Ms. Coggio’s Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day.

29 11 2006

Listen. I have just had a shitty day. Not an entirely shitty day, but a shitty last half of the day. It is never very nice to hear that something you’ve done, professionallly, a person would “not ever like to see done again.” It never feels very good, as a professional, to hear that methods you are using for teaching are undesirable. It doesn’t feel good to have another professional critique your performance by saying words like “concern,” “hesitant,” and, to make a long story short, “wrong.”

You know, I never thought I would be a teacher forever. I never wanted to. In the middle of the day I think to myself, “I don’t want to do this forever. I can do it a little while longer, but then I’m out.” But listen, when someone criticizes me and my methods, that’s when I get the most defensive about my ability to work within my profession. I do know what I’m doing. I know how to talk to these kids. If I know anything it’s how to talk to these kids. Not just these kids here in Brazil. But the kids I worked with in New Haven, too.
I got an e-mail from the new teacher of my last year’s 9th graders in New Haven. He said they’re begging to read Shakespeare. My students are begging to read Shakespeare. They’re begging to do that because I was with them the first time and I helped them feel good about themselves as readers and scholars and thinkers. That is my given purpose as a teacher. I need to first help them feel good about themselves as readers and thinkers and communicators, and then delve into the deep things–analysis and whatnot. But I digress.

My purpose and my mission is to help students feel good about themselves in the classroom and to teach them some things in the meantime. If they don’t learn now about responsibility, overcoming challenges, and establishing routine, they won’t be able to be successful in the upper grades. And if I can’t help my students feel good about themselves in the classroom now, I wonder where they will be five years from now when they are in upper level English classes reading advanced British Literature? Lost? Confused? Frustrated?

Maybe I’m using methods and pre-reading activities that another teacher would “never” use. But I know my students. I know how to engage them most of the time. I know how to keep their attention. I know how to talk to them. I know how to help them feel good in the classroom. I know all these things. Why, then, do I feel like a failure? Why do I feel like I’ve done something wrong? Why don’t I feel good about myself?

Teaching is not the perfect profession. There are no right answers because not every student is exactly the same. Not every teacher is exactly the same. What works for one person might not work for another. There are no right or wrong answers. Just yesterday, one of my students said he feels best about being in English because he feels good about his abilities and his grades. This is a student who struggled through all of last year. And now? Now he feels good about himself because of my class? Aren’t I doing what I’m supposed to be doing?

But how do I feel? I feel shitty. I feel shut down. I feel unsure and insecure. Because of one comment. I know what I’m doing. I know that there’s always room for improvement. But the manner in which this teacher spoke to me today made me feel terrible.

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10 responses

29 11 2006
Tady

HI Ms.Coggio, just want to say that I totally love your class, and the rest of the class also does. Last year I just got D`s and F`s, and now? Now I get A`s and B`s!! Big difference right? Well thats because of you!! The best teacher ever!!! (They are just mad because we love so much.)

29 11 2006
ginacoggio

Thanks, kiddo. You’re very nice to say that. (And I’m very proud to see that your response this time has no spelling mistakes. You rock.)

30 11 2006
marissa

It sucks how one ugly comment can leave a gash so deep that it would take dozens of positive comments to start to heal it. I think, and this is my guess, that you being a young teacher allows the more “seasoned” teachers to assume it is their right to provide you with any feedback they feel like spewing at the time. Now, I do not know if this was a supervisor or not but it does not much matter. There is a way to offer guidance with grace and then there is the way this professional seems to have done it: the wrong way. Now, I began reading your writing when you were in New Haven and I was drawn to your contributions not only because you have a great writing style, but also because what you write is raw and honest. Your ability to make change in the lives of your students seems very obvious to a reader that lives miles away. It was obvious in NH and it is obvious now. I do not know if your methods in the classrom are unconventional, but good for you if they are. As a person that also works with kids, I know how versatile you have to be to get kids to stay engaged and motivated. Some people know innately how to do it and some struggle and take the ” I’m the teacher, so I win” approach. I don’t know about you, but I remember the teachers that took each day as it came and made me think a lot clearer than I remember the ones that ran small dictatorships. Do what you feel in your soul will be greatest benefit to your students, it is a far greater gift to them and ultimately to yourself.

30 11 2006
Uber

Gina Coggio, as a long time lurker of your site here and the NH Independent, I feel like I have to write something.

Let me introduce myself a bit. I’m a 46 yr old professional, an Aerospace Engineer and now a Computer Über Geek. I am in the process of selling my third tech company and I’m writing you tonight in the midst of a very busy week of travel. Boston/San Jose/Denver and Austin tomorrow.

First let me say, knock it off, stop feeling bad/sorry/insecure. That email you received is the validation that you were successful. The so called teacher, who questions your methods, only does so because he/she can’t connect the way in which you did. Your success or failure cannot be judged by a peer or a system but only by those whose life you touched.

Forget about the NH Board of Ed, forget about the State of CT, and forget about that teacher who can’t step out of the shadow you cast. It’s the kid’s that matter! “My students are begging to read Shakespeare.” You did it! You touched someone’s life, you change the way they think, and you’ve affected them forever.

You remind me of Miss Murphy, my seventh grade teacher, who lit the spark in my life. She threw out the lesson plan and made learning relevant and fun. She was a teacher for only three years before moving on. It was twenty years before I had the opportunity to tell her the impact she had on this one student.

The only failure here is an education system that doesn’t have more Gina Coggio’s, and more Miss Murphy’s.

Back to lurking…it’s Wednesday this must be Denver… keep up the great work and enjoy NZ!

30 11 2006
Damien

Hey Miss C.!

Haha…Miss C (See?!) – that’s what I called my little sister! How have you been?

Please give me you recent address so that I can send you a X-mas card. Love your blog. And in my opinion, you make the best teacher in the whole world, so do not care too much about what ONE person say to the contrary!

Cheers!

P/S: When are you coming to Malaysia?

30 11 2006
ginacoggio

Marissa, Uber, and Damien–
Thank you for your support. It *is* amazing how one comment can off-set an entire day… It’s kind of hard for me to understand why one teacher might want to make another teacher feel bad, since we’re both in the trenches together. Where I came from in New Haven was so supportive–I would have NEVER received feedback from another teacher or administrator like I received yesterday. But you’re all right–I do know what I’m doing and I do need to take pride in the abilities I have to reach kids.
Thank you, all three of you…
and Damien–I’ll be in Malaysia asap.

1 12 2006
Norah

hi gina-
i just wanted to drop a quick line to express my admiration and genuine good feeling that i have for your dedication to your students. you are a great teacher and any student is so lucky to have you…so there. oh, and i miss you.
xo
norah

1 12 2006
ginacoggio

norah– xoxoxoxox too!

11 12 2006
A little angel called Mandy

Hi, i dont know you but i just wanted to say CHEER UP. Your students are all making such positive comments about your teaching, which pupils dont make often (we complain about our teachers so much,even though we love all of them deep inside.) Dont you teach your students to be confident with themselves and ignore negative comments from other people? Anyway, so what if another teacher doesnt like the way that you teach, its not them thats learning. As soon as your students are able to communicate with you and learn from you who cares what other people say! So many teachers struggle to comunicate comfortably with their students which you seem to have no problem doing (im guessing from the comments they leave you) and it sounds like your pupils feel like they are able to tell you anything. So what if your teaching methods arent traditional! They work fine and your students are learning in a happy environment and enjoying your class so you shouldnt care what other teachers say, what do they know?!!

11 12 2006
ginacoggio

Wow, Mandy. Thank you. I’m kind of speechless at your words. But thank you….

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