I like to blog an end-of-the-year reflection and response to questions that have arisen each May because I'm a closure type of person. When I finish reading a book or series, or when a favorite show on t.v. ends its run, I appreciate the authors and producers who choose to leave no loose ends. I don't want to wonder what if and I don't want to be left hanging in anticipation that I might find out how it all really concludes. Something wonderful (or interesting) began, it happened, it ended. And then I move on.
This year began with fewer professional responsibilities, which was a relief after last year's mayhem. On my list: teacher, Social Club Committee member, Yearbook Advisor, Student Intervention Team member, KTOY panelist, and I hosted an education student for part of a semester. Secret Santa was enjoyed in December and I was asked again to take care of an appreciation treat that has become a new tradition: gift baskets for our incredible and very deserving custodial staff. The majority of my time was spent with my Super Stars and their families, just the way I like it.
My students arrived shyly, eagerly, nervously and excitedly in the fall and getting to know them all was a bonding process, often fun, occasionally hysterical, with a few tears and worries along the way. Needs were accommodated for, smiles and hugs were shared, expectations were met, and hiccups were maneuvered around. This was a year of strong personalities who jockeyed for position and were attention-seeking to the end. Thankfully, the month of May found my Stars "in shape and ready for first grade." Despite the abundance of behavior modification strategies (most of which involve some form of cutesy bribery or negative consequence), I'm not a believer that every child in a class can be coaxed, pushed, or forced into continual and matched compliance with all of his or her classmates year 'round. This is likely because I've had "those years" with "those students" before. It's doubtful this year's dynamic will be repeated for first grade teachers now that my students have been divided up between new classrooms and some of them are traveling to new schools in new states or countries thanks to Uncle Sam. That's how it goes in our neck of the woods.
Most of my Star Families were involved, engaged, and supportive, sharing their humor, resources, information and patience with me all year long. Regular email, class blog updates, and lots of photos via both have helped families to feel connected to what happens at school. Conferences and after-school chats helped me to touch base, and my students and I benefitted from the partnership built with their parents. Regular readers know about the Cupcake Queen too! Her creations were enjoyed by students and teachers alike.
Spending time with education students and new-to-the-profession teachers, the advice I gave most this year was to create a friendly, sincere, professional relationship with your students' families. Don't add them on Facebook or other social networks, don't share intimate information (or encourage them to do so in return), but do consider redefining the role of your classroom door, phone, and school email account: they're open and to be used by your families for communication, even when times are difficult. Parents, like their children, need and deserve to be heard. When they're heard, they begin to trust, and when they trust, they allow you the freedom to build the necessary classroom environment to see your students through their first year of public education. Relationship-building might feel time consuming at first as well as emotional, and some teachers might not be comfortable with the touchy-feely aspect or perceived loss of time. Colleagues who prefer doors to remain closed and their teaching practices sequestered from the eyes and ears of parents will certainly advise differently, but in this digital/sharing age, these teachers often end up appearing abrasive and secretive, receiving more complaints than trust from parents. Change happens, and educators address it in their own ways in their own time. Decide your parameters, but be kind in enforcing them.
This May wraps up seventeen years of teaching for me, though I was born into a family of teachers and have been involved in public education for nineteen. I have three children, a college graduate, a college sophomore, and a newly-minted second grader. I've experienced stabs and full-on attacks from "champions of educational reform" (most of them non-teachers) via No Child Left Behind and the Common Core Initiative as a teacher and mother in the three states in which we've lived and I've taught. I have distinct memories of educational issues, reforms and changes that both my mother and uncle endured during their tenure. Being a blogger and an avid reader of other education and teacher blogs, journals and websites, I know I'm not the only educator with over a decade's worth of concerns regarding the practice of blaming teachers, creating distrust in schools, and the advocacy of student achievement "guaranteed" by scripted instruction and the piling on of interventions. Many of these strategies and interventions aren't effective because 1) they're developmentally inappropriate and 2) salesmen and politicians have convinced many administrators, parents and new teachers that play isn't learning. It's difficult to know everything about every topic concerning public education, especially as many of us tread water with each new change and mandate lobbed at us annually, but it's important to be aware of and informed about the big picture in order to be best prepared for our students. Working in a district gated from the rest of the state, the effects caused by political and societal changes have merely been delayed, effects I've witnessed having worked and visited elsewhere. Despite my efforts to share what I know and what I've seen, it's frustrating when colleagues spend years simply attributing these changes to their dislike of me, my teaching philosophy, or my pedagogy.
How do I handle both the positive and negative changes in education that others either wholeheartedly (unquestioningly) embrace or vehemently oppose? I cherry pick my way through them. My interests and tastes outside of the classroom are very diverse. I dig through and choose the best recipes, advice, treasures and tools that I find and I leave the rest. In the classroom, I have almost two decades' worth of experience and knowledge about how young children learn that help me recognize sh** from Shinola, canned programs from quality material, and I know how and where to find information and feedback from other teachers who have discovered new tools or are adding new tricks of the trade to compliment the tried-and-true. I share what I know with new teachers. I can discriminate between expertise and salesmanship. I can compromise, and understand that I must as long as I'm not my own boss. My paycheck is a necessity, not a luxury. I cannot tell you how appreciative I am that I still love doing this job in spite of the changes created by our nation's faith in snake oil salesmanship. I do more good for my students by recommitting myself to their quality instruction than I would by allowing myself to wallow in dismay over changes with which I don't agree. This is the balance I have chosen for myself.
I appreciate it when administrators ask for my opinion, but I understand that they too are caught up in the momentum of their own schedules and rapid-fire decision making. They meet many more salesmen than I do, and must shake hands and work with politicians who often use the classroom setting as a photo opportunity, campaign promise, or political tool. Doing what they can to ensure funding to educate not only my students but my own son, I understand the compromises that district higher-ups make and admire the endurance they maintain. They are parents of schoolchildren too.
Vocal child development experts and politically active teachers know that the effective advocacy of students relies heavily upon the setting and delivery of our message. Heartfelt pleas are too emotional, invitations are considered pandering, and challengers become targets. It's also a full time job, with very little steam, buzz or momentum created by a single impassioned email or letter. One voice should matter, but it takes an awful loud one to cut through the media's barrage of "celebrity" teen moms, fashion faux pas and administration bashing. A mere fifteen minutes of fame isn't enough time for teachers who must first distract the masses from the usual curricular or financial debates before introducing a truly pro-student focus. The educational issues, battles and scandals in our nation's public school arena are as diverse as our students, making one-size-fits-all the most ridiculous goal ever set by reformers. Children are not components on an assembly line. It's a simple truth, not a terrifying inconvenience, and I admire and support those that have dedicated their voices to sharing this truth with the public.
Teaching is a pressure-filled job. I'm appreciative for the simply given yet substantially felt support I continue to receive from administrators, many colleagues, my Super Star Families and child advocates who continue to work hard to fight on my students' behalf as I create and maintain a safe, engaging, and joyful learning environment for my kindergartners. Thank you for your help, your hugs, and your high fives.
And thank you for the cupcakes.
It was a good year.
Want to visit other teachers who are looking back on their year and forward to their next teaching adventure? Head over to iTeach 5th (and consider adding your own memories and goals to the party):