Beyond Room 119

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Onward March?

I’m upset.

I’m frustrated.

I’m tired.

I’m spent.

None of these are unusual; I’ve experienced each one more than once over the past five months. But here’s the new one:

I’m done.

Sometime this afternoon, I gave up. I stopped fighting. I stopped trying.

I didn’t have the energy to care. Thank God it was a Friday, because if it wasn’t, there is no way I would be able to wake up and go to school tomorrow.

“What happened?” you may ask.

Well, many things. If it was just one or two of them, I would have been fine. Frustrated or tired, probably, but when it rains, well, it pours, and today it was just hailing cats and dogs.

1. The Winter Recital was today. From an adult’s point of view, it was amazing. There was incredible talent up on that stage, and it was fun to see what the older students have been working on. But to a nine year old, sitting through an hour and a half of performing arts is harder than taking a two-minute bathroom break (which, in case you haven’t been around a classroom, it’s impossible. Literally). I felt like I was babysitting twenty children who had to continuously be asked to quiet down, and every two seconds it seemed like I heard my name, accompanied by, “I need to use the bathroom!” I started to flat-out ignore them, because the alternative was to snap.

2. With the arrival of the Winter Recital meant the departure of my planning period. An hour is already far too short a period to have to myself, away from my class, to prepare. To have absolutely no planning period was beyond difficult.

3. Lunch. I don’t have a lunch period. Teachers go with their classes to the cafeteria. It’s been like this all year, but today, when combined with points 1 and 2, it was hard to not even have five minutes away from my class.

4. Parent Conference. A parent of my new student wanted to meet to discuss his behavior. She works at the school, so as my students were working independently this afternoon, she came by and we talked for about ten minutes. I thought it went fine – she wanted to hear every single thing that was troubling about his behavior, she was respectful, said she would straighten it out, and I said we’d keep working on it in the classroom. That part was fine. Then she asked to speak to her son. Later that afternoon, I caught him passing a note to his friend saying that his mom said he would be transferred to another third grade class. Now, there hasn’t been any talk of this actually happening, but the fact that she wants him out of my room was hard to take.


Done ranting.



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Our culture prides itself on achievement. For sixteen years of education, your progress is measured in terms of percentages and letters. You are successful when you attain something measurable- that A, those honors, a certain recognition.

It’s no wonder that when we graduate, with or without all those honors and awards that mean little as soon as you throw that cap in the air, we carry this thinking forward with us.

We find success when we are recognized publicly at work.

When we reach our quota.

When we get that promotion.


But what happens when those quantifiable measures of success disappear? When those step-by-step guides of “do this, this, and this, and you’re golden!” fail?

When we try, fail, try harder, fail, try again, and still see no apparent change?

Where is the success? The achievement? After years of achieving everything you worked towards, what happened?

For those of us in this position, I’d argue that we haven’t become overnight failures. At the core, we are still the same people. Our dedication, work ethic, and drive remain largely unchanged.

What has changed, however, is the way we interact with the world. Maybe you had an epiphany of sorts. A religious revelation. Or perhaps, like me, your job challenges you to redefine the words “success” and “achievement.” Because speaking completely honestly, if I were to use societal definitions of those terms at this moment, I would be a failure. Yes, I’m trying my hardest. And yes, every week I see growth. But if I were to measure myself against these irrelevant yet somehow ever-present standards, I would not make the grade.

I was thinking this today during my planning period. How today was a rough day. I was struggling to keep my kiddos’ attention all morning, and nothing seemed to work. Learning wasn’t happening. They weren’t listening when I tried to teach the order of operations, and there was a lot of confusion as a result. I’m pretty sure over half of them left having no idea what the term even meant. Their “exit tickets,” my check for comprehension, pretty much confirmed that I wasted an hour of the day. The reading lesson that followed was only slightly better.

So I’m sitting in my room during my planning period, papers strewn over my desk, my email glaring at me from the computer screen, multicolored writing all over my whiteboard, and allow the sounds of silence to fill my ears. There was no bright moment of the morning, no thought for me to reflect on and smile. No success stories.

Then I remembered that Jamaree had given me his journal during reading. We’ve been working hard to control his emotions and outbursts, and something that has really helped him is to write. I gave him a little green journal, and when he is upset, mad, or needs space, he writes in it. He can keep it private, or if he wants to, he can give it to me and I respond back.

I pick up the journal from my war-torn desk, the green cover making it stand out from the mountains of paper that threaten to engulf it. Jamaree skips around in the journal, so it took me a minute to find the new entry.

When I did, it forced me to reconsider my view of success.


Success is teaching these kids, absolutely. It’s making sure they are prepared for fourth grade and the years to come. It’s teaching them division, multiplication, fractions, inferences, grammar, matter, gravity, government, and eons more.

But more importantly, it’s about relationships. Character. Values. Teaching these kids that they are important. That they matter. That the world would not be the same if they were not born into it.

So everyday, I will continue to teach my curriculum. To figure out what went well, and what needs to be changed.    But on the days when nothing seems to work, when my patience stretches so tight that it’s on the verge of shattering, I need to stop. Breathe. Remember that there is intangible growth happening in my room. That some things can never be measured.

And that gives me hope. Hope enough to remember the shining moments from yesterday. Hope to shake off the trials of today. And most importantly, it give me the hope to start anew tomorrow.