I’ve got this!

I was lucky enough to have a classroom next door to a veteran teacher, ‘Dawn’. I learned quickly that her daughter was the same age as myself, and I quickly became known as her ‘work daughter’. I loved this role. During the first few weeks, I knew that even though I felt clueless, I always had someone keeping an eye on me, whether I knew it or not. She was at school bright and early with me, and stayed until the end of the day until I felt I was ready to go home.

Under her wing was where I took my place and I never left. I had millions of questions, comments, concerns, confusions, anecdotes…They never ended, and she never once turned me away or made me feel I was silly. I could interrupt the middle of her math class and she would take time to help me. The best work-mom I could have asked for.

I learned a lot in those first few weeks. I was teaching a split class, 3/4, and when I would question or investigate into how to teach both grades, I was told ‘just do the grade 3 stuff’…Oh…Alright…Perfect, less confusion for me, smaller work load….I figured I could handle it for sure.

It didn’t take me long to realize that the students, even with the split, were not at the level they should have been. I had at least 4 students reading below a level D (Fountas and Pinell if you’re familiar with it). Not one child was developmentally where they ‘should’ have been. I was figuratively banging my head against the wall trying to figure out how to get them to learn in any other subject areas when they “couldn’t read”….I say couldn’t, not because they actually couldn’t, but it was such a struggle. They might have been able to get through a few words on a page, but there was little comprehension.  I was never even upset with them, just frustrated at how much they had to have missed to have gotten this far in school and not know basic words like ‘know’, ‘again’, ‘coast’, ‘solution’, etc. It was a challenge for me to adapt what I thought my teaching style was supposed to be, to a more hand-over-hand, ‘spoon-fed’ style. Spoon-feed…I hate that term, I feel like I’m literally scooping up a spoonful of words and force-feeding them into the mouths of the students in my class, encouraging them to regurgitate them.

One of my values, probably the most important one, not even as a teacher, I learned from dad. He used to say to me, pouting and crying over my problem-solving at 11 years old, “I’m not going to give you the answer, that doesn’t teach you anything!” I remember being so mad, SO MAD that he wouldn’t help me…But now, at 26 years old in my first classroom, I say to you, Dad….

Truth…Hella TRUTH!

Handing out answers does not help anyone! I had to go back to square one with these kids…Is there a before-square-one? If so, I had to go there. For 4-5 years these kids were given answers, either because someone didn’t have it in them to keep fighting the ‘find it on your own’ fight, or because there was zero effort by, or purpose for, the kids doing the work.

I spent FOREVER explaining to these students what it meant to look for answers. To actually read a question before you raise your hand asking for help. I’m not exaggerating, months were spent were every class of the day I would ask, “Have you read the problem? Did you look for the key words in the reading?”…Most of the time I needed that wine with my supper to let  it go….But there were days that came where I raised that glass to myself with a pat on the back being ever so thankful that one kid understood what I was trying to say.

“I’m not going to give you the answer, but I will help you find it for yourself.” My mantra…Every day…And I had to be consistent, no matter how tired, frustrated, distracted, or angry I got.

And then one day….

“No C!! That’s not what you do! Miss said you don’t give them the answers! You have to HELP them!”

*Cue hymnal music*     The skies had opened up and the rays of glorious sun shone down upon my students! 😉

They got it…They understood! All it took was for one of them to understand me, and then she taught someone else, and before I knew it, they were all helping each other! Reminding each other of HOW to help one another.

It was a beautiful moment.

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What have I gotten myself into?

After my first week at my new school, I realized it was going to be nothing like all my other teacher friends had been trying to prepare me for.

I wasn’t sure what I anticipated, but after the first week, I realized that it didn’t matter. I quickly came to realize that my expectations, positive or negative, were never on the right path. One of the biggest things that I did not expect, but was pleased to see, was that the school served breakfast and lunch. Now, I have experienced Apple schools before, but this was different. It was hard to wrap my head around the fact that for some kids, the only time they ate was at school.

Let me tell you something, those kids were the most self-less individuals I have ever encountered. Any one of them would give you the shirt off their back in a heartbeat. More often than not, there was hardly enough food provided to give each student ‘enough’, and yes, I mean by Canada Food Guide expectations. And it didn’t matter if these kids were still hungry, if someone else asked for more and there wasn’t any, they still shared. They would give up their favorite part of the meal to someone who asked for more.

They didn’t have much awareness of manners, if I stopped and waited with that face…You know it…That teacher-face that says “I’ll wait… For the please or thank you”…They didn’t know what that face meant. It took a lot of explaining. Don’t get me wrong, these kids weren’t being rude! No, no, no…They just didn’t know!

They taught me as well. I learned manners in their language. And, months later, I still am working on it every day. I wait for it to become natural, but it is always a conscious effort.

Putting the children aside (figuratively), I had no clue what I was doing. I had no idea where the previous teacher had left off with her curriculum, and my wonderful $40 000 piece of paper had really taught me nothing about what I should be doing. I was lost, confused, and felt the frustration rising.

I had been spending lots of time with D again, now that we had ‘reconciled’, and although he was supportive of my field, he was full of “I told you so’s” and with every great idea he gave me, there was a negative ‘why bother’ aspect to it as well. I wasn’t sure where to go for help in the situation I was in.

And then I made a friend….

What am I doing here?

Be patient… I’m new to this…I’m sure I’ll figure it out as I go along! Til then, I shall natter, I think my friends might agree it’s one of the things I’m extremely good at.

 If you haven’t read my tiny blurb about myself, that’s okay, I don’t judge. I’m 26, female, Albertan, and I’m a first year teacher crashing through life in an entirely unfamiliar environment.  60+ job applications sent out over summer (post-grad) and early fall; I didn’t recieve a single response until my principal called me for an interview. Less than a week later and I was falling head first into the biggest mess I could have imagined.

That was just the start of what I hope to be a long and happy career. I still had a personal life. D, that story, long, confusing, full of love and anger, hot ‘exercise’… He had just told me a few weeks prior to my exciting phone call that he cared more than I knew. Then went weeks without responding to me. All of the anticipation and anxiety I was feeling I couldn’t share with the one person I wanted to!

How do I segue? No clue, my second day in the classroom, he sent me a message and seduced me over for a visit with a dozen multi-colored roses, and that was, what I thought, the beginning of getting everything I wanted.

Bounce back to day 1 in the classroom. I’ll never forget it. It was the first day back after a week off in November, right after progress reports and interviews had happened. 3/4 split. The room…Ohhhhh the room! I wanted to throw up just looking at it! It.Was.Disgusting. Moldy buns from the feast before they left, pencils/crayons/markers everywhere! Desks randomly scattered about the room. The corner of the room where the previous teacher had her desk, it was piled SHOULDER high with stuff! Not even supplies or materials! Just stuff! The neat-freak, slightly OCD brain of mine couldn’t handle it! That very first day the students and I spent 6 entire hours cleaning, disinfecting, garbaging, wiping, building, moving….Everything we could get our hands on. I’ll have to see if I can find some pictures..Figure out how to add those…

I’m sure the students thought I was off my rocker..Who’s this girl and what the hell is she doing? Telling us what to do? What?…But I stuck to my guns…That whole first week was rehabilitation and restoration of what had the potential to be a great space containing great kids. It took that whole week for me to find comfort in that room, countless Lysol wipes, bottles of hydration (the H2O kind 😉 ), staples, laminating….I could go on and on! But by the end of that week, not only could I relax, but I felt like my students were as well.

I implemented what I knew from when I was a child as a reward system, P.A.T, or Preferred Activity Time. Basically, you add or subtract points (equivalent to minutes) throughout the week, and on Friday, they get however many minutes on the plus side to have ‘free time’. It worked really well, except for that one student…That one poor boy, C, who just couldn’t sit still and lost points for the whole class. They didn’t like that very much. But it got me through the month leading up to Christmas break, and for that I was thankful.

Is this a long post? I’m not sure…I’ll end this one here for now