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….
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.