4 years and change. Endless hours of homework, essay writing, field experience hours, stress filled days of student teaching, and the nervous nellying over getting a job. All those roads lead to one final exit – Teaching. I’ve made it two weeks and two days. I’m starting my third week as I write this entry. What can I tell you? Everything.
There is something to being 36 years old and taking the short walk from my desk in the back of the room to the front of the room where I stand in front of my first class for the first time. Those first few hours are full of nervous energy – lightening crackling from the heavens on every nervous move, word, or glance – from me the teacher and my students. I am charged with the education and care of over a hundred 6th graders – and I can tell you with confidence were kin in our feelings. They were nervous to be in a new building with over 600 other students. I was nervous to be in my first new building. They were worried about how they were going to fit in with all their fellow students from other elementary schools. I was worried if I would fit in with my new colleagues. They were scared of what middle school portended – they have heard the stories, seen the movies, and been given witness by the past citizens of the halls – witness that middle school is the worst thing since the worst thing was ever invented. I was in similar fits – I had heard the same scary stories and tall tales told of how terrible middle school students – except this time from the teachers in my fold.
But here’s the thing that got us all through those first few minutes, hours, and days – we were all in it together. Nervousness. Fear. Anxiety. Worry. When I polled the same students after those first few days in the halls about how they were feeling about middle school, I got an overwhelming change in the results – yes middle school is a whole new world but it is not as bad as the stories make it out to be. Even now I see in my students that confidence returning – or in some cases being awakened. With that is their striking out on their own, deciding who they will be as a sixth grader.
The first two weeks are where you’re on your own for the first time. No mentor teacher. Nobody is there to step in when you drive the teaching ship asunder. Nobody is there to help plan your lessons. You are the teacher of record. And I have been for the last two weeks. It has been exhilarating planning, executing, reworking, redoing, and rebuilding my lessons in the moment and on the fly. I have concerned myself thus – I will not self immolate on the failures in our classroom. I will adjust the scaffolding that wraps metaphorically around my teacher persona and continue to build, adjust, and rework who I am as a teacher. I look at each messy moment as a chance to get better, understand my student’s educational needs better, and to never stop learning how to teach, educate and mentor. There are equal moments of anxiety, fear, nervousness – don’t think I’m suggesting it’s all sunshine, rainbows, and the occasional unicorn.
Teaching is a tough job. It’s a job that asks much of you in those first few days, weeks, and months. I’m sure there’s plenty more struggle coming and plenty more construction work on my teaching journey – but I do know that I find the greatest joy in those small moments when my students say good morning to me or goodbye to me. I find immeasurable happiness when a classroom discussion or conversation reveals in my students an sudden interest or passion. Studying Rosa Parks and her story brought forth confusion, anger, indignation, and a discussion of a time not that far from us and the forced segregation of a people only different from anyone in the color of their skin.
I learned to listen in those two weeks. When a student asked about the “Latin” population during the civil rights movement – I took a moment and said, “You know what, I’ll find out.” We’re now going to talk about Sylvia Mendez who as a young student fought together with her family to make a case to break the segregation of people groups in California. A woman who was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama. We’re going to talk about those who helped in the civil rights movement, those that are still helping, and how we as readers and writers can look for ways to make an impact on our own for the rights and freedoms of those around us and beyond.
I’ve got many months ahead of me and lots of work to be done. But I know I can do it. I’m looking forward to continuing to share what I’ve learned, what I will learn, and how I will learn with you. After all, if I’m to be any good at life long learning, I should share my discoveries in hopes you’ll find something useful to apply to your craft – teaching or otherwise.