This year, my 30th as an elementary classroom teacher, will be my last. I am moving into a new position next year, very happily and very nervously. Next year, and hopefully for a few years beyond, I am going to be part teacher of the gifted and part Project Lead the Way Lead Teacher. But more about that later.
While wrapping up my classroom, passing over my supplies and hard work to a new, incoming fourth grade teacher, I have been thinking long and hard about this year. It was a difficult year for me and I am trying still to figure out why. Was it the combination of students? Was it the extra stress put on educators in New York and the US? Was is learning to work with a new assistant (who was wonderful)? Was is just feeling done? Or was it a combination of all of these?
My students: I love them. I really do. They are funny and caring and hard working and apathetic and lazy and loud all at the same time. This class was such an enigma. I ran my Responsive Classroom program as I always do, but it didn't take like it always does. During meetings, my students fooled around, then stopped, then forgot the rules again as soon as something else funny happened. The rules never stuck. They did learn to be more empathetic. But not always. If someone was sad, they would crowd around and help out. But someone drops papers on the floor? Step on them as you head back to your desk. They had fewer recess problems than the other classes on the grade but it doesn't mean they had none. The same class that worked so hard to raise almost $4000 in two weeks for Nepal and the Kibera Slums would call each other names at recess.
Effort never really hit its stride either. They would work so hard during projects, doing research, setting up a plan, coming up with ideas. But the actual projects always just fizzled out. When I pushed for due dates, they rushed to complete the assignments and the projects came out rushed. This confused me because the understanding of the concepts was there. Just the effort to put all that understanding into a cohesive project to teach others didn't always work. Usually the projects are amazing and I have to push to get the content understanding in.
Extra Stress: This is, by far, the biggest reason I am leaving the general education classroom. I hate what I do to prepare these students to take a meaningless, unfair state test. And I do very little, ultimately. But still, the pressure from administration, from parents, even from the kids, was more than I can handle anymore. The fear that, thanks to our Governor, we will all lose our jobs within the next two years was too much. The fact that unionized teachers have become the Enemy of the State is beyond anything I can take. I truly believe that what I do is important, powerful, and necessary. I do believe I am changing the world one child at a time. I am not the enemy. I am so grateful I will not have to give state tests anymore.
New Assistant: This wasn't so bad. I did have a new assistant this year although she was only new to me, not the school. She is hard working, caring, and absorbs everything we do. It did take some time to get used to working as partners, deciding on roles, etc. but it worked. Still, I wonder if I held back on some global projects due to knowing that the help would not be what it used to be with my tried and true aide? Maybe. I'm not sure. It would be great to blame this all on someone else but...I can't blame her. She brought a whole new side of learning to the room with her artist background. She took some simple projects, like creating a book page for a project and turning it into an Eric Carle-like portrait of the class. How can I blame her for that?
Feeling Done: I did, many times, feel done. When I would go to colleagues with great ideas and would get the same, "No time, " answer, I felt done. When I would open my email in the morning to another testing email with 10 or 12 responses, I felt done. When we had another meeting to talk about testing, I was done. When I got lost in all my emails and missed deadlines for projects I wanted to do, including my very own Global Book Talk, I was done. But always, just when I felt I could do this no longer, my assistant would laugh with me about something the kids said, or I would get an email from a teacher on the other side of the world saying she saw my work and wants to join in, or I would get called into the principal's office so she could share something wonderful that a child did for her, or a kid would come up to me in the hall and tell me she hopes I am her teacher next year, or..... Something always pulls me back in.
And maybe that's why I keep teaching. And maybe that's why I am so excited about my new position. I get to keep working with children but I also work with adults. And maybe it wasn't such a bad year afterall. I did get to go to Guatemala to keynote. I did get to present at Learning and the Brain, in NYC and spend time with by friend Donna Roman. I did get to run two Global Book Talks and skype with the author of one. I did get to run a very successful round of quad-blogging. I did get to work on a social studies project with one of my fifth grade colleagues and a health/science project with another. And I did get to hear from my kids that I am their favorite teacher ever. And don't tell me they all say that. I know they do but I like to believe that, for me, it's real. ;)
Here's to ending my 30 year career on a high(?) note. And here's to a new career, a new opportunity, and making it work.