Every July and August the memes start. You know the ones about teachers trying to get into their classrooms as the school is still being cleaned. (Come on, the school couldn’t be THAT dirty, could it???) While most of us really need that summer break, even if it is spent working other jobs, the knowledge that school is about to start is a rush for two very different reasons.
First, there is that moment when you realize school is only a few days/weeks away and you are just getting into your classroom. Whether you consider yourself crafty or creative or not, there is pressure (whether it comes from within or from school culture) to have the “perfect” classroom. Don’t the kids deserve it? Don’t you deserve to have an environment that is pleasing to you as you go to work every day? There are so many pictures in various teacher groups showing off their finished classrooms. Some of these are theme based, (hello Harry Potter and cactus!) while others are decorated plainly but effectively. Some are lucky (or unlucky depending on your perspective) to have hallway bulletin boards or doors to decorate. Some have a wall of windows that leads to less space inside the classroom to fill. Then there is the planning for the school days. This alone can take several days and is made worse if you are changing schools, classrooms, or grade levels.
When my kids were little and came into the classroom with me to decorate, I would spend half a day (about as long as their patience of mom working would last) doing as much as I could for as many days as my admin would let me. I could stretch this out for two weeks ideally. As they got older and I worked on my own, I could still spend two weeks getting everything ready. What this really looked like was the first week of actually working in the classroom. The second week, once my colleagues returned, was full of the latest gossip and catching up. Mind you this was pre-social media and teachers didn’t know anything about what their peers did over the summer anymore than the students. Now we don’t get into our classrooms until maybe a week before class starts. This means decorating/planning/preparing on our own time at the same time we are trying to enjoy those last days of summer. Hence the rush.
The other rush is that feeling you get knowing you are about to start another year. What will your students be like? Will you be the teacher they need? Will they be ready for what you have to teach them? As you sit down to plan out the year, it’s a perfect time to change up what you do. Bring in more tech, start morning meetings, connect with other classrooms around the globe. There are so many possibilities. It’s a chance to get rid of that lesson that really hasn’t been working but you continue to try anyway. Or take a risk and finally try that one thing that has intrigued you. One of the best things about teaching is that you get a fresh start every year. Not sure there are many other careers where this happens. The rush that teachers get on that first day of school, even if it’s partially hidden by nerves, is one of the reasons we get into this profession. It’s also one I hope to never lose, no matter how long I’m teaching.
(If you haven’t read my original post, That Kid, please take a moment to do so.)
A week ago the school year ended. It was a tough one for a variety of reasons. I was glad to see it end, but it also meant I would no longer have THAT KID in my class. He had been there in one way or another for the last three years. When it came time to culminate and end their sixth grade year, I cried. Not because I would miss him, although I will greatly, but because I was so proud of how far he had come.
“Charlie” ended up being an integral part of our Student Tech Squad. I relied on him for any problem the other students (and usually I) couldn’t fix. The other kids recognized his worth in more than just tech, and he became pretty popular with many of his classmates. (Not too bad for the kid that used to be labeled a bully and was everyone’s scapegoat!).
As I spoke to him and his family after the ceremony (my eyes full of the same tears I saw reflected in his mother), I was struck with the connection we had made. I reflected on our not-so-great beginnings together and it made all of us laugh. I shared how proud I was of his accomplishments and how I hoped he would continue to rely on his strengths as he moved to the middle school. His grandmother credited me as a good teacher and that was what had made a difference. I think it was more than that.
When students come into your lives (because they are never just “in your class”), we try to find a way to make connections to relate to what they are going through so that the curriculum can be made more personal and understandable. This is a lofty goal that is often difficult to achieve with every student in your class. That doesn’t mean we don’t keep trying. It’s because of these connections that the students are able to learn from us. Whether you reach one student for just one day or make a lasting one (like I believe I have with THAT KID), it’s these connections that make the difficult days or years worth it for both you and the kids.
Charlie may no longer be in my class, but he will be one I will remember always. Hopefully I have made a positive lasting impression on him as well.
For the last several years I have helped various teachers around our campus, district and state with changing their teaching through conferences, Twitter and various conversations (and possibly this blog). This year I did decided I wanted to do it more formally and became an Induction (the program our state requires for first and second year teachers) Mentor for a teacher just starting her career. It has been an interesting journey for few reasons.
1. While I reflect when I write this blog or participate in Twitter chats, being a mentor forced me to really look at ALL of my practices, not just the big stuff. I love sharing all the exciting things we´re doing in the classroom and at our school, but what about those little things that matter for the good or bad. I had to look at the everyday occurrences to help explain them to my candidate. We are told we should reflect on what we do, but how often do we really do it. Mentoring someone else helped me see the importance of this.
2. I had to remember what it was like to begin my career. I have a very strong beginning teacher to mentor. She does well with classroom management and intuitively understands the importance of relationships with her students. (This was a relief to me as I had no idea what I was getting into when I decided to try this.) However, I had forgotten how overwhelming it can be to figure out how to teach the curriculum with a class full of eager students (mostly) ready to learn from you! Apparently I had really forgotten this.
The other night we had our last official meeting for the year, which was all about reflecting. As we were getting ready to leave, she shared with me that I had scared her a little when we first met. If you´ve read my blog, you know how I am all about doing things differently and not depending on the textbook to teach the students. Well, maybe I shared that a little too much with her. I wanted her to think outside the box. Step away from the textbook and do what best suits her students. I was essentially trying to take away her lifeline. I forgot what it meant to not have a clue what you are supposed to be doing. How that textbook might be the only thing that reminds you what you are supposed to be teaching. It is only through experience that you feel confident enough to create new lessons that benefit everyone.
3. It’s important to listen. When you start the mentoring process there is a lot of looking for advice. New teachers have a lot of questions. The trick is learning when to answer, when to collaborate and when to just listen. Just like in the classrooms, the one who does the most talking is also the one that does the most learning. There were times I stepped in and needed to give specific information or guidance. These were rare and usually to ease her stress about how much of the book to get through before state testing. There were several times where we could collaborate.Her ideas would spark my own and both of our classes were better for it. However, most of the time, I just needed to listen. In order for her to reflect and get better, she needed to talk through her experiences. My role was to ask a few questions to get deeper reflection. This was hard for both of us in the beginning. I think we got the hang of it by the end though. The good thing is we get to try again next year. We don’t usually get this chance with our students. We need to learn to listen and guide them early in the year because our time with them is limited. Students need a chance to reflect on their experiences in a variety of ways. We, as teachers, need to be their coaches and guide them through the process. This happens best when we are listening to what they have to say.
There are so many things we can learn when we share with others. Mentoring a new teacher gives us an opportunity to use our experiences to help shape a new generation of teachers and classrooms.
The last thing my candidate shared with me was that even though she felt overwhelmed and a little scared of me in the beginning, she was glad I pushed her. She realized her own strength and is now sharing what she knows with others. (That makes both of us very proud!) Did this process add more to my plate? Definitely. Was it worth every minute? Definitely.
20+ year teacher, mother of 2 kids and 2 dogs, wife, lover of all things M&M, interested in tech in the classroom, and changing up my teaching