... but I'm NOT feeling 22, and I couldn't be more glad.
T-Swift obviously had a much different experience in her 22nd year than I did. While she spent year #22 dressing up like a hipster, keeping herself next to you, and, of course, dancing, I spent mine finishing student teaching, submitting 100,000 job applications, moving 800 miles, and jumping headfirst into my first year of teaching. I spent a lot of the year anxious and unsettled.
If you are a first-year teacher, fear not. A year can make a really big difference.
This time last year, I was totally paralyzed by the idea of having my own class (even though I shared it with a co-teacher). Although I had completed student teaching in 2 different classrooms and observed in many others, I had no idea how to go about being totally in charge. There are SO many things to think about. There are simple things like room arrangement, rules, scheduling, and organization, and also more complex concerns, like curriculum pacing, differentiation, behavior management, and dealing with the unique needs of my special ed kiddos within the regular education classroom. To top it all off, the only way to figure any of this out was in front of 31 kids who expected me to know what was going on. I made mistakes, friends, and messes.
Fast forward to this year. I know that I still have a LOT to learn. For one thing, I am starting the new year in a totally different grade level. (I was in 5th last year, and despite my request to stay in 4th or 5th I will be going to 2nd for this year- but change can be a great thing!) Even so, going into the second year is so much more exciting for me than going into the first year was. The general anxiety has subsided, and I know that if I survived last year, I can better than survive this one. I am still amped up about my job and I want very much to be good at it, so I've spent a lot of time reading other teachers' blogs and attending a couple of trainings. The same blogs overwhelmed me last year. I am now more able to take information and ideas from them without comparing myself to the "have-it-together" people I'm reading about. It's great to be starting with a sense of peace instead of insecurity.
Apologies to Taylor Swift, but I'm happy to have closed the door on 22 and glad to be feeling 23.
Tomorrow marks the beginning of my second year of teaching. It will also be my second year as a special education teacher in a full-day co-taught class. I've learned a lot of things since I began teaching, but one of the major lessons I've learned in my particular position is how to check my ego at the door.
As a special education teacher, it didn't surprise me at all when I was told that I'd be co-teaching all day. One of the major pillars of IDEA (special education legislation) is that students need to be educated in the least restrictive environment possible, which is, increasingly, the general education classroom. However, classrooms have traditionally had only one teacher, leaving students and their parents confused to find two. I should not have been surprised to find myself explained away as "the assistant," but I was. Surprised and hurt.
This year, I am lucky enough to be co-teaching with a wonderful second grade general education teacher. We both attended a co-teaching workshop in the summer. Both of our names were on the letter that informed students of their new homeroom. We wrote both names on everything in the classroom and even decided to share my afternoon hall duty to reinforce the appearance of our equality. I was so excited to begin a fresh new year, where no one viewed one of us as the "real" teacher.
We met our students and their parents one morning last week, and it didn't take long for me to realize:
Somehow, despite our careful portrayal of equality, they knew I was not the "homeroom" teacher. I have to say, I was a little crushed at first. Crushed to be asked "who I was with last year" and "what my role in the class" was.
And then I thought about it.
I was hurt because I wanted to be recognized as important, but they were asking questions because they were legitimately confused. I may be knowledgeable about inclusion, but for them it's brand new. So, I need to drop the ego and figure out how to best explain it, rather than sitting around with hurt feelings.
I haven't figured it out yet though, so this is an unresolved blog post.
May 23rd was the last day of school for students here, and teachers were finished on the 28th. At this point, I've been up north with my family for a few days and still can't believe that my first year is over. It's an incredibly weird feeling.
The last couple of weeks of school were a strange whirlwind. Fifth graders at the end of the school year are basically wild animals, and we had a LOT going on in those last few weeks- visiting the middle school, practicing locks, end of the year party, etc. I found myself in the strange position of REALLY wanting the end to come so that these crazy kids and I could have a break, yet being very sad that the little buggers would be moving on to the middle school, where I realistically probably won't see them again.
When the last day of school came, I did cry a couple of times. The first was because of a card one of my little darlings gave me. Now, this kid is my buddy. The birthday card he made me was featured in a previous post. He is by no means a writer, but he filled both sides of a card thanking me for helping him when he was confused, taking him outside to eat lunch, "bealing" (b-d reversal) with him when he got wound up, etc. The last line was "You are the best teacher I have had and will have. Thank you." You have to understand- I'm not trying to brag, or saying that I think I was truly the best teacher this kid has had- I am saying it because it totally humbled me. I worked really hard this year to keep up. I cried in the bathroom plenty of times and spent long hours writing lesson plans and progress reports. I was observed CONSTANTLY by both the school administration and people from the county. I struggled to keep up with co-teaching, small groups, preparing kids for standardized tests, data collection, Common Core, rigor, classroom management, etc etc etc. I dropped the ball plenty of times.
None of those things are what really mattered to this student. What mattered to him was that I helped him when he was lost, listened when he needed to talk, and read to him when he was bouncing off the walls. I reassured him that it's impossible to be literally scared to death and put band-aids on a lot of cuts. I loved this kid (and his 30 lovely classmates, too). That is what made the difference in his life this year. I know that I need all of those other things- the standards, the management, the lesson, the data- to be an effective teacher, and I am working on them. I was humbled to remember, though, that I entered this field not just to educate, but also to nurture and encourage. And that is one thing that I don't need any extra training or practice to do well.
My first year of teaching is winding its way to an end, and as I look back, I'm proud of a lot of it.
I'm proud that my students have made academic growth. I'm proud that one has significantly decreased his "blurt to hand raise" ratio. I'm proud of the relationships that we've built, the lessons we've learned together, and, after this crazy week, pretty proud that I survived the year.
I'm not proud of everything, though, not by a long shot, and about a week and a half ago I got a reminder that no matter how well things are going, we all do things we aren't proud of.
Let me set the scene for you: Fifth grade. End of the school year. My math class, which has never been known for its excellent behavior. A first year teacher who has never been known for her discipline. And not to make excuses, but I was feeling super crappy that day.
These kids would. not. stop. talking. I tried complimenting the well-behaved kids, tried raising my voice, tried "I can't do this for you and you need to take responsibility for your own learning" guilt. Every time I tried to teach, they were back to talking. And I yelled. I didn't just raise my voice. I yelled the way you yell when you are angry at someone. After that, I left the room and I cried.
Somewhere in the minute or so that I was out of the room, I remembered that they're 10 and I'm 23. And I went back in and taught math. They made me a card from construction paper that said "Sorry we were so loud" on the outside and "You are the best" on the inside. They all signed it.
So, now I have this yellow card in my bag, and I'm going to go ahead and hold onto it to remind me that I made it through this year- the proud moments and the not-so-proud ones all together.
A friend of mine from high school recently "pinned" this picture on her Pinterest:
I found it interesting, because as a special education teacher, my reaction to a "slow" reader asking to read is a little more like this:
I've been giving the Borat thumbs-up quite a bit in the past couple of weeks. I'm a co-teacher, which means I "push-in" (in my case, all day) to a regular education class to serve my special education students. Recently, I started pulling out a small group of kids for about 40 minutes a day to give them some more direct instruction in reading strategies and read a novel together. I thought they might resist a little since it makes them look different from the rest of the class, but I was totally wrong. They ask me allllll morning long when we're going to "that reading thing." They listen while we read, (thank you, Class Dojo) answer comprehension questions, and remember the strategies we talk about. It's a miracle.
Here's the best part, and the part that ties into the memes I opened with. These little darlings actually FIGHT over who gets to read aloud when we work on our novel. Sentences truly overheard in our classroom this week:
"But she got to read TWO pages already! That's so unfair!"
"I didn't get to read yet! I raised my hand quietly!"
"I don't want that page! It's too short!"
And why does whining about wanting to read warm my heart so much? I have the 7 lowest performing readers in the class in this small group. I have a little boy who, at the beginning of the year, told me he hated reading aloud because he sounded like a kindergartener. I have two girls for whom English is a second language. I have 3 boys with learning disabilities and one who won't read in the regular classroom without trying to use a funny accent. They skip lines, they leave out words, they mispronounce words. And then- they correct each other. They show each other the right line. They explain the things their friends don't understand.
Truly, those are the best 40 minutes of my day, and I don't care if they read 5 words a minute. I couldn't be prouder.
I had a birthday yesterday! I have to admit I'm not a huge birthday person, but do you know who does love a good birthday? Ten- and eleven- year- olds! I started the day with a meeting with parents, admin, and a LOT of other staff members, which was a blast. Following the meeting I went back to my classroom, where my lovely (and VERY rambunctious) math class sang Happy Birthday to me. Following their song, one of them asked me if it was my Sweet 16. Oh Lawd. I had a mature-looking pencil skirt on and everything.
A few of my most dedicated little people made me birthday cards, too. I swear- there is not a single card on the market as funny and sweet as what these children made for me.
So this child signed the card "From: Zachary," then apparently decided to add "Love: Zachary" at the top, then tried to scribble out the "love" part. But it's too late. Once you admit it, you can't take it back.
The inside of his card said "You are the 1st or 2nd best teacher I ever had." I will accept either position, but everyone knows that first is the worst and second is the best.
And the back: "Have a good one or not it's up to you." I have never
been given options regarding how to feel on my birthday. Most people just go around commanding people to have a good birthday. How refreshing.
Now this was another student. She asked me for an envelope at about 9 AM and then gave me the same envelope back with this note at approximately 9:02 AM. "I know it's last minute. I, honestly, didn't know it was your birthday until before math." Who taught that girl how to use a comma??? Oh wait, me.
Overall, it was a great day with some great people- kids and coworkers alike. Now on to state standardized testing- a whole different adventure.