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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

WORST TEACHER in the building

Do you remember your first time climbing a fence as a child? It seemed like a challenge worth taking. Up close, when you are small and trying to climb it is scary. You're looking up and trying to make sure you have good footing. On a chain-link fence, there is also the challenge of your fingers gripping the wires and feeling that pressure of holding your own body weight. Finally getting to the top and looking down was not the best view to have for me either as someone who discovered she is afraid of heights. This is the best way I can describe what my first few years of teaching was like: a challenge met with a bit of unexpected fear, but finally getting over the initial climb and taking the jump from the top.

Running Toward the Fence from a Distance
When I graduated from college I was eager to start teaching back home. Unfortunately, it took a while before I was placed in a school. November to be exact. I started teaching in a middle school IN NOVEMBER! Mistakes #1 & 2. All the kids thought I was a sub and I felt like one.  

Fingers Grasping, Feet in the Links
I was teaching an exploratory math class, but even my principal could not really explain to me what that meant. When it came to lessons, I pulled ideas from everywhere knowing that the kids had block scheduling and some came straight to me after having had 1.5 hours of math prior to my class. They were over it and eventually so was I. I vividly recall a pair of girls rolling over the desks in my room fighting one day. That was one of the many times that I called building security for help that year. I was constantly in need of help. Parents came to watch after I'd reached out to them for help with their students, but looked at me with disdain afterward. To say the least, I felt frustrated.

THE.WORST.TEACHER.IN.THE.BUILDING. is how I would describe myself. It's not clear to me whether I thought that way then, but looking back, I definitely was the worst. My teacher ed program simply had not prepared me for all of the intricacies that were built into teaching and definitely not for teaching in a setting like my first year. I grew up in the same city where I taught, but I still could not relate to the experiences of my students and the "mentoring" I was getting from my colleagues was not sound advice nor was it comprehensive for any teacher, especially a first-year teacher. 

Things changed when I finally got into the right setting with the right supports. That's why I coach teachers now--to give teachers support so they can grow as professionals and help them remain enthusiastic about teaching.

Regaining My Grip
I did end up leaving my first school and found a better fit for me where I could grow as a professional. That was two schools later. In my new "home," the PD I received was relevant and transformed my teaching. Some of the bad habits--read "defense mechanisms due to the scarring I incurred"-- were hard to break, but not insurmountable. Because of my experience, I had an overwhelming mistrust for my students, raised my voice at students often, and did not differentiate my instruction.

I was on-boarded with a school that believed more closely what I did about teaching and learning and had up-to-date curriculum in place: Fountas and Pinnell's Reader's Workshop, Lucy Calkins' units of study, and the big headliner for me--Responsive Classroom, which included morning meetings, logical consequences, academic choice, and guided discovery. The Responsive Classroom approach helped dramatically with my classroom management. My teaching transformation did not happen overnight! So don't think it was a quick fix. It took a few years for me to really apply everything I learned from Responsive Classroom, but when I came to really believe in it and what it can do for both students and teachers I saw results. Had I been able to build better relationships with my students in my first school and receive real support from administrators, I might have remained a middle school math teacher. 

Ways to Climb the Fence When You Feel Like THE.WORST.TEACHER.IN.THE.BUILDING: 
  • Build relationships with students and families
  • Seek help if you need it so you will not become disenchanted with your career choice. You will not truly grow as a teacher without help. 
  • Reach out to colleagues, teacher friends, teacher ed classmates. 
  • Take a few steps back to see the way over the fence that is in front of you. 
Go a head and jump over that fence and move toward what you have been looking forward to doing--teaching and reaching students. There are many more fun things to explore ahead. 
Background Photo credit https://www.flickr.com/photos/fixem/5596167074