Story #15 – The First Day: The Horror … The Horror

May 25, 2007

When I began student teaching I worshipped my cooperating teacher (Bob): How did he make it look so easy? I observed his wonderful teaching. I vigorously took notes. Then I took over my first class.

I knew. I knew they were all going to be my friends. They were going to love me and learn from me as they never had. I had my lesson plan, materials, and all the stuff I was told to have in my pre-service training. Bob left the room. I stood up, smiling, and told the class exactly what we were going to do, gave them my life story, and just when I was about to ask them about themselves they, like sharks, smelled blood in the water.

They began ignoring me and started talking to each other. The talking grew into shouting. Then it escalated alarmingly into throwing things around the classroom: pencils, books, and chairs (yes, chairs!). I almost started crying— I wanted to curl up under the desk.

Bob met me after my hooligans had left. “So, John, how were the little darlings?” I told him what had happened. I also told him I should quit and that I was a horrible teacher. He reassured me: “John, don’t worry about a thing. I’ll take their next class today. You come in tomorrow and they’ll be like kittens with milk on their whiskers.”

The next day while driving to the school I practiced my speech to Bob about why I was going to give up teaching and pursue a career at Starbucks. They must take teachers with master’s degrees in English education, right? I wanted to tell him in person, but he wasn’t around when the first period class of these kids met, so I had no choice but to walk in solo. I’ll never know exactly how Bob had done it, but these boys and girls all had their hands folded on their desks and politely said: “Good morning, Mr.Gibney. What will we be learning today?” That is the day I figured out classroom politics, and the day I began loving… loving!… teaching.

John Gibney
UMass Amherst