A Snapshot of a Special Throwback Thursday.

Last week I had the supreme pleasure of visiting my first class of third graders as they finished up their time at Parkwood Elementary. I couldn’t make it to graduation since we had an in-school field trip that day until 12:30, but I was absolutely thrilled to see them on their final day of elementary school.

The originals.

The originals.

It’s a funny thing to think back on my first year teaching; I was a completely different teacher. Talking with my kids, I found that they recall a lot more from third grade than I anticipated (which is AWESOME), and I proceeded to tell them that I had no idea what I was doing that year so I was glad that I didn’t ruin them.

I mean, I KNEW what I was doing, but I didn’t KNOW what I was doing…I was kind of going up to the board and writing things and drawing pictures hoping you would understand what I was trying to say!

They laughed with me about that and then proceeded to sing the bridge to my Constellations song that I taught them years ago (note to self: teaching through song is highly effective and fun).

The impact that we have on children is powerful. There were tears of joy that incurred that afternoon and there are few times that I’ve felt more fulfilled as a teacher — knowing that I had the opportunity to teach those kids to the best of my ability and to make a lasting impression on their lives.

If there’s one thing I love about being a classroom teacher, it’s building relationships with my kids (yes, my kids, not just my students) — it’s sharing stories with them and learning alongside them. That’s something I wouldn’t trade for the world.

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A Time of Transition.

It’s been about a month since I last wrote anything, so I figure it’s high time to return from my blogging hiatus. A lot has happened in the last month, so bear with me while I mentally explode all over this post.

First of all, let me say this: I officially have a year under my belt as a teacher. I complete a full year teaching third grade all by myself at a public school in Durham, NC.

I DID IT.

It’s unbelievable knowing that a year has already passed. Everyone (and by everyone I think I literally mean everyone) always says how fast time goes when you get older — this is not me saying that I am old, by the way — and I think they’re all right. My life is different now than it was a year ago after I graduated from UNC.

Now, I live alone — ridin’ solo as I prefer to call it. This whole one-bedroom apartment living is something I know I will adjust to in due time, and for the most part I like it a great deal (why wouldn’t I like playing my guitar and watching Mad Men whenever I so desire!?), but dinnertime is the absolute worst. I’m used to eating breakfast alone and having lunch at school with no other adults, but dinner was always that sacred time where I was able to eat with someone my age — someone I could talk to and laugh with and all those lovely things. Like I said, I know I’ll adjust to this in due time, but summertime can be hard for that when a teacher isn’t as busy as she is the other ten months out of the year.

I also won’t return to my school in Durham next year — world, this was an incredibly difficult decision to make. A friend of mine mentioned to me sometime back in January that a dual language magnet school would officially open in Chapel Hill for the next school year. This news caught my attention, and I was easily intrigued. I would ask her a little more about it periodically until I finally decided to just go observe the school with the project based learning model. I haven’t taught PBL before, and I wanted to see what that large portion of the school day looked like before committing to an interview. Needless to say, I loved what I saw and got my name down for an interview right after spring break. The interview went well and I was tentatively placed on their personnel list for the following school year until things were clear for the principal to refer me for hire. One thing led to another and here I am, officially on staff to teach 3rd grade dual language!

Sometimes I would think that leaving Durham to return to Chapel Hill was a cop out — leaving students who truly need me, saying goodbye to a place desperate for consistency. My heart hurt for those kids and for nothing else, and I felt almost guilty that I would leave to better myself instead of stay and better them. I felt selfish. Fortunately, a revelation occurred and I realized that in decisions like these, I, Miss Stewart, need to be a little selfish. I need to do what’s best for me as a teacher and find a place where I can grow professionally and develop my skills so that I can be the best teacher I can possibly be. I hate to say this, but I felt like I couldn’t do that in Durham, and given the chance to work in a Spanish dual language setting accompanied with project-based learning where children will learn science and social studies curriculum through experiences and creation, I couldn’t think of a better place for me to be. After months (seriously, this decision took me months to make) of deliberation and prayer, I realized how perfect this opportunity is and how God opened all the right doors at the exact right time for me. My year in Durham was certainly not a year wasted — rather, it was a year where I gained invaluable experience. Experience I didn’t even realize I would ever need. There were people who supported me often and I truly can’t thank them enough, and I hope they all know how much they helped me in my first year (which, if you’ve been keeping up with this blog for the last year, you know it wasn’t easy!). I definitely think this career move is a step in the right direction, and I cannot wait to work with people who share my educational philosophy!

School starts in about a month and a half and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my summer thus far. It’s amazing to know how good it can feel to relax after working so incredibly hard for the last ten months. Speaking of relaxing and enjoying my summer, my attention was drawn to this article on Twitter earlier today. I encourage you to read it and reconsider any comments you will make to me (or any other educator you may know) concerning the fact that “teaching is easy” and that “it must be nice having summers off.”

I really like this down time that I have right now — I leave for the beach tomorrow to spend a week in pure vacationing bliss! I feel as though I will be very ready to get back to school when the time comes in August for that first workday, but for now I think I’ll continue to revel in my low-stress lifestyle of sitting poolside and playing guitar every day.

I also really like this transition time that I am currently experiencing. Living alone and changing jobs and having a retirement plan (?!) and paying bills — it’s all part of growing up. I’m realizing how much I’m growing up and becoming more reliant on myself and it’s kind of amazing. This is truly an “I’m a big kid now!” type of realization. Evidence? I took the Jeep to get an oil change and tire rotation this week. I also bought a lamp.

Oh, hello adulthood, nice to see you again.

Wait, It’s Over?

Seriously, that’s what I’m thinking — how is this year already over? It’s way past my bedtime but I can’t stop replaying every day of this past year. Tomorrow (well, today) is my last day with my third graders, and I truly can’t believe that my first year of teaching is coming to a close.

It’s been quite the year. It was a big adjustment not having any help (like, a really big adjustment), and some of the students in my class were incredibly difficult. I saw behaviors that I didn’t expect to encounter and there were plenty of times when I doubted myself. Despite the tears and the copious amounts of coffee, I can easily say that I’ve learned from every moment this year.

To be quite honest, I feel like now that I’ve finished this year, I can do anything. I feel empowered knowing that I wasn’t at the easiest school and yet I still did a darn good job. I did the best I could with what I had, and I think I can safely say that all went well and my students achieved some form of success.

Just thinking about tomorrow makes me feel a million emotions. I’m happy that the year is over (especially that report cards are done!), I’m excited for the summer, I’m sad to see my first class go — needless to say, I’m sure tears will be involved and unfortunately my mascara isn’t waterproof.

Who knew these kids would have such a profound impact on me? I hoped that I’d make a difference to them, but watching them mature and seeing what some of them go through has been so humbling. Throughout the year I’ve seen every student in my class grow, and while I watched them I noticed myself grow, too. I’m definitely not the same teacher I was in August, and I think that’s a good thing. I’m so glad I got to be their teacher this year — I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many hearts or received so many hugs in my life!

It feels good to have this year done. Like I said, it’s so nice knowing that I can do this — this year has been challenging, but I’ve enjoyed the challenge and will continue to accept even more with each new opportunity that comes my way. It’s so reaffirming to get to this point in the year when everything comes to a close and you feel like you’re doing what you’ve been called to do with your life.

Reminders.

At this point in the year, I will be very honest: I’m struggling. My motivation isn’t very high and I’m getting a little worn down. We have been doing test prep at my school since spring break (which was about a month ago) and I’m getting bored with it. I’ve never really been a huge fan of direct instruction, and going through these test prep workbooks every single day is getting so monotonous.

Let’s be real here. If I’m bored with this test prep I’m teaching, I KNOW my students will be bored with the material, too. I feel like I’m almost stuck in some kind of bubble-sheet-number-two-pencil-EOG rut, and I’m trying my hardest to make class fun again; however, lately it has proven at times harder for me to remember what got me so passionate in the first place about this profession.

While I have been doing test prep, there has been a small team of resource teachers pulling third graders in the afternoons to conduct reading tests. We are blitz teaming these end of year tests so we don’t have to drill testing more than we already are, which I can appreciate.

The librarian is one of the teachers who is testing some of my kids, and she pulled one of my hardest working students yesterday for his test. This student moved from Honduras to the United States when he was in first grade, and entered third grade at a reading level K. For any non-teachers reading this, that puts the student at a first grade reading level. I watched this boy soar as the year progressed, and was thrilled when January came and he was reading on a level M (this is the level on which students should enter third grade) and I referred him for AIG math services. His hard work and dedication have been a breath of fresh air, and his love for learning has been so evident as we have maneuvered through the various learning targets and standards for each subject.

Yesterday, this child was pulled for his reading test. I have been excited (and honestly kind of nervous, too) to see how my students have progressed, but I was especially intrigued by this particular student. He was gone for a long portion of the afternoon and he returned to class saying that he “passed the P.” Now, what does this mean, you ask?

In short, it means that this child is on grade level. My sweet little Honduran nugget is a rockstar and he’s reading on a level Q, which is bordering above grade level reading.

Summary: he went from a level K to a level Q in a year. This is incredible.

When he told me about his final results, I teared up. He hugged me and I told him how proud I was of him and reminded him how hard he’s worked this year to get to where he is with his reading (and math, too!).

I pulled another one of my ELLs out into the hallway this morning before class started. I wanted to tell her that she passed both her reading and math practice EOGs and congratulate her on her hard work that is now so obviously paying off. When I told her, she started crying (which obviously then made me shed a tear or ten with her) and could only say, “I’m so happy, I’m so happy!” This girl has done extra work in workbooks at home, she’s one of the few who knows the majority of her multiplication facts by heart, and she’s always trying to push herself to learn more. She asked if I would write a note to her parents, and she said, “I can’t wait to tell my mom — she’s going to be so proud of me.”

(Insert a break here for a moment of tears — it’s okay, just let it all out right now.)

These anecdotes of achievement and hard work make my heart the happiest. I literally could not be prouder of these children. I am thrilled to see what their educational future holds, and I’m so honored to have gotten the opportunity to be part of their lifelong learning experience. When I think about Teacher Appreciation Week coming up next week, I can’t help but stop to wonder how appreciated teachers would feel if they’d focus on positives. I often think to myself, “Hey Allison, you work really hard and you spend hours outside of school working on lessons and other things for school — does anyone care or really even benefit from it?” Taking time to reflect on my year, especially in lieu of the progress that these students have made, it’s just so obvious to me how much it does matter and how much my students do benefit from it.

I find it imperative to be reflective in this profession. I truly don’t know what I would do without my amazing third grade team and all of the priceless friends and family I have who support me, and everyone’s encouraging words throughout this year have meant more to me than you’ll probably ever really know. It’s so easy to burn out, but if we take the time to remind ourselves of why we do what we do and how much even the smallest things impact our students, I think we’d all get a new perspective to see how much we make a difference every day.

Unimaginable.

Throughout this year I’ve experienced plenty of things here in Durham that I wouldn’t have ever imagined seeing elsewhere. This week especially has brought a lot of stress to my heart.

Monday afternoon an emergency staff meeting was called to inform everyone that a fifth grade student passed away over the weekend. It was so surprising to hear, and I can’t even imagine how the teachers who knew him or had him in class felt. I can’t imagine how these students feel, this child’s friends — or how his parents and family members feel.

All of this is just unimaginable to me.

I didn’t know this particular student personally, but I know a few other fifth graders who help out in the library or at recess with the younger grade levels. I was walking my class to lunch today and we passed the fifth graders going to recess and one of the students I knew just came up to me and gave me a hug. As soon as I got my arms around him, he just started sobbing and didn’t say a word the whole time. I could feel this pit of jumbled words rise in my throat and tears hang on my lashes.

This is what it means to be a teacher: you are more than just a teacher.

I’ve always known this and I am frequently a mom, a nurse, an animal expert, a nutritionist, a coach, a librarian, a storyteller, a lawyer, a female Bill Nye (direct quote from a student), and almost daily I’m a counselor. Today more than ever I realized how crucial that is to my job.

The students I teach have so much going on in their lives — some don’t have homes, some don’t know their dads, some aren’t treated lovingly at home, some have parents who tell them that they’re stupid and won’t amount to anything (I don’t know how you could ever tell a child that, but people actually say that to their kids — it disgusts me). I feel like I’m counseling in some way or another every single day, but in this moment on the sidewalk en route to lunch where words were superfluous just really drove this home for me.

I know I teach students according to the Common Core and Essential Standards and that’s what they’re tested on, but more importantly I teach students things like mediating situations and working together and this week, coping with loss.

The amount of respect and admiration I have for the faculty and staff who had to tell those fifth grade students that one of their classmates passed away is huge. If it were one of my students who passed away, I truly don’t know if I would be able to stay composed and strong like you for my other students. Thank you for your poise and dedication to those students, and your understanding of their emotions.

All of the heartbreak and tragedy that I’ve seen manifest in the lives of some of these kids is simply unbelievable. I’m constantly reminding myself how desperate they are for consistency and unconditional love, and to me those are things that get kids (and adults) through times like these.

Reading Groups.

Real conversation, and I promise that I’ll post something more thought-provoking and substantial soon:

Me: Your new reading groups will be named after the 2009 UNC National Championship Team!

 

Student 1: What? No way, I’m not doing reading groups.

 

Student 2: Our reading groups are named after The Heat!?

 

Me: …no, they’re named after the 2009 UNC National Championship Team! So cool!

 

Student 2: The Lakers?

 

Let it be known that Student 1 is an NC State fan, and Student 2 is, well…I don’t really know. All I know is that this actually happened yesterday and I will do anything in my power to convert all of these non-sports-watching students into die hard UNC fans.

Here’s to a terrific Tuesday back from spring break!

Just Another Day in 3rd Grade.

I’m sitting in bed and my bangs smell like Ticonderoga pencils from keeping one behind my ear all day and I still have marker ink on my hands from grading during my “planning period.”

Warning: What you are about to read is a real conversation.

Student: Miss Stewarttttttttttt, but I really have to goooooooooo [to the bathroom]!!!

Me: …no. You literally went 15 minutes ago.

Student: But it’s an emergencyyyyy, I’ve only gone like twice todayyy!!!

Me: Wanna know how many times I’ve gone to the bathroom today?

(Silence)

Me: (holds up a hand-made zero) ZERO.

(Student walks away)

Yep, that’s right folks, apparently kids have to pee ALL THE TIME. Actually, that’s false, because they just think it’s cool to walk in the hallways all by themselves.