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Amelia

Amelia is a career changer new to the teaching profession, having previously worked in restaurant management. She teaches French 2 and 3 at a high school in New Haven , Connecticut . Although these are her true diary entries, all names and identifying details have been changed.

Amelia's diary entries are in chronological order, from the most current entry. You can also browse the entries by month:

2006
January | February | March | April | May | June

2005
September | October | Nov/Dec

June 2006

Dear Diary,

“How in the world does this stupid thing work?” I mutter to myself, standing in a stark, bare classroom with the white board shining in its emptiness and boxes of books and paraphernalia staring at me and my graduation attire. My accomplished, revered teachers wore these black robes with the funny colorful smocks, but me? I can’t imagine that I deserve such regalia. I look online with the funny pictures describing how the loop goes on your button – but I didn’t wear a collared shirt – and how your pocket thingie should be in with the velvet out….you’ve got to be kidding? Who invented this stuff? But not wanting to admit, even to my good friends who have been teaching a few years that I’ve got no clue, I persevere.

Getting into the line of young teachers who will sit with the seniors, I am handed my necklace of bubbles to blow at the appropriate moment, and I feel ready to look scholarly. Except that while processing in, I’m chatting with my line-mate about what it was like to have finished our first year, how much we are looking forward to doing it all so much better next year, and how we have to let go of the feelings of disappointment about the first, imperfect year. We share stories of our explorations over the past few weeks, how with finally a moment to breathe, we had each meandered through different corners of the school into which we had never ventured. Comparing notes, we almost feel like we belong. But the real measure is the e-mail with a list of teachers who don’t have to return their robes, but instead use them next year, and I am on it. Small victories. A measure of the stability I had so long craved.

Listening to the carefully crafted speeches and reflecting on the adventure upon which the seniors are embarking, I see my role in their lives as different from when I was in their classroom. First, we have all come together in an evening of positive energy. Throughout the world this graduation evening celebrates adulthood, possibility and accomplishment. Even if I wonder, with the other teachers, what this accomplishment really represents, how the apathy and laziness of some students can still conduct them to this moment, I can appreciate their growth as people and their contributions to our school.

With a bit of perspective, I see the paths extending out before them – with so many decisions to be made and so many experiences to be faced. My service to them, as guide through their studies,mentor/role model, and hopefully broadener of perspective, may encourage them to seek the path less trodden. A trip abroad, some interaction with other cultures and/or a sharing of their own experiences with others may lead to their being more thoughtful participants in our society. They have judged me and my decisions. Maybe I appear in a blog about the teachers they loved or hated. Maybe they noticed the shine in my eyes as I watched them graduation night. But my place will soon be inconsequential. Concerned with drifting from old friends, bonding with new, they see us teachers as hardly figuring in their lives. But maybe one day while standing on a street corner in Paris, or heck, Peoria, one student will think of me and remember that momentary intersection of our lives.

So many professionals speak with envy of the teachers’ rebirth at the beginning of each new year. We have the opportunity to reinvent our classes, refine our techniques and re-establish rules that will further facilitate the learning environment. This summer I will relax and reflect, recharging my batteries and getting ready to begin again. Traveling to France, I will reinvest in the culture and language that I teach, bringing back with me new ideas and energy for my subject area. Interacting with other teachers through study and collaboration I will perhaps learn a new technique to help me help them: a summer well spent for a year well executed.

Amusez-vous bien pendant les vacances d’été! I hope that my reflections this year have struck the teachers’ chord that sounds in the register only we can hear.

Amelie

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May 2006

Dear Diary,

Well, I can finally breathe easy. I feel like I’ve been in a cat fight. Scratched and bleeding, only slightly, I can report that I finally have a full time job in French in just one school. A miracle, right? You may remember at the beginning of the year I mentioned the drop off in students I saw from level two to level three. Well, I worked hard to show students the value in learning another language, to make the language classroom a vibrant place, and to recruit new students with the positive environment and the benefits of being bilingual, or at least beginning the journey to that goal. The students jumped right on that train, and my numbers grew tremendously. But the administration, by personal choice or political and financial pressure, remained reluctant to hire me full time - trying to shave sections, combine for extra large classes – anything to save money in an elective area. But I clawed my way through.

In this day where standardized tests in English, math, science and history trump all other subjects, I was recently told that Foreign Language ranks as no more important to the school than music and art – with the subtext that all three of these areas are expendable. I could make all of the common arguments – studying foreign language will improve students’ expression and grammar; that will support their performance in English; bolstering social studies through historical and cultural lessons from francophone countries will increase scores, learning a foreign language stimulates the brain and acquiring memorization strategies will help across the curriculum – just a few of the many arguments that are made regularly. But these skills are not directly measurable in today’s high stakes testing, so few administrators listen.

I hadn’t yet addressed No Child Left Behind in my diary, and I have no desire to wax poetic at this point about my general feelings. I can only say how it impacts me. First, I need to fight for a job because administrators do not see Foreign Language as an asset to their school. This is particularly interesting since the initiator of NCLB, President George W. Bush, has recently been very vocal about the United States’ need for foreign language in our schools. He supports Foreign Language Education as a means to remain competitive in today’s shrinking world as well as to protect ourselves from those who wish us harm. Although this movement has begun on a national level, it has not yet trickled down to grass roots thinking or individual school budgets. For example, my school offers Arabic, one of the most crucial languages according to President Bush, yet our teacher was let go this year because they did not want to hire her full time. Further, the schedule has an Arabic one class with thirty-one students. When will the money be available to implement these programs?

NCLB also affects me at this point in the school year, one month to the end, when all classes are disrupted for testing. Teaching becomes next to impossible as schedules are changed, computer labs are unavailable, and students are stressed, exhausted and worrying only about the subjects they are told are “important.” I believe strongly in accountability, but this system is sapping much of the vitality from our classrooms, leaving worried and unhappy students and teachers who focus more on rote memorization than ideas, culture and themes.

Obviously it’s not all bad. But as I nurse my wounds, ready for summer vacation - my balm that will heal all wounds and rejuvenate me for the next round, I wonder how long we will have to make the same arguments to justify our important work. At what point will we be regarded as an academic subject like math and English? And will we do it in time to keep our children competitive in this global economy where they need perspective and tools such as bilingualism to succeed? For myself and the children I hold so dear, I hope that we make the right decisions.

à juin,

Amelia

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April 2006

Dear Diary,

Sitting on the bleachers staring at the blooming, white pear trees – I mean carefully watching my boys as they win the lacrosse game – I am both logging time as a caring teacher and smelling the sweet honeysuckle breezes of spring. Can’t even believe it. Winter was long in more ways than one in New Haven, but spring is here and spring break with it. Upon our return mere weeks separate us from that coveted summer vacation. It will be my first. So many people speak with disdain of the teachers’ summer off, but my plans remain focused around the ideas of school.

I have booked a month studying and visiting in France: a professional necessity. While still at home I am imaging waking up (when there are no 5s on the clock!) to a good French novel with a hot cup of coffee, and surfing the internet for interesting interactive websites and good new ideas. Of course non-school related time will pass, like bike rides and road trips to visit friends and family. Maybe a second job to try to pay off the debts accrued as a result of my still meager salary. But I’m not complaining. As a matter of fact, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself, there’s still a whole quarter left to go.

Been thinking a lot lately about the statistics; about half of all new teachers don’t make it past 3 years. It’s not that things are so bad. I really like most of my time in the classroom, and I believe that subsequent years will mean at least less time planning and worrying, if not less stress. But as I spend time with some of the folks my age who have been doing it a while I feel their cynicism to my core. Right now I believe in what I’m doing, but I feel profound disappointment at times. Blaming it on my own inadequacies, I assume that it will change. But what if it doesn’t? What if instead I begin to put the blame back on the students, and to feel disheartened by it. Kids will be kids, right? And if you reach a few a year that should be enough….. Then there’s the financial aspect.

Choosing not to rely on the idea of a knight in shining armor, my prospects are bleak for financial freedom and success. I don’t need much, but I would love to follow the American dream: buy my own home, take a neat vacation every year, have a beer out on Friday afternoon. Seems challenging, but it’s not about the money, right? Then there’s the isolation. My teacher friends are great: constant support, good companionship, nice lunchtime discussions. But at the end of the day it cannot compare to the network of folks I had in the business sector. I had jury duty recently, and marveled at the world of adults into which I emerged for a few days. Lunches out at the deli, reading the paper with a cup of coffee mid-afternoon, drinks with co-workers after a long day. It’s not that this world is so much better, but it does provide a social outlet, time with peers, that life in the school will never offer. And I miss it.

But then I think of the successes, and the little moments when they’re concentrating – engaged quietly or animatedly, but participating with me in the rewarding act of learning, and I feel so incredibly lucky to share their lives with them. Recently fretting over the amount of (or should I say lack of) French being spoken in my classroom, I instituted a new “red light, green light” policy of participation and points where students are penalized for speaking English during certain activities in the class. I made a big sign with red on one side, green on the other, and hung it at the front of the classroom. Then, explaining that there was a new participation system for the quarter, I broke the news that when the light was green it meant “Allez, Allez, Allez, Parlez en Français!” and they were to speak only in French.

Everyone begins the day with 10 points, and if I overhear English during the green light periods, it’s minus one point each time. And they rat on each other all the time about it! I was amazed at the effectiveness of the strategy, and even better, the students seemed to be amazed at their ability to express themselves in French. As I turn the light back to red, i.e. try to speak French but English is allowed, an audible sigh fills the room, and some students cheer. But they have played with me. Making it a game, we together achieved a fluency I could never have imposed. Score! Oh that’s right, I drift back to the lacrosse game. My students on the field or in the classroom may not be as tough as some in the other schools we might meet, but their heart makes goal after goal achievable. And I am faithfully present, cheering as they win the game!

Chapêau!

Amelia

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March 2006

Dear Diary,

"I’m going to tell you all a secret, "I said, leaning in with a whisper. I had them, of course, because they trust me. I have worked so hard to be the teacher they trust, will work for, and will look forward to (who I am kidding, but at least don’t dread) my class.

"Are you going to tell us that you have a belly ring?" smirks Chris, the senior in the front row. "Well clearly that isn’t a secret anymore, so that can’t be it, can it?" I shoot back. Appropriate boundaries are not always maintained when the teacher has to reach over her head to turn on the TV. Definitely not my finest moment, but excellent for gaining cool points, as Shelly in the front row screams, and I mean screams, "She has a belly ring!" No one tells you about all of the moments where your personal choices will become class discussions. Handling these moments with grace and appropriate sincerity while being honest, and respectful of their teenage status, and mindful of their parents’ wishes, is not obvious. But I think I did ok.

My actual secret amused them slightly less. "Did you know that past participles do not agree when the personal pronoun is not a direct object?" Well, using three grammatical terms in a secret, of which only one is immediately recognizable and comprehensible to the average student, reduces my status to only slightly cool teacher. But nevertheless we worked through the point. They get something, I get something. Occasionally I worry that I share too much, until I hear about their math teacher who talks incessantly about her boyfriend (they don’t even know if I have a boyfriend), or about their PE teacher who shares all details of her wedding. Finding the balance of just enough information to make you real, with just enough mystery to maintain your authority takes good planning and excellent split second decisions. I’ve got the former; let’s hope I continue performing strongly in the latter category!

Feeling pressure as the end of the year approaches and wondering what I have really accomplished leaves me both warm and cold. First, teaching from my student teaching plans of a year ago I realize how much my instincts and ideas about what works and doesn’t work have improved. Instead of spending hours mulling and planning I can spend a few minutes thinking of varied and effective strategies for presenting and applying new material. Interacting with the group becomes second nature, although I worry about ruts and preconceived expectations of both individuals and groups based on the dynamics that have been created. I try very hard to be aware of those pitfalls and to start fresh every day. I have no great discipline problems, but my students who have given up, realistically probably almost 10% of them, make me very sad. Contact with parents seems to do no good. Guidance counselors who never return emails – sometimes I feel like these kids have no one looking out for them. But as a mentor said the other day "You can open the door, but when they do not walk though you cannot blame yourself."

Sometimes I feel like the students have learned so much, and other times they shock me with their inability to apply what they have learned to communicate. More than anything I worry that I have not maintained a strict enough policy about using French in the classroom. I am thinking about changing their self assessed participation to a system where they begin every class with 10 points and lose one every time they speak in English without asking permission, or when they don’t participate fully in an activity. I hope that they will be encouraged to figure out how to say what they want to say using the French words they know. After all, isn’t that the goal?

Making effective use of my last few months with the students, finishing the POS, but more importantly leaving them able to communicate on a higher level in French, will empower me and energize me for the coming years. First timer mistakes are not detrimental to my students, and they are easily made up for with my enthusiasm and effort. As I read the several paragraph long Saturday morning email written by one of my best students just wanting to tell me about her life I believe that being real for them, encouraging them to communicate with me in whatever way is meaningful to them, will lead, in at least a handful of cases, to a life of communication and love for meaningful expression. And a small kernel of that seed was planted in my class.

Á avril,

Amelia

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February 2006

Dear Diary,

"Are you ok Madame?" asked Debbie.

I thought I was hiding it pretty well. I mean, I felt much better than yesterday. And I thought I had bounced back from the crushing defeat I’d felt at the end of 4th period. But this class that knows me so well, I can't hide it from them. Even before I found myself exhibiting the telltale signs - being short, snippy, disappointed - they could see it in my face.

One day I will learn to not feel their failures as my own. I will accept that their lack of preparation reflects not on me. But for now my sensitive ego remains vulnerable to the slightest innuendo. I worry constantly that my teaching style, chosen activities, classroom management or worse, content knowledge, will not serve the students as they deserve. And when that weight descends upon my shoulders, those whom I hold dear can see it on my face.

Watching the experienced teachers who (seem) confident in their day, leaving regularly at 3pm, I yearn for my five year mark. Oh, to let it roll off my back! To understand that these are their choices! Or even better, to subtly encourage them to make different choices! I will survive, I think in a Tina sorta-a way, but surviving’s not much fun. I’m never content unless I’m succeeding. I can think rationally that with successes come failures, but I’m not that kind of girl. I’m not allowed to fail, not in a way that could jeopardize the learning of my students! Yet they will soon forget these awkward moments between us as we dance around our ever-changing motivations and desires. Next week we will start a new chapter, both literally and figuratively, and all bad memories will be swept under the proverbial rug.

Yesterday I started reading a novel about high school, one that physically brought me back to days of teenage crushes, the desire to be cool, feeling academically inferior – wow – it’s not so different from my life now. Except instead of crushing on a senior, I have a crush on an English teacher. Darn those English teachers! And the desire to be cool – I still want the same high school students to buy into me! Sometimes, though, it’s not me but instead my subject, or the funny way I sound when they haven’t understood one word in my sentence, or the frustration of not being able to express themselves, that is uncool. Feeling academically inferior…when standing in front of thirty probing, judgmental pairs of eyes, I don’t remember that vocabulary word, or when I make yet another silly spelling error, I am reticent to call myself a worthy teacher. I have been consoled. "Remember, you always know more than they do." But I also remember being a capricious teenager who could see through the discomfort of the new teacher, and understood when the teacher really didn’t have the answer. It’s no fun feeling like an imposter, because some of them do know. However, in reaching back to my youth through this novel, I also realize how differently I feel now. How many tools I have acquired with which to conquer these feelings of inadequacy. Maybe I can pass along some of these tricks, being more than just a teacher of language, but a teacher of life.

Sorry you had to catch me on a bit of a down day. On another day I could have shown you the terrific posters they made of their pretend vacations in Martinique, or the great cassette recordings of their daily routines. Maybe you would have liked to have read about their plans for college and beyond, or their funny fight with their sibling. Come by another time and I’ll tell you more about it.

Amelia

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January 2006

Dear Diary,

When I was a little girl my parents, both teachers, would lament on their “need” for Winter Break. My classmates and I, while thoroughly enjoying the time off, scoffed at those old fogies who couldn’t keep up. Well, I’m the old (but still young!) fogy now! I’ve learned how the reserve of energy, the relentless drive to make the next lesson better, just disappears somewhere around the third week of December. Now half way through the break I am beginning to feel myself refreshed and renewed – sleeping well and long, reading novels I’d been aching to read all fall, passing quality moments with family and friends. With spirit restored I will again be able to give, and give, and enjoy giving some more.

The break has offered me some unique opportunities to dialogue with important education “intellectuals.” First, my fourteen year old godchild, a freshman at a local high school, asked “Are you really nervous and scared like my new math teacher? He can’t control the class at all, and he’s really unfair. Nevermind the fact that I used to love math and now I don’t understand and I have a C.” Luckily I don’t know if I can live up to all that drama, and thus far no one’s questioned my fairness. As I probed her math situation I checked off every ed school “Do Not” I ever learned – Do Not: have only one activity per block, engage only the students raising their hands, test students on material you haven’t properly (or at all!) presented, allow some students different rules/rights than others, end class without a wrap up activity… and the list goes on. A very astute observer, my godchild noted, “The kids he talks to about sports at the end of the class when he doesn’t have anything else do to, they want him again next year, but I’d actually like to learn something.” So it’s not a myth, even the students value learning!

Next I spoke with my cousin who teaches up North, and who struggles daily with the administration at her school. She described her life as a first year teacher for over twenty minutes and didn’t once mention a student, or even smile for that matter. She is so dedicated to her pupils, a fact I know well from previous conversations, but the difficult situation in her school prevailed upon her whole outlook on her job. I realized how incredibly blessed I am to have a supportive and approachable mentor and department head, efficient assistant principals and an award winning principal who allow me to focus all of my energy on what’s happening in the classroom. Not only my sanity, but also the students and parents benefit greatly from this positive environment.

Finally, my poet father shared some amazing words with me that I’d like to share with you. So eloquently rhapsodizing on the journey of a teacher, specifically my journey in a diverse environment but that of so many teachers who love their students, I am sure that you also care as I do. I hope these words touch you as they touched me, so bear with me for just an excerpt:

You’re finding joy from deep within
While seeing those whose care you’re given
Reaching goals for which they’ve striven.
And now you’ve shown them how the quest
For meanings can bring out their best.
And while the IPods, MP3’s can swing,
It’s their own spirit on the wing
When nourished, pushed, and taxed at length
That brings them skills, new goals, real strength.
But there’s a price you pay for giving
All your heart for students’ living.
It’s a price you must keep choosing
Year on year, with some small bruising.
When some learners break your heart,
(It happens sometimes when you start
To reach for those whose fate it’s been
To come from homes where bonds are thin.)
Where hopes have faded, anger rules,
Confusions’ curse can triumph school’s
Attempt at simple learning’s order.
To reach these kids you cross a border
Where your skill and courage, grace,
Can form small islands, carve out space
Where at-risk kids can find a place
Where they feel free, and loved, accepted,
Awkward some, but not neglected.
And lots of others, better ‘oft
Could study more but plans are soft.
But when you reach them on good days
Your heart is full, and music plays,
And you begin to know the joys
Of reaching this girl, e’en those boys.
And special days when it seems all’s well
You even wish there were no bell.

As I look forward to the first day back, to showing the students my commitment to them through the energy and enthusiasm I put into my lesson and my delivery, I will be sure to have a wrap up activity, to thank my administrator for his support, and to praise the bell when it comes because, let’s face it Dad, even the teachers welcome the end of a long, well crafted day.

Happy Holidays to everyone!

Amelia

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Nov/Dec 2005

Dear Diary,

It has been said that my face lights up when I talk about my students. With as much enthusiasm as some speak of their children, I tell stories of the baby steps that are taken daily to grow and learn, stories of the funny moments, and the huge disappointments. Feeling my students’ successes and failures so intimately, as if they were my own, can be a blessing and a curse.

Last week we learned Apollinaire’s “Le Pont Mirabeau” and presented it in class. I was blown away. Feeling like a mom watching her son nail the lead in the school play, I watched my students with parent-like pride as they recited, with beautiful French, their six lines of the poem. Knowing that they cared enough to put in the time and effort affirmed for me their willingness (if not fear of a bad grade) to work and I felt a bond that we all were working towards something together.

It wasn’t until Elizbeth answered the comprehension/expansion question, “If you had to compare love to an inanimate object, what would that object be and why?” that I felt the power of the sharing and expanding of ideas that happens when we all assemble in the classroom. She said, “Love is like fire. It starts out small, and grows into a beautiful blaze. But it can’t sustain itself, so it eventually burns out. From that burned out place, comes rebirth and new life.” There was silence. Everyone knew it was a moment to savor. And I carry it with me, inspired to write more from the same theme, and to explore the beauty that can come from her eloquent idea. But as close as these moments make a student and teacher feel, we also struggle with the distance between us, or lack thereof.

Boundaries. Sometimes I feel like I’m Israel and They’re Palestine. Sometimes I’m Connecticut and They’re Rhode Island. And yet other times I’m Saudi Arabia and They’re the United States. We see, we hear, but we just don’t broach the gap.

I have some “geographical” advantages. My natural resources: I stand at six feet tall, and I often wear heels. My natural personality tends towards reserved, stoic. Therefore, serious. But I have some disadvantages as well. For example, I love to laugh with them, and I often do. I like to discuss culture, make comparisons, and generally get distracted by the “politics” of a situation.

Question: How do I create the necessary distance, create an orderly chaos, while facilitating risk taking and language use? My peers from other disciplines nod their heads, but I believe that in the foreign language classroom “management” is an even greater challenge because the natural order that exists in Social Studies or Math is impossible to even shoot for. The other day I had a reading and response questions assignment that I felt very strongly about, and the students remained on task – reading, answering questions, quietly busy at work. Wow! It was soooo quiet! There was no interaction! I ping-ponged between ecstatic and disappointed as I loved the order, but dearly missed the laughter and interaction that are the hallmarks of my room.

On one hand, impressive that it’s taken three months for a new teacher to become concerned with classroom management. On the other, a red flag that a feeling of comfort has set in that worries me in its casual air.

I have several ideas. Loathe as I am to impose a strict “raise your hand” policy I think it is necessary. Further, I must do more than self-assessed participation and constant circulation to ensure time on task during speaking assignments. As a speaker of French who has never taught before, sometimes I think my modeling is not specific enough. Clear examples of one or two ways to express an idea, followed by extensive repetition is the only way to go. If only I could stick more firmly by that philosophy, I think my students would be more at ease in the situation. But it remains my greatest challenge – adjusting my language and using cognates sufficiently to ensure their comprehension and usage of the language. A good goal to set.

So, this month I work hard to respect our differences and celebrate the classroom that we have created, accepting that only in working together will we achieve mutual success to celebrate for now and for the future.

A bientôt,

Amelia

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October 2005

Dear Diary,

"Oh my God Mademoiselle, you're so red!"
Giggles.
Outright laughter 
"Look, what's wrong with her"?
"She lost it!"

So, you got the theme for this month?  Events that led to Amelia's turning the color of the uniform of her favorite pitcher, Curt Schilling, of the pennant winning Boston Red Sox (had to get that one in ;-)  Yes, daughter of a strawberry blonde, I can hide my emotions about as well as my dog, Jasper, except that instead of wagging my tail I turn bright, splotchy, unattractive red.  And everyone knows something's up.  Doesn't matter if I'm sad, scared, upset, mad, intimidated, embarrassed – I'm red, maybe crimson, maroon, fire engine - much like Jasper just wags.  But what do I learn from it?

So the most red I've been is the situation I described above.  In reality it was the least incriminating incident – here's the scene: picture it.  I'm stamping the homework book, leaning precariously over one student to reach her partner's book (because, of course, there's barely space in my room for the 32 desks and student who fill them.) I move my foot just the slightest bit to reeeeaaach and I see the look on her face – pure pain.  I am stepping on her foot. I feel awful and apologize profusely, I'm slightly red, maybe a nice rosé, and totally horrified that I've hurt her. But realizing she'll live, we begin a laughing fit that gets us both. Then, in a moment of sheer exhaustion, I can't stop laughing. Eventually joining me in my fit, one student says, "This is my favorite class." Ah, told you I'd write when I heard it. It's not the way I had hoped a student would say it, looking at me over his glasses after an extensive discussion about Descartes in French, but he said it nonetheless. Small victories!

Next most red situation: parents' night. I was ready. PowerPoint to outline learning goals, brief speech about me (because we know they're curious), ways that they can be helpful/involved even if they don't speak French – all of this wrapped in a neat theme about French as a springboard for future jobs and life experiences that will enrich their children and provide them with lifelong pleasure. Luckily these are all things I believe in firmly. And I'm pretty used to dealing with adults, even cranky ones, from my days in restaurants. Still, as they all filed into the room I felt like an imposter – who was I to expect that they would entrust their children to me? Feelings of intimidation crept in, and so did the blood rushing to my face, neck…oh so unattractive. But luckily as I got going, I saw them responding well, smiling, and I felt that maybe it wasn't so bad after all. Until my administrator walked in, and the rush again! By the 3rd time I gave the speech I had it down, the red looked like a rosy blush applied perfectly for the occasion. I outsmarted some...

Uncomfortable: the previous night planning I would have sworn that I knew the answer to every question, had thought about all vocab – nothing could get me. But of course, standing in front of 30 students, there's undoubtedly something I don't know. And if I think about it too long, I'm red. Just a nice, red-delicious color.

Flustered: I've only conjugated this verb 12 million times, but when Andy says, "Mademoiselle, you reversed the syllables in that word." I casually make the change, then, "Non, you just put it back the same way." Then it starts, and instead of just stepping back, taking a deep breath, analyzing and then fixing the problem, I face the board and try in vain to fix what I haven't yet processed. And I turn red, this time a cardinal red, one that everyone will see. Then I have to turn back around. Not the kind of confidence I hoped to inspire in my students! Remember, deep breath.

So lots of small lessons this month. Most importantly, my students, their parents, and the faculty embrace the reality that I'm human. I can be worried about it, or I can use it as the bridge between us as I show my humanity and embrace the idea that teachers don't always know the answer.

Amelia

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September 2005

Dear Diary,

If only my students could see me now! Which moment should I choose? Teacherly: hunched over my teacher's edition textbook, trying to decide what might actually interest them – how can French be cool? Not so teacherly: drinking two glasses of wine in the evening to try to relax, knowing that it won't really help. Teacherly: Greeting my students at the door, smiling, calling them by name, yet dreading the fast approaching moment when I will close that door and be responsible for their learning! Not so teacherly: lying awake, restless, anticipating the first day of school. Giddy worse than any schoolgirl, full of hope and expectations. Teacherly: Waiting 20 minutes to make a photocopy as only one machine works and everyone else is also there at 4:30 planning for tomorrow. Not so teacherly: Surfing the internet looking for a movie to distract me from the constant weight of my responsibility.

It sounds as if I hate my job, but that couldn't be farther from the truth. Beginning my first year as a foreign language teacher in New Haven , I am enrapt by my students, my job and everything about my day. As a career changer moving to teaching from restaurant management, I was never one to sit behind a desk. Interacting, responding, reacting, setting the mood – I have always been good at these things. And imagine being responsible not for someone's evening out, but instead for the awakening of the curiosity of someone's mind. I am so excited about teaching. It's not the passé composé, but the ability to explore, communicate with and appreciate a world many people will never even know exists beyond “An American in Paris” or “Amelie.” Helping nourish that curiosity, and providing some tools that will help my students on their quest remain my over arching professional goals for this year.

I am here because Jessie, my high school French teacher, showed me a world I wanted to be a part of. Am I really capable of doing that for my students? The foreign language classroom unfolds so differently than that of my day, a mere 15 years ago. Today we watch music videos, our warm-ups are on power point; we analyze newspaper articles read that day or the day before by students in France , Senegal or Guadeloupe . That kind of realia is powerful, and I love it! But as much as it's wonderful, it's intimidating. I only hope that I will be able to effectively integrate it into my classroom, choosing or modifying the level to entice and stimulate my students, not discourage them.

When I arrived at Oak Haven High, I was assigned French 2, 3 sections, and French 3, one section. Pondering this for a moment: why a decrease from 75 students to 35 in one year. What a challenge! Will I be able to begin the change needed to make French cool, worth staying for, and worth a 15 year old's precious time? How can this be done?

All of these questions haunted me throughout my planning week before school began. The anticipation was almost more than I could take. Who are these students? How will they react to me; will they understand me? Can I really be the “prof fou” I envisioned being during student teaching, but never let my hair down enough to be. The one students so want to be around, love to laugh with, and come after school to visit. Will the crazy orange chair in the corner from Goodwill be enough allure to bring them in to read my diverse collection of books about or in French? Only time will tell. I so desperately want to be the teacher they connect with.

Having completed the first two weeks I feel relieved, energized, challenged and exhausted. I am starting to get to know the students, yet I know that's such a superficial knowledge. I crave the time when I can predict errors, give directions in French the first time and have students understand, engage all the students in learning – and all that seems so far away. When I am planning I feel so isolated – hearing some social studies teachers complain about Professional Learning Communities makes me sad, as I would embrace someone to bounce ideas off of, or to steal ideas from! And I feel personally hurt when a student doesn't enjoy my class. What did I do wrong? And how can I make it better next time? It's up to me alone to decide.

I'll write again on a day when a student says, “Yours was my best class today.” Let's hope you hear from me before May!

Amelia

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