For the first time in a long time, I am teaching with another adult in the room. My co-teacher is a newbie…sort of. Let me explain. She is from India and taught at a school there for about five years before moving to the states four years ago. When she and her husband moved here, she continued on the education career pathway, landing a job as an elementary school teacher at a private school in the area. I imagine the kids were a bit too slimy and needy (she never actually said this, but I can assure you, as the mom of an 11-year-old and an 8-year-old, elementary aged humans can be walking-talking, pathogen-passing, self-centered booger flingers).
After two years with the tiny germy space violators, she had enough. She hopped ship and became a paraeducator at a high school not too far from where we both currently hold teaching positions. During that time, she decided to look for a classroom teaching job that was salaried. She’s really smart – she scouted the job vacancy postings and got her teaching certification in the area that was in high demand. This is her first year with full teaching credentials, in the states, in a public school, and she is certified in (drum roll please) Special Education.
Herein lies the conundrum – in India, there’s no such thing as special education (her exact words – no lie) and she has no formal training (by the way, I have no idea what this entails, I had maybe two classes dedicated to special education and 504’s in my Grad program). What does this look like in the classroom you ask? A shit show.
She is literally the most petite lady I have met. Usually your stature matters little, so long as you can hold your own in front of the students, but she is too soft spoken, a bit hard to understand at times, and interacts awkwardly with every kid she has to help. I feel bad for her, but I have to confess that the arrangement we have is akin to an exposed nerve in a cavity ravaged tooth; there is nothing pleasant about the experience. The students can feel the electricity in the room, at any moment the static discharge could send sparks flying – not the loving kind of flying sparks, but the kind of sparks that fly when a person in an open field is struck by lightning.
My workload is doubled when – in theory – it should be halved. Two adult brains + small class size = a coasting teaching year.
This statement is false.
Why? She has no idea how to teach in an American classroom. In India, they can use corporal punishment. At one point she said that she could control kids if only she could tap them with something when they were off task or wrong. In order to make this co-teaching relationship productive, I have told her what I need. Somehow, she manages to make herself busy with menial tasks fit for a student-teaching intern, never actually doing what needs to be done.
I finally coaxed her into starting class since she insisted on having students read the daily objective (an exercise that should direct student attention and help them make connections, but NEVER does). But, beyond getting her to do the one thing that she insists on, she is useless. I so badly want to help her out and make things work that I do extra work to accommodate her. I know, I know what you’re thinking: just tell her. But she is too nice and sweet – like cheerful, saccharine, cherub in the Sistine Chapel sweet.
I have been giving myself pep talks like I’m a fighter about to enter the ring. I stand in the mirror and pat my cheeks – six rapid pops. One smack on each side of my face in rapid succession that’s followed by a hollow echo from the empty space in my teaching soul. I say, today you are going in there and you are going to tell her that she has to work with the kids; tell her she has to help with attendance and grading; tell her she has to help modify these assignments for her students so that they can do the work and pass the class. I nod my head like yeah, you’ve got this. But when I open the door to the classroom, she’s standing there with that bright smile. I am forced to remove my ear buds and listen to her drone on about what she needs me to do! And I, begrudgingly, say yep, I got it.
She can sense the tension. I came close to spilling all my true feelings today. I was given an out when she asked, “Do you think I am doing my job effectively?”
I said, “Well…there are things that we could all do to improve and uh, be more efficient.” I was softening the blow, but I felt really bad telling her that she wasn’t doing the very thing that she was hired to do…teach. Throwing myself under the bus was for good measure. Honestly, I could give two shits about whether or not my teaching is effective. It’s actually working out quite well for me. I am planned and prepped, I am on time, and I can say no to kids who are late turning things in without a single ounce of remorse. But, she is a newbie…sort of. Between me, the other teacher she co-teaches with when she is not with me, and her department head, she is losing it.
At the end of our talk, I gave her a laundry list of things that I thought she should consider doing to make her “teaching” more “effective”. This was really just a list of things that she is expected to do (it’s in her job description, but whatever).
At the end of this conversation, she said that she feels like she doesn’t want to teach anymore. My response: Welcome to the phucking club!