Thursday, June 6, 2019

Ten Years

Guys, I made it to ten years of teaching. I know those of you who have put in multiple decades of teaching are like, uhh, big deal, rookie. But I think ten years in the same gig is sort of a big deal! Also, I wanted to clarify that this makes it sound like I'm hanging up my teacher hat...I'm not! I'll be back at in August, don't you worry. I am a reflective/nostalgic person by nature, so I thought it'd be fun to look back and pull together some "big lessons" I've learned over the years.

To back up a bit...It's sort of crazy how I ended up in elementary. I got accepted into a grad school program through Valparaiso University in Indiana (Valpo was on my radar because I picked up a brochure at the college fair in high school...random). The program involved summer coursework and online classes along with 2 years teaching at an under-resourced school in the Chicago area. We lived with other teachers in the program in affordable housing, got paid very little (about half of a "regular" teacher) and at the end of the 2 year stint? A free Masters degree in education. Done and done. I always wanted to teach high school history because I had amazing social studies teachers in school and my Bachelors degree was in history.

I had this quote on my wall my first year teaching 

Once I got accepted into the grad program, I was informed that they might not have a position available for high school, but they'd see what they could do. It was a leap of faith but I said yes anyway. Next thing I knew, the director of the program was driving me the hour or so into the city from Valpo so I could interview at a tiny elementary school (where there was an opening for a teacher who was part of my program). The rest is history. The school I taught at was about 95% African American and the class sizes were very small. There was definitely a bit of a learning curve, but I really really loved it that first year. I had a huge classroom and the other teachers I met there were absolutely incredible.

The following year I taught a 1st/2nd combo class with all my students from the previous year and a handful of 1st graders in the mix too. I worked with the school to develop an after school program and I taught creative writing (still my favorite thing to teach). I stayed on at the school the summer after my Masters program ended and worked with their summer day camp. I loved living and working in Chicago. I think of my students there fondly.

In 2012, I moved back to Utah where I taught for 3 years at a Catholic school in downtown SLC. I once again had a beautiful classroom (it had a window seat and bay windows!) and the most amazing coworkers.

In 2014, AJ and I had moved to the south end of the valley and I was ready for a change. I worked for 3 years in an IB charter school.

In 2017, I decided I wanted to enter a school district and teach there. I interviewed at a few schools in my local district and got such a good vibe from the one that I chose and still currently teach in.

Whew. 10 years and about 230 1st graders. I've experienced more joy than I ever imagined within the walls of my classrooms. I've also shed a lot of tears, vented to my friends and family, and felt so frustrated. I've had students who will be in my heart and mind forever and students who I was counting down to them moving onward, upward, and away from me. Ha!

I've taught while single, while planning a wedding, while pregnant, in the depths of grief, and with the wonder of a new baby. I've unlocked the door to my classroom with giddy anticipation and a smile and also with dread in my heart and an eyeroll.

I've made friendships for life and I stand by the fact that teachers are "my people." (I even married one!). It has been a great honor in my life to work alongside some of the most talented people in the world.

 I've spent too much money at the Dollar Store, Target, Walmart, and Amazon.

 I've received cards and notes that I go back and read on hard days.

I'm convinced every school in America would come to a crashing halt without support staff who do the Lord's work each and every day (aides, secretaries, custodians etc).

I've had parents yell at me, cry to me, laugh with me, celebrate with me and I believe parents are, and will always be, their child's best, first, and most important educator. I can make an impact in 9 months of teaching, but they are their parents' children forever and ever. It sounds overwhelming because it is. Supportive parents are amazing!!!

I believe there's a dangerous viewpoint in education that seems to be spreading---"You can (and must!) save the world!" Teachers will keep trying (and that's why they're amazing)  but that's a heck of a lot of pressure. I am a human, not a robot. There was something so freeing when I admitted that movies like Freedom Writers and Dangerous Minds are made preciously because those teaching experiences are so rare. It's not a loss if you're not a superhero. Having a life outside of school is CRUCIAL and HEALTHY.

I always forget how exhausting August and May are. October and February are the sweet spots.

Parent volunteers are amazing and incredible and even if a parent can't physically come in to help, just knowing you read the newsletters I send and are involved makes me so happy.

It took me about 5 solid years in the classroom to stand up for myself. There are things teachers are expected to be and do that are outlandish. There's nothing wrong with saying no. Don't be afraid to advocate for your students. They get lost in the red tape sometimes. It's important to bring it all back around to those little people who sit in our desks.

Flair pens are life.

I try really hard and not be bitter at Professional Development events, but sometimes I just can't help it. I don't want to hear from "research." I want to hear from those in the trenches, tying wet shoe laces, and  those helping a child sound out a word. I don't want to hear from people who made big bucks and publishing deals and those who give out free pens. I don't want your swag, I want real solutions for real issues.

I love love love love having summers off, but I do get a skip in my step when I order my new lesson planner and head back in August.

I've made so many mistakes. I wish I could go back to my first class and reteach it all. There's a joy, passion, and energy that comes with the early days of this career, but the actual lessons and teaching strategies? Those get refined and better with practice.

I hate insects but my butterfly unit is my all time fave.

This job is messy, and hard, and complicated. But it's also incredible. Behind the bulletin boards, emails, to do lists, and rushed lunches, a school is truly a magical place. Here's to ten years!

Savor Your Sparkle,

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