I have to admit, when I started this job 2 1/2 months ago, I hated it. Really hated it. I think the reasons for this were many. I’d just spent the past year at the board office as a learning consultant. The pace was different. I worked mostly with adults. My schedule was flexible, and I tended to work largely at my level of expertise. And when I wanted quiet, I could book office time, close my door & work.
Then I moved to an elementary school. In truth, I haven’t been in an elementary school since I was an undergrad, and there’s a good reason for that. Even though I taught in a K-12 school for 8 years, I rarely ventured down to the little end. My domain was grade 10-12, and I worked hard for years to become proficient in my areas. Now I had things to deal with like recess supervision, and 6 year-olds who are sent to my office because they’ve punched/kicked/hit/fill in something else, each other for no logical reason. What in the world am I supposed to do about this situation? My usual options when something like this occurs in my life are sending my children to their room, taking away their DS, or banning them from TV or speaking to each other. None of these options were feasible. Or what about the grade 8 who decides it’s a good idea to put blue tack in his buddies hair?
On top of this, my teaching assignment was grade 6 & 8 math. I’ve never taught math or middle school in my life, and there’s a reason for that. Pretty sure I failed math in high school at least once. Additionally, for me, it has to be the least interesting subject there is. I love subjects that I can become passionately involved in — that change me, my students & hopefully some small part of the world. In math, the only thing we’re changing is our signs from positive to negative. Secondly, middle schoolers I avoided like the plague. They’re moody, emotional, hormonal. Need I say more?
For the first couple months of this job, I struggled so much. Partially because I’m an inquiry teacher, and I haven’t exactly figured out how to do that with math. While I’ve had breakthroughs here and there, it’s far from what I want it to be. But through this process, I’ve come to realize that there are three things that really crucial to the success of a teacher, any teacher, regardless of experience: classroom management, pedagogy & content knowledge. And because I moved so far outside of what I knew, I had none of these anymore.
I’d like to think I was a pretty decent high school teacher. I didn’t have classroom management problems, and I hadn’t for years. My students, including the new ones coming into my classes each year, knew how high my expectations were for their behaviour & learning. I had no idea until leaving, how crucial this invisible influence was to my success as a teacher.
Additionally, I knew my content well. I’d been teaching it for years. Because of these two things, I was able to play with my pedagogy a lot. We could experiment with PBL & inquiry, problem based learning & student teaching. We could succeed & fail because I had strength in the other two pillars.
However, I’ve learned it’s very difficult to figure out all three of these areas at the same time. It might even be impossible to do so and stay sane. Currently, my content knowledge is shallow, at best. I don’t understand how all, or even some, of the concepts can be intertwined to create PBL units. While my management has improved greatly, my younger students struggle with self-regulation to the point that it makes doing PBL projects difficult, if not impossible, at times.
I’ve learned that being a “good teacher” is relative. As a high school teacher, I was a strong teacher, who could empower students to take responsibility for their own learning. In all honesty, I’m a mediocre middle years math teacher at best. And this has been an incredibly humbling experience. Over the past two months, I have watched how hard elementary teachers work, some under extremely difficult circumstances. And they do it every day.
Over the past two weeks, I have come to deeply enjoy this job. I love watching the grade 1’s go through their morning routine, popping into classrooms to watch show & tell, reading stories to early elementary, hearing the stories of the Kindergarteners,teaching tech to grade 3’s, random hugs, & putting on bandages when kids are hurt.
While I still don’t “love” math. I enjoy figuring out the puzzle. Last night, I finally understood for the first time why two negatives equal a positive. In school I had simply memorized the rule. Last night I realized they become a postive because it’s the same concept as English. A double negative cancels out and creates a positive. These epiphany moments have been incredibly rewarding.
I’m also surprised how much I enjoy teaching middle years. Today, while learning linear equations, I student looked at me and said, “Mrs. Wright. I got it. I really understand it.” I looked back at her and said, “Isn’t that an amazing feeling?” She smiled and agreed. That was an awesome moment.
Today I found out that I will not be returning to this position next year. The permanent VP, who was filling the Principal’s position, was not hired for it permanently, so he’ll be returning to the VP position in the fall. Leaving me, I’m not sure where. Even though I knew in the back of my mind this was a possibility, I’m shocked. I wasn’t prepared for how painful this is. The grief. Or the depth of loss I feel. These kids are starting to become my kids & soon it’ll be time for me to leave.
Leave to what? I’m not sure. At this point, I’m not even sure I have a job for the fall. Everything feels a bit precarious & raw at the moment