Sunday, August 26, 2012

Take It Easy

The first week of school has come to an end!  It was a wonderful week, regardless of the fact that I was exhausted at the end of every day.  It was a good kind of tired--the kind of tired you are when you know that it was a productive day.  I was talking this afternoon with another teacher in my building who also started her second year this week, and we both agreed that it's nice not to be new.  There's a little more excitement and a little less anxiety in knowing that you've done the first day of school before.   However, there's still that newness and freshness that I love about a new school year.

I have to admit that I was a little nervous about my new group of students.  What if they don't get my jokes?  What if they come in and immediately commence in complete anarchy?  Of course, these are silly worries.  Whether or not they get my jokes at first, they're stuck with me, and if anarchy broke loose, I'd just go get the resource officer in the office.  Fortunately, neither one of these things happened this week.  I have an excellent group of students this year, and at least one person in each class period smiled/laughed at my lame, corny jokes.  I think the lesson I learned this week was to take it easy.

I guess there are plenty of things I could stress myself out about--new curriculum, more students, new core texts to teach, and the list goes on.... Last year, I would have let the stress win.  But I found this week that I had a newfound confidence in front of my students and with my coworkers.  As the teacher across the hall told me during hall duty between classes, "It's a natural inclination to stay tightly wound about everything, but I've found that it all goes more smoothly if I just loosen up."  I couldn't have described myself any better than she described herself.  Everybody has stressors; it's just that we all handle them differently, and they year I want to handle mine differently.  I want to take it easy.

They best part of this week was when another teacher showed me a couple of her get-to-know-you handouts from the first day of school.  Two of my former students wrote that I was their favorite teacher because I made learning fun.  Little validations like that remind me that more learning happens when I have fun with my kids.  So while I have several personal goals this year, like making grammar instruction more memorable and delving deeper into the analysis of core texts, my biggest goal is to disguise all those things as "fun."  And most importantly, I want to take it easy on myself.  I can already tell this year is going to be better than the last, and I want to slow down enough to savor the moments that make it special.  I'm so excited to see what small, sweet moments I find between now and May.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

What Teachers Make

Well, I have taken a little bit of a hiatus from blogging this past month.  This has occurred mostly because I mentally gave myself the month of July to take a break from thinking about school.  Of course, that didn't happen.  I read our new class novels and worked on lesson plans and rethought my approach to the first day of school this year.  I did have the excellent good fortune to do some traveling this past month.  I went to Chicago for the first time and loved it; I went to Branson to watch my little sister compete in a national dance competition, and I finished out the month at the beach in Florida. (And, yes, I did look up job openings before I left.  I could seriously live Jimmy Buffett-style in Florida for the rest of my days.)  Alas, teachers make less in Florida than they do in Arkansas, and the cost of living is decidedly higher, so my teach-at-the-beach dreams were dashed.  I also happen to teach at an awesome middle school here in central Arkansas, so I'd be pretty dumb to give that up....

On the subject of "what teachers make," I read an excellent "get pumped up" back-to-school book while I was lounging and listening to the ocean.  It's called What Teachers Make by Taylor Mali.  This book was published in March of this year, but it's based on a poem that Mr. Mali wrote in 2006.  You can watch him perform it at a slam poetry reading here.  I had never read the poem "What Teachers Make" until I happened to pick up this little book at Barnes & Noble a couple of weeks ago when I went to pick up some books for my classroom.  Standing in the middle of the store, reading the poem, I wanted to shout "Amen! Preach it!"  What he says in the poem is all so resoundingly true.  Teachers get paid in intrinsic dividends.  We reap our rewards in the light bulb moments of our students and in the awesome emails from parents that say "Thank you so much for helping my kid love English."  It's in those small, sweet moments that I am constantly reminded that I do this job because it is a challenge that I can rise to meet every day that I walk into my classroom, and I have always loved a challenge.

Mr. Mali says in his book, "I teach for the fire, the moment of ignition, the spark, the lightbulb of cognition going on in the dark over an adolescent's head...They say those who teach must never cease to learn. I teach for the moment everything catches fire and finally starts to burn."  I don't care how idealistic it sounds, this is why I teach.  I teach for the chance to burn down some kid's misconceptions and personal doubt and replace it with understanding and confidence.  I know there are teachers in the world who are tired.  They feel like the kids are too difficult or too different from how they used to be, or the administration isn't supportive enough, or they don't have the right tools and technology.  And I get it.  All those things are probably true.  But the real challenge and the real success comes in getting over all that and realizing that one person can make a big difference, even if that big difference is only happening for one kid who needs it more than anything.

As I look toward tomorrow and the next two weeks of rebuilding my classroom and preparing for a new group of students, I am also looking back to this time last year.  I am looking back to the nervousness and excitement that I felt about the journey I was beginning as a "real" teacher.  I am looking back at the successes and mistakes and joys and disappointments, both professional and personal, that were my first year, and I am making a promise to learn from them.  I don't have that first year nervousness anymore, but I do have that spark, that desire "not to produce Ivy League graduates, but to encourage the development of naturally curious, confident, flexible, and happy learners who are ready for whatever the future has in store."  I hope that's something I always have with me.  Because that is truly what teachers make.