Sunday, February 23, 2014

Fake It Till You Make It

“I’m going to tell you a secret about everyone else’s job: No one knows what they’re doing. Deep down, everyone is just faking it until they figure it out. And you will, too, because you are awesome and everyone else sucks.” -April Ludgate, Parks and Recreation

"I've read a lot of books, so I know bunches of stuff that sounds like it could be true.” -Brian Andreas

Time for a little honesty here. Something I try not to let on to my students' parents, or my principal, the other teachers at my school, interviewers, the panel reviewing my masters inquiry project, guys I'm trying to impress, or least of all my students: I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I'M DOING.

I'm not trying to brag--writing cover letters is painful for me because I feel so un-genuine talking myself up, but here it is: I will have a masters of education very shortly, in which I have thus far received full credit on every assignment. I did extremely well (4.0) in my credential program. I have never failed a class, was in the top 10% of my high school class, graduated cum laude from undergrad, and consider myself decently intelligent. I am passionate about my job and the importance of education. I should be nailing this teaching thing, right?

It's terrifying to find yourself in uncharted waters, in a position that you want, that you chose to be in, that is surprisingly out of your comfort zone. I know that next year I will be a much better teacher. More confident from day one, and actually have an idea of what to expect. I will have a better idea of the end goal, which will help me know what, when I run out of time, I can cut from my schedule. I will have a better idea of how to teach--and reteach--and set clear expectations from the beginning. I still won't be perfect, I will still question my choices, and face challenging students. But I will have a little fuller of a toolbox to pull from.

But I still have to make it through this year and get hired back. I still have my group of kinders who need all the help and attention I can muster to be prepared for 1st grade. I still feel miles behind the other teachers at my school, who seem to effortlessly control their classes, and demand the behavior that I'm trying so hard for my children to exhibit. They seem to know what to do, and what to say to parents, peers, and administration. I feel like I'm just stumbling through, one day at a time, hoping not to do something too stupid. I have a long ways to go. I know it's not fair (to quote something I saw on pinterest) to compare my Chapter 1 with someone else's Chapter 20, but it's hard not to. I often have to take a deep breath and remind myself of this. And I luckily have a lot of supportive friends and family who are so patient in letting me vent and reassuring me that I'm probably doing okay.

And in light of all this, here's a primer for those of you with teacher friends: 12 things you should never ever say to teachers. I know you mean well, but my goodness do most of these ring true. If I've learned anything this year, is that teaching is ever so challenging, rewarding, and never what you assume it to be.

Friday, February 14, 2014

This is Why I Teach

"There are lives I can imagine without children but none of them have the same laughter and noise." -Brian Andreas

"Children make your life important". -Erma Bombeck

There are a lot of small moments in teaching that remind me why I teach. I feel like I complain and vent a lot about my experience--it's easier to think of what's not going well, and my perceived failures. I don't feel like a successful teacher a lot. It's good to remind myself of things I actually get right.

Our current theme is "Words and Roads Take Us Places." It's about communication and transportation. How fitting then, that I got a letter this week from one of my students from last year. If there's one thing I know my second graders last year learned, was how to write a friendly letter. Every week they would write a letter to my resident teacher or me in a journal, and we would write back. It was such a great way to build a relationship with the students, and allow students to write and grow at their own pace (woo differentiation!)

My masters inquiry is about emergent writing. Research backs up the need for writing to be meaningful and authentic in order to engage students and promote growth, and I realize that those friendly letter journals were perfect. Letters were tangible, and they got something in return. The more they put in, the more they got back. Three of my students wrote letters this year and gave them to my resident teacher, and she passed them along to me. I returned the favor, and my resident teacher gave those students an addressed, stamped envelope so that they could mail their letters this time.

I LOVE snail mail, and if there's anything that's better than getting mail, it's getting a handwritten letter from a student. I haven't had the opportunity to visit them this year, because I have yet to have a day off when they don't, but the second I do (spring break, I believe), you can bet I'll be visiting. That my students remember me--the student teacher--and think highly enough of me to write a letter a year later, means the world to me. It reinforces the notion that what I'm doing makes a difference, and makes an impact.

Finally, Happy Valentine's Day! There is no better profession to be in than teaching when it comes to Valentine's Day, because you are never without a Valentine, or 30. 

A rose can say "I love you",
orchids can enthrall,
but a weed bouquet in a chubby fist,
yes, that says it all.

-Author Unknown

Sunday, February 2, 2014

100 Days Smarter

“Look at children. Of course they may quarrel, but generally speaking they do not harbor ill feelings as much or as long as adults do. Most adults have the advantage of education over children, but what is the use of an education if they show a big smile while hiding negative feelings deep inside? Children dont usually act in such a manner. If they feel angry with someone, they express it, and then it is finished. They can still play with that person the following day.” -Dalai Lama XIV

I have been teaching for 100 days! It's a big day in kindergarten, the 100th day. In my class we have been adding one piece of a 100-piece puzzle to the board each day--and today the puzzle was finished. Just about every single activity we did today- read-alouds, math, writing, snack-had to do with the number 100. And with the excitement of it being a special day, meant that there was more buy-in from the kids. Really a lovely way to end the week.
100 Days, 100 Snacks
It's good to end things on a high note and remember the positives. One of my students told me, for the second time this week, that I am the best teacher ever. It's sweet, and possibly nice that these kiddos don't have perspective or other teachers to compare me to, so yeah, I may be the best. But still, it's important to realize that my kindergarteners view what goes on in class very differently than I do.

I suppose this is the upside to my dilemma of attempting logic with my kindergarteners. I haven't quite cracked the kindergarten code--classroom management is HARD, and trying to explain WHY my students should behave appropriately is often lost on them because I'm using logic and talking about long term consequences, and effects of behavior on others, when developmentally speaking, these students are still egotistic and unable to process certain logic the way older students are. Most of the time this is something I gripe about, but it also means that my students interpret what goes on in class differently from me. That when I end a day thinking, man, that was tough and kind of terrible, they leave, happy. They give me a high five, or a hug, or tell me they love me.

It's my students who simultaneously make me question whether I really should be a teacher, challenge me daily, and cause me great amounts of stress, while they remind me of why I'm a teacher, why I'd rather have no other job, and why I'm passionate about what I do. Yes, my students are 100 days smarter, but hey, so am I. And as much as I complain and question, I love my students. And amazingly enough, I believe they love me too, and that's what makes it all worthwhile.

Here's to tomorrow, day 101. And to many day 100s to come.

If there's something strange in your neighborhood...

Youth is wasted on the young. -George Bernard Shaw

Teaching kindergarten is easily the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. I've thought a lot about what grade may be the right fit for me. On one hand, I love working with the younger kids--they are so loving and their drama is relatively straightforward. On the other hand, the content you get to explore with older kids, especially in literature and social studies topics would be so much fun and interesting to explore. Once you've passed that learning to read stage, and are reading to learn, you can do so much more, and a wealth of opportunities open up for activities and discussions you can have. 

Older kids also have both more cultural capital and a higher likelihood of understanding and appreciating puns and references. So, in the spirit of brevity and levity, here's a little anecdote from my teaching that's on the lighter side:

I have a couple of students who I have had to send to other classrooms or the office to take a break, or finish work in an environment removed from the stimulation, comfort, and distraction in my classroom. One day, I reach the end of my rope, and walk to the phone. The kids know what this means, and one little boy (the boy who most often needs the break), asks, "Who you gonna call?"

I couldn't resist. The wording was perfect. The answer is yes. Yes I did respond with "Ghostbusters".

He was confused, I said never mind, and moved on, but was secretly mildly disappointed that no one was around who could appreciate the awesomeness of that moment.