|my first year|
If I were teaching this year, today would be the day I woke up, headed to school, and greeted my wonderful coworkers for our first in-service day. We would plan and discuss, dream and create, and pray for a little time to work in our classrooms alone. I would start drinking out of the community coffee-pot again, tease our secretary if the decaf wasn't ready [so I could make myself a half-caf], and pour in an obscene amount of powdered creamer.
If I were teaching this year, I would have seating arrangements ready, I would have fluffed my reading-corner pillows, and I would have new colorful, freshly laminated posters on the wall. I would have slid into each desk and prayed for each student that would be sitting in them this year.
If I were teaching this year, I would have freshly sharpened pencils in the community cup on my desk, markers organized by color in the craft bin, and new purple Papermates lining my drawers for the endless grading that awaited me. I would have novels lining my shelves, and a head full of ideas about how to get 17 year olds to invest in the characters in them.
If I were teaching this year, I would be creating curriculum that went beyond the text book and got kids out of their seats and moving around and interacting and discussing. I would think of ways to involve the kids that sit on the fringes; I would think of ways to get something out of the kid that fails for others. I would be preparing stories of my own to share, in order to get my students to feel like they could share their stories with me.
If I were teaching this year, I would be creating a space in which everyone could become a writer. I would be coming up with prompts and ideas to get our pens flying across the page, our fingers across the keyboard. I would remind myself to push them to write and write until they think they can't write anymore, only to discover that lying within them is still the best story yet to be written.
If I were teaching this year, I would remind myself to write in big lettering across the front of the room: IF YOU WRITE EVERYDAY, YOU GET BETTER AT WRITING EVERY DAY. I would remind myself that one of my number one goals is to teach kids to not be a afraid of a blank page-- teach them that everyone has a story to tell, and that their story is worth telling. I would remind myself to listen to them.
If I were teaching this year, we would open a book together and make a huge plot chart on the classroom wall and by the last page we would all feel a part of something bigger than ourselves. I would remind myself that THE TEST isn't everything, and that I teach STUDENTS and not just English.
If I were teaching this year, I would love my job with intensity, and pour myself into what went on inside my classroom's four walls. I would demand that it be filled with respect and laughter, learning and trying, discussion and safety.
If I were teaching this year, I would bust out the letter I wrote to myself when I made the decision to stay home two and a half years ago. I would read it, and remember why teaching is something I was born to do:
I'm writing this so that you remember just how much you love being a teacher. I am writing this so that you will remember that this is more than a job-- it is in your very marrow.
There will be days of frustration: the kids will be wound up, or cranky, or lethargic and the lesson will seem to fall flat. There will be days where the kids seem to pluck at all of your ever-lovin' last nerves. But hang on, keep coming back, because there will be even more days when the kids make you laugh, and you make them laugh, and it clicks and they understand why the protagonist of the story had to catch that bad break because all stories thrive on conflict. There will be days when that one student who you sometimes secretly hope is absent will be the one to say, "I look forward to your class everyday."
When parent teacher conferences come around again, be confident in your abilities and decisions. Establish relationships with parents BEFORE these meetings come around, so that when they ask about a certain grade, you are not defending yourself or disagreeing with them or painting their child in a bad light, but rather you are continuing a conversation that began weeks earlier. And when another parent rushes to your table, waving their daughter's End of Course scores in their hands, don't assume they've come to yell… because they may be coming to thank you and they may be coming to inform you, with tears in their eyes, that they never thought she would be able to score in the "basic" category for reading, but that she did it! And they will thank you for that accomplishment, and it's okay to get a little teary-eyed with them.
When you have a student that just can't seem to "get with the program," and you're about to throw in the towel, look for just ONE GOOD THING. And when she does that one good thing, whether it be remembering her book for class every.single.day that week, or only missing two on her quiz, or turning in her homework twice in a row, send a note home to let her parents/grandparents/stepparents know just how awesome you think she is. And then don't be surprised when she gets with the program.
Although there will be days you want to, don't yell at your students. You are only waisting your breath and their time. Just expect them to behave, at all times, always, the way you want them to, and they usually will do just that.
Pray for your students. When you are loving them and things are going well, thank God for them. When you are frustrated and exhausted, pray for them and for you.
Get involved in activities with them outside of the classroom. Be the teacher that they see show up to their ball games. It only makes sense that when you show up for stuff they care about, they will "show up" in your class.
Give them fair warning when you have a headache/stomach ace/back ache/or you just woke up on the wrong side of the bed. They will appreciate, and usually heed, this warning and both of your days will be smoother because of it.
If they don't LOVE writing, or the novel you're reading, or the project that's taken you days to prepare for, it's okay. You can still be excited about it and even if they don't buy into it, they'll appreciate your passion. And on the flip side, when you're teaching grammar, or Puritan literature, or something else obscure that you HAVE to cover, be honest with them that they may be bored to tears, but that you're all just going to pretend like it's fun. They'll appreciate your candidness.
Trust your students. And don't just fake-trust them, really trust them. They can tell the difference. The same goes for respect.
Create a routine in your classroom that works for each class. What works for one group, may not work for the group next hour. Be open and flexible. But still create a routine.
Make sure your classroom is a safe place for everyone. Make sure everyone feels validated. Make sure everyone knows it is not okay to laugh at someone else's expense. And the first time that happens, make sure you deal with it publicly, sternly, even vehemently, so that all present can see that you are serious about everyone being in a safe place. But beyond that, deal with conflict in private. If a student misbehaves, stop the action, but confront them about it one on one. They will be surprised by your control, but even more surprised that you've taken away their audience.
Share your life with them. Don't expect them to be open with you if you are not open with them.
Be creative. Don't settle for bookwork when a hands on activity can accomplish the same lesson. Don't make them sit in their seats when they could be writing on the sidewalks or walls. Don't make them stay awake through a lecture when they could be interacting with one another in conversation that will teach them the same thing.
Remember you are good at what you do. They can tell when you are confident, and they want you to be confident.
And above all, remember that nothing done in love is ever wasted.
If I were teaching this year, I would regret not being home with Blythe and Becks. The first days always sting a little, when the big yellow bus drives by and I know I'm not there to greet the kids. But I will be back. I will love teenagers in my classroom again, and teach them to read and write and communicate and sit in community with them. But until then, good luck to the rest of you that have chosen this wonderful profession on your first days back: nothing done in love is ever wasted.