Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Breakthrough

I feel like there has been a shift - a breakthrough – in my professional life. In the past few weeks I feel like I have really hit my stride in the classroom and that my students and I are working at a higher level. All week I have had so much energy in the classroom, and my students have been bouncing a same positive energy back at me. For the first time in a year and a half at the end of the day I feel like I have energy to do other things that I enjoy. The work day feels lighter and the halls of my school brighter. I finally feel like I can speak about the practice of teaching with a little bit of authority.
Most things in life come naturally to me, or if they don’t I am able to learn them quickly, and I swiftly feel sure of myself. Teaching was not one of those things. The first seven months of teaching, I felt unsure, unconfident, uncomfortable, and nervous about my abilities as a leader in the classroom. The awesome responsibility of holding thirty children’s lives in my hands for entire year, and my clear naivety was so pervasive and overpowering, that I didn’t fully feel human. I didn’t feel like me. It’s not often in my life that I have tried at something and failed over and over again. But that is what I did my first year as a teacher. I failed over and over again.
I am happy to report that after teaching for 1 year and seven months, I have finally found me again. I have found the confident, positive, and fun-loving version of me that was always there, but hiding under several layers of stress, frustration, and exhaustion. Let me tell you something – it feels good to be back!
This is not to say that I have suddenly attained teacher nirvana, where everything I touch turns to teaching genius – I still feel the pain of failure – but now I have acquired the skills necessary to not just survive, but to thrive in my profession. It feels so good to finally be successful at something again.
And this shift is starting to be recognized by people besides just myself. Most notably, by my most important critics: my students. When I found out that I would be looping with my students to the sixth grade, I was having lunch with a group of five girls in my classroom as a reward for winning the weekly raffle. I told them that I had just found out some exciting news, to which they all asked, “What?!” I told them that I would be their teacher for sixth grade and all five girls screeched like Chris Brown had just walked through the door. They started jumping up and down while they yelled in excitement. I told them to keep it a secret until after lunch when I would tell the rest of the class. When I made the announcement to the class they immediately broke into cheers and exclamations. One student enthusiastically asked, “Can you be our seventh grade teacher too?” The students’ reaction was a proud moment in my days as a teacher. There wasn’t a student in the class that wasn’t thrilled to hear they would have me again next year.
If that wasn’t enough validation, during parent-teacher conferences I had two separate parents tell me that they had planned on moving their child to another school for sixth grade, so that they could receive honors classes, but that once they found out that I would be their child’s teacher again, they decided to keep their child enrolled at our Elementary School. Another parent, whose daughter I had last year for fifth grade, was ecstatic that her son would have the opportunity to be in my classroom next year (as he is currently in another class).
What’s more, the school’s staff upon hearing that I am moving up a grade is upset! Our amazing secretary, the woman who runs the entire school and keeps everything organized, was upset, because she was planning on puttering her daughter in my fifth grade classroom. She actually pleaded with me, “Please don’t move up, I really want my daughter in your class. Where is she going to go now?” Another staff member at our school, a para-professional, who has a fourth grade daughter, was crushed to find out I won’t be teaching fifth grade next year. He said, “I wanted to make sure that she was in your class, now what do I do?” The final feather in my cap came from a fourth grade teacher whose opinion I greatly admire. He was the teacher who had my students the year before, and really worked them into a hard working class. He had told all of the parents at his conferences to request me as their child’s teacher for next year! That is such an incredible compliment to be coming from him. He actually came to my classroom and tried to persuade me to stay in the fifth grade. He asked, “What am I supposed to tell all those parents now?”
All of the praise really makes me understand that my hard work is valued by the students, parents, teachers, and staff, and I feel humbled. I guess all of those long hours of tireless work do get recognized eventually. It feels nice, but also makes me feel like I have a lot to live up to. I will always strive to become a more effective, more engaging, and more inspiring teacher.
I feel very confident in my decision to move up with my students. They are such an incredible group. We have grown so much as a class this year already – I cannot even imagine how much further we will be able to get with a whole other year. They will truly be ready for middle school, and hopefully, will continue to have teachers that drive them to stay focused on their goals. Two years of consistent pushing from me is going to be setting them up for the best fighting chance they will have. It will be up to them after that point.
I had one of my lowest performing, if not the most struggling student in my class write me a note today, asking if there are teachers who do their job for just money, and if I am one of those teachers. The directions on the note said circle one “yes” or “no” and return it before the end of the day.
I wrote down that yes there are some teachers who work for just money, and that yes I worked for money too, but I also teach because I believe that helping kids is one of the most important things in the world. When I returned the note to this student, he opened it up, smiled, and put the note in his desk. He has recently been showing huge improvements in class, and is actively curious in a way that wasn’t there in the beginning of the year. I am so looking forward to pushing him, and all of my studnets even further next year.