A new teacher, a new strength

Dan AdilettaAs I get closer to my colleagues in my school, my district and in my department, I’m finding tremendous strength. I went to my professional development on Monday beleaguered—still with a box full of papers to grade. I’m stressed about my school closing, my shaky financial situation and how to manage my troubled students while increasing the academic rigor.

I’m not the only one. In fact, I found myself in a room heavy with worn faces. In that shared burden there was camaraderie, albeit in an exhausted form.

There’s a bond, too, among the history teachers. We met today to score the essays from the district assessment. This was an in-depth project that challenged students to interpret primary sources and form an evidence-supported argument. It’s the product of a department with very few resources but a determination to measure and push for further gains. We talked about the most important elements of history and how to best have children connect to it. Add to that the shared classroom strategies and now I’m excited for work tomorrow to start rolling out the second semester line-up.

Within my school staff, the camaraderie is nothing short of brothers-at-arms. The struggle we are in is incredible. The level of hostility and aggressiveness our students can show towards us is nothing short of shocking. We can roll our eyes over stories with the same cast of characters. It feels like a daily Herculean effort to stand against the disrespectful storm and demand respect, order and engagement. We remind each other that we do it because we care for these kids and for the material we’re teaching. We do it because it’s such a challenge. But mostly we do it because it feels damn good when a lesson hits its mark.

I don’t know what my financial status will be in a couple of months. I don’t know where I’ll be working next year. But I know impressive things will keep on happening.

– Dan Adiletta, Explore Middle School


  • Math Teacher

    Try not to demand respect but to earn it. I know we as adults feel that we deserve the respect but the students feel the same way. Once you establish a positive enviornment and respect throughout the classroom the true learning can take place. It is a tough thing to accomplish but that is why we show up everyday. Good luck and keep smiling! PS Some people work every week with no summers off :)

  • Union Supporter-But

    Dan: The students I work with who are the most angry, the most defiant are also the ones that early on in their school career were shuffled and practically given up on by family and the school system according to their files.

    I like the previous statement a student made about you: “Mr. A don’t play” it says a lot about the respect and trust you’ve built – those are the traits a strong principal will look for in a teacher.

  • Nextset

    Math Teacher: No, Dan does not have to “earn” respect. When he walks through the classroom door he is a teacher and the little darlings had better get it through their skulls what “authority figure” means.

    Police Officers do not “earn” respect. They can shoot you if required. Better not get careless around one because you had a “respect” problem. If you lie to a Federal Agent you go to federal prison – now isn’t that a shock when people are used to lying all the time until they get interviewed by a fed instead of a state cop and then they’re really in trouble (caught in a lie) – even if they haven’t committed a crime? And it’s not as if the Fed was wearing a uniform either. Authority figures are around in various capacities. Defy one in their province and get hurt. And I’m talking about a Meter Maid, a store clerk, whatever. Sonny and Cher need to learn about people and authority and what to kiss and when – if they’re going to make it in this Brave New World. That’s why they are in school, to learn. Teach it

    I have said it before on this blog and I’ll say it again. Teachers are not a student’s buddy, their friend or their social equal. They are their teacher. They are in authority over them, they grade them and issue references good and bad about them. The students can get this clear right away – you don’t get a say or a choice as to whether or not you feel like accepting teacher today or whenever. Get with the program or get out.

    This sounds like a fierce response to what was maybe a low key or a “social” type statement – but these statements about “tail” and “dog” count. I don’t send mixed messages – (maybe the gun is unloaded??) – mixed messages get young and clueless people hurt.

  • J.R.

    You expect a child to have respect for any authority, if/when parents don’t? Yeah, that works! A child is a reflection of his or her parents for good or ill.

  • Cranky Teacher

    Dan, I really appreciate your blunt honest in these reports, and willingness to share. I hope you stick with teaching, it really does get easier (another never easy, lol).

    As for folks who keep bringing up summer vacation, I’ll will just note again that many of us have to work all summer to make ends meet. Some numbers: As a single parent who hasn’t moved very far up the salary ladder in the lowest paid district in the area, my rent in West Oakland takes up half of my take-home pay. By the time June 17 comes, I’m just as broke as on August 31!

    I would never claim hardship — I chose this job with eyes open (and with other career options), and many of my students are being raised by people working harder for much less. But people need to be careful when they compare and contrast jobs. For example, teachers VERY rarely are ever paid for what amounts to almost mandatory overtime — and when we do received a coveted “extended contract” it is at roughly HALF of our regularly hourly pay. Does this make teachers worthy of pity? No, but it is not the norm in other fields I am familiar with.

    Work is hard, life is hard, employers and buyers in every field want to get the lowest price for labor…and we must fight for what we are given. That’s the way the game is set up.

  • Nextset

    JR: Yes. I expect a child to respect Authority even when his/her parents don’t.

    I don’t give up on a kid because the parents are trash. I have known way to many people who rose above white & black trash parents to become decent people themselves or even to hold high positions in public and private life. Beyond that I have known people all my life who came from humble beginnings to work in life and death situations to keep everybody else moving in the most desperate circumstances. The WWII generation raised me and taught and trained me. Some of these people came from farms, canneries, factories and were brought over here on boats from places with no food. Some of their parents didn’t even speak english. Joyce Kennard – a CA Supreme Court Justice – grew up in a Prisoner or War camp (where she lost a leg as a child) and didn’t see a light bulb until age 14. It’s a handicap having a drunk or a druggie as a parent. Handicaps can be overcome. A lot of the time.

    Kids are able (sometimes?) to see their parents for what they are – especially when they are in school with strong teachers who model behavior and values that are more appealing for the child than those they see at home. Television and movies can model behavior and values different than those at home. Children can choose up or down from what they come from. It can go either way. It always has.

    This is why it is imporant who the teachers are and what the teachers model for the kids. Students especially lower class students, have plenty of buddy buddy adults around who are simply put, losers and whiners. In public school teachers they have a prospect for something more.

    Don’t throw any edge away you have by being just another informal casual whatever type adult. The minute you (the teacher) walks in the door you are authority and in charge. You don’t know everything and you don’t have to. You do have to lead and direct and maybe push and shove the students to get everything out of the subject at hand and life itself they can pick up and carry. It’s one of the great things about the teaching profession.

    Lower class kids may have their weak points but they have strong points also. Anybody can have ambition and anybody can be taught to take opportunities. So yes I expect them to respect teachers and yes I can teach them to do so no matter who the Mommy and Daddy are, high or low.

  • Cranky Teacher

    Nextset, in the way you’ve phrased it here I actually agree with a lot of what you say. Teachers can’t avoid their role as authority figures, no matter what the school or who the students are.

    Where I know from previous conversations we part ways is you believe there is only one way to model responsible authority: As a macho “lion-tamer” using military-style regimentation. You argue this is all poor children can understand.

    What I see is kids pushing to see how much you care and what you care about. They’ll accept both gentle or rough authority as long as it is generally consistent, firm, and they come to believe that you not only care about what happens to them but also are going to be there for them tomorrow.

    One thing that strikes me is how a lot of people seem to believe teaching poor children is the only hard kind of teaching! In fact, teaching is just hard, no matter who you are teaching — just in different ways.

  • jp

    Regardless of how poor or rich a child, it is important for parents, teachers, and schools to not be hypocritical. By the time a child starts school, many of our kids have been told that they are cherished and loved by adults whose actions are the complete opposite. How are they to believe or respect what teachers, another authority figure, say. For some families, the teacher is the only adult who follows through on what he says.

    I am tired of hearing people blaming poverty or race for everything. When a child sees that parents are working hard for them even when not earning much, and they say that education is the key to the future and mean it, children will try hard to do their part. Waves of immigrants to this country have been doing this for generations.

    Also, how can students feel that education is valued when we have facilities that are falling apart, bad teachers getting the same rewards as the good, and schools that are broken into repeatedly.