2014-2-28 Michelle Zhang

  It has been nearly 5 months since I became the eighth grade English teacher for class 5 and class 6. It feels like it has been much longer and yet, also much shorter at the same time.

  Teaching is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do. Each day, when I stand in front of my students, I have to face a sense of inadequacy. “Am I doing my very best? Are they learning as much as possible?” This pushes me to continue to strive, every night, to prepare better and to wrestle with different approaches to teaching. Each of my classes has a very distinct personality, and sometimes, lesson plans will run seamlessly in class 5 but flop terribly in class 6. Sometimes, a class that is just the right amount of engagement and excitement in class 6 will launch a full-scale revolution amount of hysteric exuberance in class 5. I’ve gotten better at predicting how my classes will respond to activities and lessons, but they still surprise me every day. Most days though, teaching is rather unglamorous. There are lots of meetings and even more grading. Stacks on stacks on stacks of notebooks, workbooks, papers, and tests to grade.Teaching is tiring, and teaching at a boarding school means that you never really get to go home and are never really finished with work. There are days when I feel defeated, because a class didn’t go well, or students are not mastering class material, and I’m not sure how to address these problems. There are days when I feel very frustrated, because I can see my students self-sabotaging themselves. They fall prey to the common mistakes made by middle school students – they get lazy, they forget to do their homework, they copy, and they make excuses for operating at less than their full potential.

  The beginning of this semester has been particularly hard. Class five has had a small-scale cheating epidemic. Everyday, I wake up prepared to discover what they’ve done next. There’s been blatant copying of an essay assignment, discreet asking friends for answers on entire pages of their workbook, and even furtive sharing on an in-class dictation. I have tried to maintain a high standard and tailor discipline to individual students, but it has been emotionally draining to see students I care about fall prey to laziness and self-doubt. (That’s what cheating often comes down to, I think). But each day, there are also highlights, sunshine and rainbows and angels singing, when some student or the other has a breakthrough. One of the kids I caught copying has been alert and active in class. And one day, when he couldn’t finish his homework, he came to ask for an extension rather than turning in someone else’s work or an incomplete assignment. Another student, who we have struggled to engage, turned in a brilliant accordion-style dictionary for his winter homework. His effort and creativity delighted me, and made the winter homework grading gruel a joy. The best part of teaching, as I’m sure many have already said, is to see students want to learn. I wake up each morning looking forward to the little moments each day where I can my kids choosing to be successful.

Michelle Zhang