Friday, June 03, 2016

15 Years of Teaching...Just a Few Thoughts

     I didn't grow up playing school.  I didn't ask my Mom for an overhead projector for Christmas (I had a friend who did).  I always liked kids.  Babysitting was my main means of money collection when I was younger.  I went to college on a different path, but after the first semester, having never really said it before, I decided to pursue teaching.  It was what fit in the end.  I went through undergrad starry eyed.  I graduated a semester early and decided to truck through and get my masters degree as well.
     I finished up my masters and subbed in the city where I lived.  I also graduated from grad school mid year, so I was applying for positions that were open in January. I knew it wouldn't necessarily be an easy transition for myself or the students.  I found a sixth grade position in early December, and I went up and worked with the teacher and the class the rest of that semester to make the transition easier.  I was fortunate because there weren't a lot of applicants for that position, and my mentor teacher, who is now one of my closest friends, picked me for the spot despite how green I was. 
     That first semester I was put through the ringer.  I learned more about parent teacher relationships, discipline, and instruction than four years of college taught me....or the next 14...I always go back to those lessons when sharing with others about how I learned.  The most important thing I learned was how cricitical it was to have teammembers who support you, encourage you, and have your back.  I had that.  We spent late nights together laughing, and crying, and laughing about crying.  It was a long drive though, 45 minutes from where I bought my first home.  I loved the school, but I was looking for a forever home, and the drive took a toll.  I stayed at that school for a year and a half and then moved to a school (in the same district) about 20 minutes closer to my house.  It's far enough that I don't see my students every day at the store, close enough that I can't work up a real good cry on the drive to or from work.  One of my two teammates made the move with  me, and the other gal (my mentor) stayed behind.  To end that part of the story, I still work with my teammate, we currently share a room as specialists.  My mentor has now retired, but now comes to our (new/old) school as a tutor through the testing season.  We get together for meals whenever the mood strikes, and go on a retreat together every summer.  I've worked with other folks through the years, but my best advice to the 'new teachers' is....if you have a team you love, don't leave.  It's so hard to find, but it makes everything so much easier when you approach life as a team. 
    I taught 6th grade, and then a few years back I moved into a reading specialist position.  I've seen programs come, and go, and come again.  I've worked through 4 superintendents, 3 principals, 4 vice principals, thousands of students, hundreds of staff members coming, leaving, having babies, getting married, losing loved ones, becoming sick.  I've watched my students grow, go off to college, enter the work force, a few of them even :gasp: as teachers.  I've waded through 3 different state test, several governors, 2 presidents, mad parents, happy parents, and too many national tragedies.  I've watched locks be added to doors, security measures be increased, and a few book adoptions come and go....along with all their supplements.
   It seems like I hear about educators a lot on TV, and it's rarely in a good way.  I see the facebook feeds of my friends.  I watch the trends online of the complaints.  Yes, there have been some bad teachers I've encountered (and quickly said goodbye to) through the years, but my norm is that I get to work with other people who are here NOT because of the pay.  They are here because they love students.  They invest far more than 40 hours a week.  40 hours are the hours they spend WITH the kids, the other 20+ is the time they spend prepping lessons, hanging decorations, buying supplies, putting together treats, calling parents. There is no overtime pay.  There is no hazard pay.  There really aren't enough feeds trending on how great these folks are holding down the fort, helping raise a child.  I don't love the state test, but I love working with people who take that lemon and squeeze that lemonade in forms of (self bought) incentives for improvement and effort (NOT just scores), gals and guys who decorate hallways, come up with theme days, and do all they can to make it fun to learn. I want the test to change, but I'm OK with some form of accountability as a teacher FOR the sake of a child's education.  Not this one.   But a test will always be stressful, and school won't be the last place we are tested.   Students get stressed about it, but students also get stressed about peer relationships, happenings at home, and just growing up in a scary world.  I can't imagine a safer place than some of these classrooms. Some of the best lessons these teachers teach is how to deal with stress.  Emphasis on, I don't like the current test, and I voice my opinion to more than just a facebook feed, and my hope is more will do the same, but I love working with people who do all they can to make lemonade.  :Stepping off soap box.:
   When I started this journey I remember hearing the retention rate for a lot of teachers was less than 5 years.  I thought-I'll never make it five years.  I made it five years.  I had a coworker who left after her ninth year, and her husband wanted her to continue one more year so she would someday be eligible for health care at retirement age.  She didn't.  I thought-I'll never make it ten years.  This year, I complete my 15th year. Today I close up my classroom for the summer.  There have been other opportunities that have come along through those years, and I might take one someday...I never say never, but at this point in my life, I DO still count down the days until Christmas Break, or summer, but I DON'T measure the days I think I'll be able to 'handle this job' because I can't imagine anywhere I could work with so many people who genuinely LIKE their job. I genuinely LIKE my job.  There are some bad apples, some bad days, but I work with some of the most amazing people on planet earth.  I'll hang out with them this summer because they are people I respect, people that serve for the sake of serving.  I looked forward to summer because those weeks get long, and sabaticals help me recharge, BUT I also look forward to a new year.  I packed up my room, but I've also written down things I want to do and try next year to be an even better teacher.  It's funny to think back to that first year or two when I thought-I can't imagine making it five years.  It's gone by quickly, and most days I can't imagine anything being more fulfilling. 


Marie said...

Wonderful post!

Danae Kenyon said...

Well said, Christy! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I am thankful for you!