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Tennessee

Here's What Happened During My First Year of Teaching

I made it. I completed my first year of teaching as a special education teacher at a North Nashville middle school. Looking back, I did a lot this school year: I broke up fights. I stopped students from harming themselves. I used our school’s resources to get a student clothing so he didn’t have to wear the same clothes every day. I gave a legislative update to teachers. One of our students was shot in the head while standing in the doorway to his home. Another student’s father was murdered. I have seen a mother cry tears of joy that her son was receiving a quality education. I saw parents beam with pride about how well their child is doing. A parent yelled at me. I read all the Common Core State Standards for seventh grade. I took to Twitter to get someone to donate books to my class. I was sick. A lot. I gave a tour to a school board member. I wrote an op-ed in The Tennessean about our school board. I got pushback from school board members about my op-ed. After my op-ed, people inside my school told me to watch what I say in public about the school board. I have been mad, frustrated, sad, happy, joyful, excited and angry. I saw a student improve by getting more special education services. I witnessed a student grow by reducing the amount of special education services. I read aloud many different types of texts. I made others cry when describing students at my school. I became frustrated when teachers told me it was okay that students are behind because everyone else is behind. I got students to read and enjoy books. I heard a teacher say that you can only teach a student for so long before you need to give up and help the other kids. I have seen teachers work mornings, nights and weekends so that our students could succeed. One teacher would teach during the day, tutor after school multiple days, tutor on Saturday, and teach Sunday school the next day. No matter where our students grow up, they can all learn and succeed in our schools. I have seen students come into our school who were very behind. We have failed that child along the way. Someone dropped the ball and that makes me really sad, but we need to accept blame for dropping the ball. We want to blame everyone but ourselves. I made mistakes this year, but I know that I will come back next year and fix those mistakes. I learned that you have to rely on your fellow educators around you to grow as a teacher. In my second year, I hope to ask more questions of my students. I want to learn more about their lives and I want to challenge them more. When we challenge our students, they step up and grow. I want to continue teaching because I love the difference I am making. I want to keep teaching for that mother who cried because her son was getting a great education. I want to keep teaching for that student whose parents don’t care how they perform in school. I care about the people I come across in my job. I will admit that there are problems that still need to be fixed in my teaching method, in my personality, and in the school system as a whole. But sugarcoating issues in life doesn’t make anything better. I would rather be honest about my shortcomings and work towards solutions.  
Zack Barnes is a middle school teacher in Nashville, Tennessee. An earlier version of this post appeared on the Tennessee Education Report as My First Year of Teaching.
Zack Barnes
Zack Barnes is a middle school teacher in Nashville, Tennessee. He is currently pursuing a doctorate in literacy studies at Middle Tennessee State University.

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