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TEACHER VOICES: Michele Godwin, #4

“Have I always been this ineffectual?”

Michele GodwinEd. note: Michele Godwin is beginning her 14th year of teaching high school. She’s back at Leadership High School, where she taught from 2001 to 2008. An English teacher by training and experience, Michele has changed her focus to build a library for Leadership. In addition to her fundraising and library organizing, she is an 11th grade adviser. These are her musings from the past few weeks, her fourth contribution to TEACHER VOICES. Please donate so Michele can buy more books!

favicon Tuesday, 11/4 – 11:50 am
More students requesting books. I’ve run out of money, but I can’t tell them no! Many of them are repeat customers, back to ask for a sequel or something new altogether. Some of them are brand new, though, quiet kids I’ve never met, kids who have heard about me or seen me in the classroom I share with Ms. M. For some of them, it is an effort to overcome their shyness to speak to me, to request a book. Occasionally, I look up from my computer to see a kid, usually a girl, hovering near my desk expectantly. It’s not until I speak first that she tells me what she’s looking for: “Do you have that book Bronxwood?” Sometimes, though, a kid will be much more expressive in his or her request. “HEY! YOU GOT THAT BOOK, MAKING OF A LATIN KING?” a boy yelled across the room to me recently, right in the middle of Ms. M.’s math lesson. No matter who asks or how, I say yes. Because reading!

Thursday, 11/14 – 5:30 pm
Today has been an especially horrid day. My advisory talks over me and doesn’t listen to anything I have to say. One girl is up all the time, asking to go to the bathroom and raising hell when I say no. I’m tired of asking kids to put their phones away, stop cursing, don’t use the N word, please sit down, did you read the directions? do you have your homework? do you even know what we’re doing? I’ve lost my patience with everyone, including my own child, who keeps asking me what’s wrong and “Can I do anything for you?” I spend the evening thinking about my 13 years of teaching, and wondering, Have I always been this ineffectual?

Friday, 11/15 – 8:30 am
I woke up feeling hung over, like I’d spent all night partying instead of weeping and beating myself up. I’m going to tell my principal that I’m done teaching advisory, that it’s too much, that I’m not serving these students and I need to stick with what I’m good at: putting books in kids’ hands. I’m tempted to call in sick and just not deal, but we have visitors on campus today and I don’t want to add to the stress. I go, but I’m good for nothing.

Friday, 11/15 – 12:45 pm
I tell my principal that I can’t do it anymore, that I need to go from 80 percent to 60 percent, forgoing my insurance and benefits to preserve my sanity. She is supportive and accommodating, and we agree that I will stop trying to teach my advisory, that I will just be a warm body in the room until next semester, when she can find someone else to take over. I feel too drained to be relieved.

Friday, 11/15 – 2:50 pm
I don’t speak to my students as they walk into Advisory. I stay in my seat, reading my book. The ones who can’t sit still wander around the room, bouncing off each other as usual. Others sit down and chat quietly with their table mates. Phones come out, but I don’t acknowledge them. A few kids join me in reading, and, overall, the room stays pretty relaxed. No one speaks to me, and I don’t speak to them. Thirty minutes later, it is time to go to the monthly all-school meeting. They don’t wait for me to release them; they just go.

Sunday, 11/17 – 8:45 pm
I’ve talked about it all day. Mark helps me by asking good questions; my partner helps by supporting me no matter what I decide; my 9-year-old helps by being sweet. I feel relieved but guilty, resigned but disappointed. What will I tell my students? Will they agree that I am not the person they need, that they deserve an adviser who can hold their attention and guide them to adulthood in a way that they can understand and appreciate? I’m going to bed.

Monday, 11/18 – 2:30 pm
Again, I do not speak to my students. I lower the lights and sit in the front of the room, reading my book. They are more subdued today, four long days away from the weekend. Eventually, they are all reading independently, no reminders necessary. Twenty minutes later, I turn the lights back on and stand up, not knowing what I’m going to say. I wing it.

“Advisory is going to be different from now on. It’s not working this way. I don’t know how it will be different, but it is going to change. I can’t fight with you anymore.”

A girl raises her hand — the girl who bounces around the most, who disappears every day to get water or yogurt or aspirin, who sometimes dances in the middle of the room, regardless of whether or not I’m speaking.

“Yes, M?”

“It feels like you’ve given up on us. I know we’ve been a handful, and some people have been disrespectful, but that’s not cool. It feels like you’ve given up on us, and don’t y’all always tell us that we learn the most when we’re doing something hard?”

Whoa.

I kinda laugh, noting that, for once, I have every single person’s attention.

I say, “Please direct any further questions to M., who is clearly the wisest person in the room.”

Some of them laugh. Some check their phones. Some wait for my answer, some start talking to their table mates. I repeat myself, “Things are going to be different. I’m not sure how, but things are going to be different.” Some hear me, others don’t. And that’s OK.

Monday, 11/18 – 8:15 pm
I will continue to be an adviser; I’ll tell my principal tomorrow. I’m embarrassed that I went to such a dark place of despair and frustration, and that I told my principal I was done. I know she’ll understand, though. She knows, better than I do, that this is the work, and, like our students, teachers have so, so much to learn. favicon

10 comments

  1. Mark Isero

    This is my favorite post of yours to TEACHER VOICES so far. My favorite line: “I kinda laugh, noting that, for once, I have every single person’s attention.” (It’s funny because it’s true.)

  2. micheleg

    Laura and Mark – thanks so much for your nice comments. Mark, I’m glad this is your favorite. I was worried that it might be too much information, but I feel like it’s important to share the low points of teaching, as well. I don’t want anyone thinking I’ve got it good all the time, like Michelle Pfieffer in that one movie!

  3. Karie

    But you ARE like Michelle Pfieffer! She almost gave up too! But in the end, she stuck it out and turned each and every one of their lives around. They all went on to become college graduates, even. (Right?) Girl, I don’t know how you do it. But I know why. I totally get the why. And you rock because of the why.

  4. mgodwin72

    More wonderful feedback! Thanks so much Melena and Karie. You’re both strong and smart and wonderful inspirations to me, and I appreciate you so much. (And you’re both wayyyy better than Michelle Pfieffer (she’s the best in Grease 2!).)

  5. Maya

    You are better than Michelle (with 2 ll’s) Pfieffer (what kind of last name is that anyway??!!!) Your words took me back to my four years as an Advisory teacher (shout out to Class of 2003!) and made me remember how hard and rewarding teaching and connecting to students really is. I felt completely unequipped to deal with all the daily school and life struggles of being a mother hen to 14 Advisees but we all went through it together and came out the better for it. I’m not sure what my Advisees would say or remember about me but I know I will always remember each one of them and am so proud of their accomplishments as they move on and forward in life, Lets face it they are our kids and we CAN NOT give up on them! (our ourselves). By the way, the only consolation to my tears while reading your article was that I knew you would not.

  6. Monica Alatorre

    This is really great MIchele. I’m not a teacher, but I am a parent, and I recognized my dark days in your reflections here. It’s so important to express all aspects of an experience, any experience. THANK YOU.

  7. mgodwin72

    Thanks for your support Monica. I remember being so angry at my friends who had kids, right after my son was born. They didn’t tell me how hard it was! We really do have to share the good and the bad parts of our experiences, even parenthood. ESPECIALLY parenthood!

Please share your brilliant insights!