A new teacher, against the grind

Dan Adiletta, a new teacher at Explore College Preparatory Middle School in East Oakland, writes about his first weeks on the job. -Katy 

It’s 7 a.m. on Sunday morning and I’m trying to take a stand. There is a growing number of sticky notes crowding my desk that I have been ignoring. They make up the list of things that should have been done already.

During the first marking period I was in a constant state of panic. But I’ve limped through the finish line and learned a lot:

All directions need to be painfully explicit and accompanied by rubrics and examples. Students shouldn’t be allowed to hand in work past a week from when it’s due. The faculty kitchen is off limits to students (whoever took my sandwich, I will find you!).

There are hundreds of other key lessons, but the biggest one of all is that experience is the only way to become great.

This second marking period is going to be better. There are still some holes I’m worried about. We haven’t had Internet access so far. I’ve been told it will be online on Monday, but I’ve heard that before. I don’t have another seventh/eighth grade social studies teacher in the building to check in with. I’m missing a CD from the seventh grade teacher’s edition so I don’t have easy access to handouts. I’m jealous of other teachers with the new TCI materials (great lesson plans handed to them on a platter). I don’t have easy access to a printer at school. I need to find creative ways to increase the rigor of my lessons, and there are still only 24 hours in a day.

My complaints aside, there are some amazing people and tools at Explore College Prep. My principal, Michael Scott, is in fact the leader I tagged him as. My coworkers are supportive and modeling the all-too-needed resilience. My new wife, Laura, has agreed to postpone our honeymoon and help grade papers instead. And of course, my students are a fascinating bunch that can be sweet, hardworking pupils. I invite everyone to see my students work in our experimental YouTube page. The caliber of presentations, both mine and the students, will improve dramatically as the year progresses.

If anyone knows of materials, especially music or video, that I can interject into my lessons, please let me know! The most frustrating part about the excessive workload is how it cuts down on my time to cultivate enriching media.


  • Nextset

    Dan: I see you cover Social Studies. Economics will probably be a larger than normal thing in the lives of our middle school students. There are stories of how Economics affected social policy and living standards in various periods. I have seen some striking essays about the early 1930’s written by people who were high school-college aged at the time. Likewise articles, essays and short stories about life in the early 1940’s in both the UK and the USA (getting by during government rationing of consumer goods).

    I recently had dinner with people who left home (as late teens) in the late 1930s and early 1940s – they discussed how much they were making (in Oakland) and how they handled housing, schooling, marriage and family formation. The stories combine history and social issues with economics. One of the things that struck me was that the same Nickel coin we use now existed in a time when people in Oakland were happy with $131/month. Having that Nickel in the pocket back then meant something. Even pennies were real money then. Same pennies. At least they looked the same.

    They remembered Oakland as a land of full employment where people were moving in every day from the Eastern States. Kind of like Las Vegas in 2005.

    History can be fun and interesting. And kids can relate to money.

  • Cranky Teacher

    Remember that the goal is to be teaching 3-5 years from now. Don’t destroy your life in the first two.

    Set a max workload per day — 8-10 hours, say, and maybe 4-6 more on the WHOLE weekend and try very hard to stick to it. Spend time with your wife, spend time doing nothing.

    I see a lot of young teachers burn themselves out unnecessarily. You can not save every child, and if you don’t take care of yourself you will not even last long enough to become a good teacher.

  • TheTruthHurts

    Wow, I agree with Cranky. Who woudda believed it?

    I’m glad that we have hardworking teachers working with our students. Even though it’s your passion, you can’t neglect your “life” forever. Of course, one marking period is probably not extreme for anyone in a new career/job.

  • Debora

    About social studies in Oakland – We live in what used to be sleeping quarters for lumberjacks in Oakland. It eventually became a house. It was built in 1910 and is built from Old Growth Redwood.

    The grandfather of my daughter’s best friend tells of his grandfather who arrived in Oakland as a slave (Although we did not have slavery in CA if the slaves were owned, the ownership remained until the “owner” granted emancipation or the slave paid for their freedom). He got written permission to work after his chores were done to earn money to buy the freedom of his wife and children. After earning the money, he got permission to travel to buy their freedom. He came back, got permission to continue working after chores to earn money for his own freedom.

    Chanel’s grandfather bought the house in the neighborhood and under protest from the neighbors he was the first black man to have a house in the neighborhood. He still has the papers stating that no “black man” or “Chinaman” may own a house. Went to court and fought to be able to buy the house.

  • Katy Murphy

    What a story, Debora. Thanks for sharing it with us.