Monday, July 22, 2013

A Teacher's Journey

Hello friends, family, and other people who might have at one point read this blog. I'm back, and based on what has traditionally happened, this may be my last post for another two years; hopefully not. I'm going to give you the short version of what has been going on. Lots of changes, lots of time. Almost exactly 1 year and 11 months ago was my last post. So I will begin there (and I promise, it will be quick terribly long, but worth it...)

August 2011, I started working at Stanley Elementary as a Para like my last post explained. I felt very discouraged at first. I wanted to be a teacher, and I didn't understand at first why that wasn't happening. I know now how much I needed this experience at Stanley. It is what truly formed me into a teacher. I. Loved. This. Job. I almost want to go back to being a para...that's how much I loved it. (Teaching and being around children, without the planning and the meetings! Too bad it doesn't pay very well.) My responsibilities were to help out in a particular Kindergarten class with about a 60% ESL population. My other responsibility was to shadow a student who had difficulty following the rules, and liked to throw tantrums. My first day on the job, (I wish I had blogged about this two years ago) I lost him. He ran out of the classroom, out of the school, and I ran to catch him. I did, thank goodness, but this little boy didn't just run away that day, he ran straight into my heart. It didn't matter how frustrating it was, or how much I cried because it was so difficult to handle, I'll never forget him. I'll never forget the way that he changed me, it is because of him that I am the teacher I am today (sorry, spoiler! I did eventually become a teacher!)

I love everything about those kids, and teaching them gave me the direction I needed, put me on the path to really want this. It was so difficult. I can't adequately express how difficult it was, but it was also the most rewarding. The small progress I made seemed like a triumph and I was finally fitting into my role, and loving it. I found myself wanting to change the way that the teacher of the Kindergarten class did things, but I had no power to do that. I was worried about not having a teaching job yet, but I just kept telling myself that this was exactly what I needed.

Fast forward to January 2012. Still a para, (now one without a gallbladder, long story that does not contribute to the point of this post), and still in the same room. I was approached by my principal. They had an opening for a long term substitute in first grade. The teacher had retired unexpectedly, and would I take that position. I debated. I loved my position, my kindergarten class. This would be much harder, and not much more pay for the hours I would work. Would it be worth it? I prayed. I read my scriptures. I talked to Jon. I talked to my parents. I talked to my colleagues. I eventually decided that this was my chance. If I wanted to be a teacher, this was my shot at doing what I wanted to do!

I accepted. In February I began another life changing position. I took on what was dubbed to be "the most difficult class" in the school. They had been through 3 different teachers already! Why would I be any different? My first day teaching these kids, we sat in a circle and I told them they could ask me anything they wanted and I would answer truthfully. One child asked, "Are you going to leave us?" I choked up at that innocent question. A child who had obviously been hurt by other teachers leaving her. I answered truthfully; "I won't leave you. Next year in second grade you'll have a different teacher, but I'm not leaving until the end of this school year." I kept my promise.

I can only describe the next month of my life as difficult horrifying hell. I suppose I'm exaggerating a bit, but I seriously questioned my decision to take on that class, and my role as a teacher. I inherited a disastrous mess of a room, which only got messier as I was busy with two jobs, my family and trying to retrain a class of 16 terrors. Terrors who had gotten away with doing anything they wanted to for the last two months.

I. Cried. Every. Day. For two weeks, every time those kids left the room for specials, lunch, or recess my eyes would let out the frustration, pain and stress I felt from teaching. I even cried in front of them once (but I made it seem like something else made me cry...) How could this be enjoyable? Was this really what I wanted? I put together rules and expectations and, of course, consequences for breaking those rules. ALL of them broke my rules and pushed my buttons, and so I had to follow through with my consequences. Office referrals, lost recesses, and time outs galore. But in the end, it was worth it. The last two months of teaching were amazing. The bonds that I made with these students will never be forgotten. Even now I tear up when I think of my first real class. My first parent-teacher conferences. My first babies. I love them so much my heart can't hold it all. They taught me so much those four months. They taught me what it truly means to be a teacher.

And at the end of that year, I learned that I wouldn't be returning to Stanley next year. I was not technically a teacher in the district, so other teachers had preference over me. I was majorly bummed out, but I knew what I needed to do. I sent out applications like crazy, knowing now that this really was where I was meant to be, and knowing that I had what it took to be a great teacher. A colleague once told me that you can learn to do lots of the things that teachers do. You can learn to plan lessons, you can learn how to control the classroom using behavior management techniques, and you can learn how to teach so that the kids really do learn! But there is one thing that you cannot teach someone, and that is how to love teaching. How to love your students. Love them so much you'd do just about anything for them. That is how I feel. I'm definitely an imperfect teacher, but I LOVE my kids.

I had several interviews that spring and summer of 2012. A few in Wichita, one in Maize, one in Derby. And then I had one in Andover. When I got the call for Andover, (and a FIRST GRADE position) I thought NO WAY! This is the most sought after district. High test scores, well behaved students, and good pay. There are teachers who have taught for years in Wichita who have applied for jobs in Andover year after year and don't get called. You have to know someone to get a job there. I called up a friend of a friend who teaches there and asked her EVERYTHING about Andover. She answered my questions and helped prep me for my interview. It was time.

The interview went really well. Oddly enough, nothing that I had discussed with this Andover teacher had come up in the interview, but I poured my heart and soul into it, just as I had done with the other interviews. I only remember telling them about my experience as a long-term substitute, and how it had changed me as a person and as a teacher (I even teared up a bit, I can't help it!). I remember focusing on my love of teaching, and my love for those children. I left feeling great, and got a call 5 hours later offering me the job. And guess what? I didn't know anyone in Andover. I had no ties to this district. :) Go me!

I was on my way to another interview (my principal laughed about this later; she told me I didn't seem too excited about it...maybe cause I was distracted driving to another interview...haha) and once the shock wore off, I accepted. Then I called Jon to tell him and ask him what to do about the other interview. ;) I don't think I did very well, as I interviewed in Derby, but I did try to do a good job. I was just too dang excited about my job offer!

In August 2012 I became a first grade teacher at Martin Elementary. I was so nervous for Orientation, and Meet Your Teacher Night, but I found that the last year of being a para and a substitute really helped me gain the skills I needed to be a great first year teacher. It was an adjustment teaching at a school that was 3% free and reduced lunch, rather than Stanley; 97% free and reduced lunch. These kids didn't need me as much as my other students, and they had so much more advantages which made teaching much easier. I found myself looking for ways to challenge them and changing things up as I went along. But those 20 kiddos ran straight into my heart as well, and I did what I do best. I loved them. I put my heart into teaching them, just like I promised I would in my interview.

Later I asked my teammates why they chose me. They told me many things, but ultimately it was my experience with that first grade class at Stanley that stuck with them. They said that they knew immediately after I left that I was the one. I love those ladies so much, two of my best friends now. We've been through a lot together as a team. And I will miss them so much this year!

I'm still working at Martin, but this year I will be a Kindergarten teacher. I will miss First Grade, I will miss my teammates, I will miss my classroom (I had the *perfect* classroom set up....), but I'm excited to share my love with the new children who will be entering my life. Teaching is not for everyone. Don't let someone tell you that it's the greatest job or the easiest job, because it's not. But when you are called to do something in life, you don't have a choice but to accept, and I was called to be a teacher. I don't know what the future will bring, especially as Jonathan and I have kids of our own. I don't know what jobs I will have over the years, but I can tell you this much. I will always be a teacher. There are certain parts about yourself that you can't change, and this is one part that I never want to change.

Bring it on Kindergarten!

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