I suppose it could be considered naiveté, or perhaps simple wishful thinking, for a first-year teacher to expect a roomful of wide-eyed, well-behaved students ready to learn. I expect that when many older teachers were new, this was the case in most classrooms – kids understood the concepts of respect, of learning, of their purpose to be in schools. Perhaps that was before the X-box and the Playstation became the nation's babysitters, and because parents had to work long hours to earn enough money to take care of their children, no one was home to school the children in the proper way to address their teachers and behave in school.

I became a teacher based not on the idealistic naiveté that I would have a classroom full of students who were eager to learn. I talked with many veteran teachers before making the final decision to answer a career that had been calling for many, many years. I'd been forewarned that my first year, and perhaps my second, would be, simply put, hell. However, I was told, if I survived my first year or two, it would get easier. I have to admit, three-quarters of the way through my first teaching year, it's mostly not as bad as I was told. I do have students I love to teach – the ones who sit quietly, answer questions only after raising their hands, who ask for extra credit assignments (and do them!) even if they are already earning As. While I love those kids, I do admit they are the minority. Among the remainder of my students are the ones that veteran teachers would call "hopeless" – the behaviorally challenged, the smart ones who insist on failing because they won't do the assignments, the ones who pride themselves on challenging the teacher no matter what the topic.

These are my biggest challenges, and despite what they think, I want to reach them. I want them to raise their grades because they WANT to, not because they have to. I teach 8th grade Language Arts in what my kids call a "ghetto school." While my school earned a B rating on the Florida A Plan scale, a vast majority of the students I have do not willingly read or write. Some of them do not read on an 8th grade level. Most of them do not WRITE on an 8th grade level. Finding the assignments that not only teach them the standards and benchmarks required of them to pass but that also allow them to enjoy themselves has been my biggest challenge this year.

That, of course, and their abominable behavior.

The guru Harry Wong tells new teachers to have a signal. Raise your hand when you want the students to pay attention. Do not yell, do not raise your voice, just put up your hand, and in a few moments, the students will quiet down and pay attention. Model it, practice it, it will work, he promises.

I dare him to try it in MY classes. Especially in my two most behaviorally-challenged hours. I could stand there in front of my students for the full 50 minutes of class and the only thing my raised hand would accomplish is giving the students a full 50 minutes of social conversation. I have students who sincerely believe that they are in school to talk about who's dating whom, who's having sex with whom, and who's going to be beat up after school by whom. It's a daily challenge to make the students realize that their job in my classroom is to learn, not chat. The FCAT testing makes it worse. I have actually had a handful of students seriously inquire, "Why do we still have school after the FCAT tests?" They can't correlate the fact that in 9th grade, they will have another FCAT and there is still material to learn for high school, even if they are not having a standardized test on it this year.

I have had days where I question my decision to become a teacher at the age of 34. I have gone home in tears, have had lengthy conversations with my team leader and assistant principal, and have compared notes with many other teachers at my school. The most important thing I have learned so far this year is that I am a good teacher, even with the students I don't think I'm reaching. Proof comes in many forms.

After the FCAT Writing section in early February, my team leader passed on a comment from one of my advanced students. This particular student is a cut-up in class, a wise guy, someone who can be incredibly frustrating to teach. But after the test, this student told my team leader that he found the FCAT Writing section easy, "because of all the stuff Ms. Turchin taught us." Though it came to me indirectly, it was great reinforcement.

Valentine's Day provided more reinforcement that even when I think the kids hate me (I often tell them they don't have to like me, they just have to do well in my class), some of them do not. Our school day starts at 8:40. I'm usually in my classroom between 7:15 and 7:30. On Valentine's Day, at 7:30 there was a knock on my classroom door, and it was a student that I often privately referred to as "the thorn in my side." First and second quarters he was a behavioral disaster, being thrown out of my class more than he was in it. However, on Valentine's Day, he came to school early to give me roses and a box of candy. It truly warmed my heart (his behavior has shown great improvement this quarter as well). The day after Valentine's Day I found a card on my chair, left anonymously by one of my students. The student had handwritten on the card, "Ms. Turchin, you are a great teacher. Keep it up." I pinned that card to my refrigerator at home to remind me that even on the bad days, I AM reaching these kids.

I knew going into this career that it was not going to be a smooth adjustment, but now that I'm on the downside of my first year, I feel confident that teaching was the right choice for me. Even on the days I go home exhausted, having ignored Harry Wong's sage advice and spent my day yelling for the kids' attention, I am still thinking about what tomorrow will bring and what I can do to make Language Arts a great experience for students who would rather be playing video games. Even if it takes me the rest of my lifetime to figure it out, I'm committed.

Or perhaps, I should be committed . . . to a different kind of institution.