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Shaundalyn Elliott's Diary
The First 180 Days


Shaundalyn Elliott, a recent college graduate, always dreamed of being a corporate lawyer. Her deep feelings of responsibility to the minority students in her hometown led her instead to a teaching position at her alma mater, an urban middle school in Montgomery, Alabama. Each week during this school year -- Shaundalyn's first year in the classroom -- she will share with Education World readers her thoughts and feelings about her first 180 days!

Shaundalyn's Diary: Demanding Respect!

Week 7

The week before school started, I attended a workshop for first-year teachers. The speaker, a retired elementary school teacher, made a number of points regarding the students she taught and the students we were going to teach. She mentioned that children have changed a great deal since she was in the classroom, and because of that, we new teachers would have to be creative and innovative in our teaching methods. Toward the end of her speech, she told us that at some point during the first three months of school, each of us would question what we were doing in the teaching profession. I can safely say that I have arrived at that point.

The first few entries in this diary have been easy to write because I had not run into any real problems. I simply wrote about the parts of teaching I enjoyed and mentioned a few overwhelming aspects of my days. Now, however, I am more than overwhelmed. Last week was one of the most trying ones I have experienced so far.

On Monday, a colleague described me as an overly firm disciplinarian; the veteran teacher's remark was based on an incident that occurred last week. While teaching a class, I had left the classroom door open so we could catch a breeze. One of the students from a nearby classroom walked by and made a disrespectful comment about me to another student. I was offended by the student's comment and so were my students. As a natural reaction, I stepped out of my room and into a nearby classroom to reprimand the student. After doing so, I slammed my door shut. Five minutes later, when the teacher returned to her classroom, her students informed her about what had taken place. Instead of supporting me, the teacher criticized my reaction, both in front of her students and to another teacher.

On Thursday, I wrote my first office referral. A student who used to be respectful and courteous had done a 180-degree turn. By Thursday, I had reached the end of my rope with him. He was disruptive to the other students and talked repeatedly during my class. When I spoke to him, he was openly disrespectful. After sending him into the hall, I wrote out a referral.

Before I could get to the office, I saw the principal monitoring the halls and immediately got her attention. I informed her of what had happened and gave her the form. She beckoned for the student to follow her to the office. After throwing a mild temper tantrum, he reluctantly went with her. Moments later, at the end of the period, I saw him waltz out of the office with a smirk on his face. When he saw me, the smirk turned into a smile.

"She wants you to sign this," he said pleasantly, handing me a form. Unwilling to take his word for it, I went into the office and asked the principal, "Did you need me to sign something?" She said no and told the student that he had gotten the message wrong. He immediately yelled, "No, I didn't; that's what you said." Hearing this, a parent waiting to see the principal chimed in. "Shut up! That's being disrespectful!" she said angrily. I was delighted to hear her say it and wished that everyone would be as firm with disrespectful students. This student's only punishment, however, was a parent conference. Was I wrong to expect him to be more severely punished, or is that just a first-year teacher's reaction?

On Friday, while I was on bus duty, an older student approached me in an inappropriate manner. Fortunately, I could stand my own ground; otherwise, I might have been in serious trouble.

I don't know what happened to the days when students didn't dare show disrespect to their teachers, when they were terrified of going to the principal's office. These days, it seems that they're afraid of nothing. Are we afraid of them?

After this week, I seriously doubt my return to teaching next year. If this is what teachers have to contend with, in addition to the excess paperwork, duties, meetings, and workshops, I want no part of it. If anyone is listening, these are the kinds of things that overwhelm first-year teachers. If anyone cares, these situations run the best teachers away from the profession.

I am well aware of the fact that all teachers, both veterans and beginners, have good and bad days. Maybe this week was just a bad one for me. Regardless of what the case may be, I do know that these days, teachers are treated unfairly. Students show disrespect and even proposition us without a second thought. The excuse that these students are different from children years ago would be easy to accept, but it's hard to believe. I don't think I'm wrong for expecting a lot from these students -- and I don't believe I'm a mean teacher. Mean teachers are those who allow the students to do as they please now, leading them to self-destruct later.

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Shaundalyn Elliot
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