August will mark the beginning of my twentieth year teaching. Barring any administrative changes with grade levels, it will also be the start of my twentieth year teaching kindergarten students.
How did it all start? With multiple job interviews after the start of the school year, I was called late one Thursday evening by an administrative secretary who needed more information from me before I reported to work the next day. "What job did I get" was my question to her, because honestly, I had no idea if I was going to be a librarian's assistant, third or fifth grade teacher, or ~shudder~, kindergarten teacher.
"Oh, didn't Mr. S (principal) call you? You've been hired to teach kindergarten! Your first day is tomorrow" was her reply. After answering the rest of her questions, I hung up the phone and proceeded to cry.
My twenty-four year old self cried because I couldn't believe I had been hired. A real teaching job. The beginning of a career. Yes, a paycheck.
And then I sobbed, because it was ~kindergarten~. I didn't want to be a kindergarten teacher. Give me sixth grade, fourth grade, even first grade. NOT kindergarten.
I reported to school the next morning, met my two grade level colleagues and the speech and reading therapists whose room was being commandeered to accommodate the new kindergarten class. I was introduced to the existing kindergarten classes from which my students would be drawn, and then I had the weekend to build my classroom from the ground up. After my first exhausting week with kindergartners, I knew I didn't want to teach any other grade. A whirlwind of teaching adventures, missteps, successes, heartbreak, revelations, and learning, yes, so much learning, followed in the years to come.
I invited parents and volunteers to the classroom regularly, though I spent the most time with parents during conferences, school events or class parties. I moved rooms only once, but stayed in the same building with the same staff for a decade. They were my models, my mentors, and my standard. They became teachers for my own children, and I theirs. Friendships grew, and many colleagues became friends who are family. I taught siblings, working my way through families stair step by stair step. I taught practicum students, and learned more about the history of public education while experiencing first hand the shifts of extensive technology integration and teacher blaming.
I fell in love with a solider, and relocated with him to New Mexico, then Kansas, then Texas, and finally back to Kansas, balancing multiple deployments with the expansion of my pedagogy. I learned that in spite of highly publicized mandates for education reform and equality, cookie cutter results could never be achieved, no matter how strongly politicians espoused the idea that our nation's children should be treated like machine-hewn identical parts, to be assembled into a future mechanical work force. I came to realize that I was at odds with districts that bought into the pitch from publishing and political snake oil salesmen, and I was at odds with teachers who insisted on keeping their heads stuck in the sand, hoping to ignore the bigger issues in education that were beating on their classroom doors. I didn't find the developmental stages of early childhood offensive or in need of intervention or remediation. I found the predation upon parents, the exploitation of their fears and the subsequent attacks on how I did my job by NCLB evangelists alarming. The ebb and flow, ebb and flow, and branching out of learning and growth that I observed year after year reaffirmed to me my belief that organic exploration with guided support is naturally more beneficial to students than inauthentic, drill and kill assembly line tactics. I began blogging about my frustrations, my concerns, and shared ideas, tips and tricks, and humor. Missing my first teaching family, and after careful reflection, I also decided ~not~ to cave to the pressure of fitting someone else's definition of what it meant to be a "team player." I could do what was best for my students, and could be professional, supportive and polite while avoiding the traps of "... but this is the way we've always done it" or "just do what we do and everything will be fine." In spite of the stresses, I didn't quit teaching.
After nineteen years of teaching five and six year olds, I have to admit their bluntness has worn off on me. The things that they find silly, I do likewise. Like my kindergartners, I prefer the freedom of movement, exploration, and growth. We sing through much of our days together, which my husband surely finds odd as I hum "Down By the Bay" or "I'm Gonna Eat on Thanksgiving Day" while preparing dinner in the kitchen, far from the classroom. Unlike my earlier years, classroom volunteers and visitors are much more regular now, which has made parent teacher conferences considerably less stress inducing. Our partnership and dialogue occurs year 'round, our sharing not constrained by marked conference dates on a school calendar. I still make the occasional mistake, and I continue to revel in my students' accomplishments. I prefer the truths of children, and find myself increasingly offended by those who disrespect the necessity and timeline of childhood itself. I suspect that I'll continue to ask "what can I learn now" and will appreciate all that practicum students and new-to-service teachers share in exchange with me.
After nineteen years, I also wonder if I'll teach for twenty more.