreseeable consequences, and so they pretty much behaved. Most of the time. But here, in this level 4 school, in this socioeconomically stretched city in western Massachusetts, things are a bit more dicey. This is an academically underperforming school. There's a general lack of motivation among the kids and, perhaps in a greater sense, among their parents. In very real, tangible ways, there are big behavior issues. There is neglect. There is truancy. And then I also get to deal with those added layers of a language barrier and the age-old challenge of the creature that is the tweenager.

I keep calling this the molotov cocktail of teaching jobs. It's kicking my ass in ways I've never quite felt. These kids have tested me as though I were a 22 year old student teacher. In my first seven weeks here, I've seen a student stabbed with a pencil, had things thrown across the room, watched my materials get broken, been called many unsavory names in Spanish, and, oh yeah, had a kid--somehow--post a picture of an erect penis on my computer (that happened on my second day. it was unforgettable). And throughout all this nonsense, I've had to remind myself that I'm supposed to teach these kids English, not just play defense.

I think a lot of people would turn and run, or go get a real estate license, or find a good therapist. I've felt all kinds of things over the past 7 weeks, but defeated is not one of them. One of the reasons I wanted to work in a community like this one is that I know there is goodness and potential in these kids. I know that they haven't been given a fair shake. The odds are against them, and statistically, they are highly likely to fall prey to a long list of risk factors. A bunch of them will end up in the juvenile justice system, and then prison. Yes, it does suck to be them. But I believe in working for social justice, and the way that belief needs to play out is right here, in this little, hot, windowless classroom. I am sticking with this job, and with these kids, and when we all return from this blessed winter vacation, we will be refreshed and recharged. And ready to learn.


  1. Yikes! More power to ya, 'cuz!

  2. I can feel your pain (somewhat). I am a teacher/instructor at an aircraft maintenance school in Irving, Texas. Our demographics is varied but the majority of our students come from a lower spectrum of society. With the exception of the computer caper you mentioned It seems we have similar jobs. What I deal with are students like yours but who have matured enough (some through the criminal justice system) to see that the path they were on would not get them to where thy wanted to go. Visit my blog

  3. Beautiful posting Ms. Blair. Please know that you are making a difference in their lives. I never told the 7th Grade Science teacher in Northville that his words changed my life. I was considering suicide in a very real way during the nasty divorce that my parents were going through. Just know... I was the quiet child in the back row and I really was listening to his ideas. And I internalized them. His teachings, his respect for the students, his viewpoint on living made a difference in my life.

  4. I couldn't help but laugh about the picture on your computer. I teach comp at a community college and live in a town with an insanely high poverty rate. I hate the insecurity of being an adjunct staff member, but I don't think I could handle subbing at our school district, even though I'd probably make more money. You must have an inner core of steel!

  5. Wow. Thanks for making my students seem like angels;)
    I'm so glad I found your blog. I am also an middle school ELL teacher so I can relate!