Behind the Desk: Ms. Fissori

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Nov 09 2011


The year 1895 seems worlds away from the urban classroom where I pass most of my hours, but the connection I have to the words penned that year by Rudyard Kipling belies the time gap. “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…” even as I type that I am unsure whether my tie to this lyric is because I hope to instill it in my young men or because I am reminding myself of the mindset I must embody. When I say that the last 10 weeks have been hard, I really mean that it has made me question the fundamental beliefs I have built my dreams on. It has been difficult in a way that calls into question the tenacity that has seen me through every challenge. When I say that I am connected to the words of Kipling’s “IF” it is most notably the profound bond I have with the potential in that small conjunction.

I am consumed with the “If’s” of this job:  IF I can teach these boys to keep their head about them…IF I can teach them to trust themselves and take risks…IF they can learn to dream…IF they can fall in love with learning. I am consumed with the “If’s” of this job: IF I don’t reach them…IF they don’t develop the self-discipline…IF I don’t create rigorous lessons. The “IF’s” of this job make me constantly feel the weight of the reality that faces these young men.

I am exhausted and overwhelmed by the behavior problems I face each day. In the past classroom management and engagement have always been my “A” game, but every day over the last 10 weeks has been a struggle to establish authority, set procedures and expectations, and most of all, get these young men to engage in learning. I’m constantly pulling myself up by the bootstraps to keep from letting the discouragement get the best of me. Have I lost my “teacher touch”? What am I forgetting? What is missing from this class that was present in my last 5 years?

This class, this school, and these young men are my commitment at this point and as appealing as another profession (any other profession!) sounds when the going gets tough, I am drawn back to the poignant challenge Kipling penned 116 years ago:

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

I am compelled to relentlessly try…and try…and try again, until my vision for this class is achieved. My mission, and I have chosen to accept it, is to create an effective, management plan for my classroom; a plan that fosters self-discipline and focuses on learning. It sounds much easier than it is and right now I need to discover what makes my guys tick in order to create a plan custom to them. IF…

3 Responses

  1. Daphyne Shine

    Oh, I asolutely feel your pain. Last year, I had one of the most challenging group of students in my entire career. I used classroom management strategies that worked in the past and they did not work. It took 7 months to formulate a solid technique that would get these students to behave and take responsibility for their behavior. My sanity came back to visit that month. Its not you, you do have to be flexible in your strategies as there isn’t one generic way to manage a group. The students’ personalities and parenting techniquues have change in the last 10 years. As with the changing of the seasons, we must adapt right along with it. We can wear our warm fuzzy sweaters in the summer.

    • Christina Fissori

      Daphyne, thank you for the encouragement. It is easy to think that after 5 years we’ve “got it” and teaching becomes easy, but the truth is just as you said, times and students are changing and we have to continually adapt to reach them. Thanks for the comment and encouragement that I am not alone. :-)

  2. Daphyne Shine

    Ooops…I meant we CAN’T wear our warm fuzzy sweaters in the summer.

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