In her black outfit she comes in holding her notebook on the side of her hip, ready.
“Hello, boys and girls”, my first graders respond, “Heeeeeeeeeeello, Ms. Perez.”
The principal comes in, sits down in one of the students’ chairs. She is looking toward the class and myself while we are sitting on the floor. My heart drops. I feel all my insides rise up and fall back down. I feel the heat radiating from my body. I’m having an outer body experience, as I hear the kids chatting a bit … or maybe a lot. But I hear them only faintly because I’m so focused on breathing.
I begin writing the learning goal on the dry erase board. I know I have to turn and address the students, which I do in a minute. Trying to remind myself to get with it, I must move on. I know this woman- my boss- is here, observing me. I know she is going to see everything I am clearly doing wrong. I hope she doesn’t ask for a lesson plan! I mean, I do have it. It’s just not as detailed as it should be. Or how “they” want it to be. “Ok, lets read our Learning Goal: I can stretch out a moment across pages.” The students repeat after me. “I can stretch out a moment across pages.”
“Not adequate.” “Not good enough.” These are the words that echo through my mind as I’m sitting here getting observed. There is something that my administrator is looking for, as she sits here watching and listening to everything I am doing. And no matter all the good things she may see me do, I will stay stuck on the areas I’m told that I need to improve.
Every observation I suffer through, I put myself through this same loophole. I will re- think and re- hash and re- do every action taken, every word spoken. I will see my faults only and I won’t celebrate the areas that I have done well in. As a teacher, I know I will always get observed. It’s about the practice right? But even knowing this, I take it personal, each and every time.
“What will we be learning today, students?” I assess the class at a glance. Some know what we will be doing. Some don’t. I can tell by their face and body language if they are ready to learn. Are they looking at me engaged? Or not?... Are they slouching on the floor?... Are they paying attention or zoning out?... Is that one fidgeting… Is that one to the right of me touching those things in the bookcase? I’m going to try to get them back by saying something in an exaggerated way- that always gets them!! What child doesn’t? Right?...
I am watching my whole existence pass me by. I am thinking ahead, as I am in the present, delivering this lesson that is being judged. Oh, and when that pen starts moving… the more I want to crawl into a hole. Tragame tierra. I just want to say “How about you take over?!”
Why does it bother me? Why does it affect me to get observed?
“Not good enough. Not adequate.”
I’m 18 years old at the college of Staten Island, taking a woman’s anthropology course, while navigating through life figuring this shit out, this life. I loved learning about how women were treated in different cultures and so I wrote about it, well it was required by the professor to write a paper. So I did. Of course, I procrastinated but I thought I did well. I go to class, my white professor starts handing back the papers that she graded. I’m nervous, I wonder what I got? I hope it was good enough? She, with her pixie blonde haircut hands me my paper. I go over it I see a lot of handwriting going on. She has a pretty handwriting, the way she wrote her letters slanted with light strokes almost like her personality. Very neat yet didn’t seem to make much effort. As I was going over my paper, there was one comment that struck me, “Is English your second language. You should visit the writing center.” What was that supposed to mean? It seemed that the words were screaming at me coming off the page, like you see?! I slouch. I want to wallow in pity. I’m not good at this. The failure wreaks out of me. I wish I were the other girl in my class who did her writing assignment the night before and get A’s. So effortlessly. Then I think, I should’ve never been in bilingual classes. But, I don’t remember my writing being an issue in middle school or high school where I was in monolingual classes. Why now? My language isn’t good, nor my writing. I didn’t say anything to her. I go to the writing center because maybe she is right.
The students and I go over what kind of writing we are going to work on. “Class, what type of writing have we discussed?” I pick on the one student that I know is on point and will say what I need him to say. He is sitting crisscross applesauce style in our meeting area on the floor facing the smart board, the sun is reflecting off of his black round-framed glasses. He says, ‘Personal Narrative’. He sounds so proud and sure of himself. My teacher heart is happy, yes! “Yes that’s right!” I see the principal give a little nod and half a smile.
“Now, what is a personal narrative?” I pick on another student, with his high-pitched nasally voice, ‘it’s something that happens to you in one day’, ‘yes something that happened to you in one moment.’ Some students call it out. I let it go. We continue the discussion.
I’m 16, Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers in Manhattan, my last year of high school, going to day school, night school and working at a Jewish accounting firm. The goal was to graduate on time and have some cash along the way. I just want to make money so I can my buy whatever I want. The newest Nikes, the nice clothes, whatever I want. This afternoon job was perfect! The school hooked me up. I went on an interview, it went well and there I was. My first real job! Not like the summer time youth employment. When I get there, the girl who was there before was a perfectionist, she wrote a list of all the things she did there and how she did it. She showed me everything so fast. I didn’t think I would ever meet her standards and I didn’t. I made mistakes, made the wrong copies of tax papers, could never seem to get it right. I think the receptionist felt bad for me at times because she would look at me like, poor child with the look of disappointment. I tried. A call came in one afternoon, I picked up while standing up hovered on the phone. “This is the office of…” Hi, I would like to speak to Mr. Mandelbaum” “who may I ax is speaking? “This is Mr. Roberts” “Ok please hold”… before I go to transfer the call I hear a lady laughing, I stay and continue listening, my grip is tight on the phone listening intently and trying not to breathe so they wouldn’t hear that I was listening. Scoffing, “did you hear how she says ask?” They need to teach her how to speak correctly.” I transferred the call. Why would they make fun of me? I have been saying ask wrong this whole time? Boy did I feel like world caved in. I didn’t say anything. My body didn’t feel like it was mine, I felt as if someone punctured my soul. I couldn’t articulate it then.
“Okay, guys just like in the book, Un sillon para mi mama, we see how the little girl tells us her story through different pages she stretches it out, now you will talk and draw out your own small moment. Turn and talk to your partner tell them what is one small moment you are thinking about.” Students tell of a moment they want to talk about. I see the principal talking with two students and one of them refuses to talk… Not engaged!! That’s going to be written up for sure! And I didn’t follow up!! I return the students back so students can share. I pick one student, “Aw man, aw” came from different students. I stop. “we don’t say that, not everyone is going to get called and we need to give everyone an opportunity to speak.” I call on a girl, she mentions her moment. She spoke in a low voice. Some students were talking and not listening to the speaker. The principal says, “I can’t hear what she is saying.” In my mind, Ugggghhhhhh. These kids are so chatty!!
“Okay class, we are going to have to stop, (again) some of my friends aren’t listening when someone is talking. Lets go over the rules.” We go over it. And I’m over it. They must sense my fears. They know. They have to. If its one thing I’ve learned about teaching is that children are intuitive. They know when shit ain’t going right, or something is off. Yup and they knew. And there is always that one student that doesn’t know anything even when they do! And guess who she told that she didn’t know what small moment to write? And I’m pretty sure that will be written up as well.
Because of my past experiences in my childhood and the way I was taught I bring into my classroom. I bring the fear of not being good enough not adequate enough. And as a new teacher I am learning and navigating through these spaces where I can use my experiences to better myself and show my students that they will always be good enough and adequate.