Tuesday, June 22, 2010

It's June!

"How old are you?" asked  Sakiah.
"In human years, or teacher years?" Miss Pointy answered, and then quickly called on someone else.
You did it!  Or you are about to do it.  Maybe you finished your first year of teaching.  Maybe you graduated and about to embark on your classroom--or job search--adventure. Congratulations!  Whatever the case, we are older and wiser, or at least older.  I think back to when I was starting out.  So many fellow students complaining about the content of our education classes, "how is this useful?"  So many new teachers marveling in the classroom, "they never told me it would be like this."  There was an interesting Op-Ed in the New York Times recently about the dangers of assessing teacher performance through student evaluation.  New teachers have a unique perspective, I think, recently having been students but having a special empathy for the educator's role.  After your experience and the chance to gain some perspective, what turned out to be more valuable in your preparation than you ever expected?  What do you wish someone would have told you?

I know there were many things I didn't fully appreciate until I got into the classroom, such as the  value of theory in the context of classroom management, the power of keeping a journal as a way to reflect on practice, the generosity of mentors and teaching veterans, and how important it is to keep loose change in the desk drawer in case kids come up short for lunch money.  But here's what I was most glad to learn and know:  If you want kids to respect you and pay attention, you don't have to be nice all the time, but you do have to be interesting.  You have to have something that they want: knowledge, ability, elegance.  Sure, candy in a drawer is nice, too, but they get their fill of that a lot faster.

Stampede!: Poems to Celebrate the Wild Side of SchoolTo that end, what prepared me more than anything else for teaching in the elementary classroom were the years I spent as a children's bookseller.  I was well-acquainted with the nonfiction section, and was well versed in the solar system, the explorers, care of small animals, history, holidays around the world, how to make paper mache paste...important things that allowed me to answer questions and enrich content. At the stores, I learned how to read aloud, tell a story, choose books appropriately for individuals, sell a book to someone who didn't realize they needed one.  I came into the classroom with an arsenal of stories that I knew with an almost religious conviction that the children would love and from which they would learn, that I could give them like gifts every day. For myself, in these books I always had at hand reminders of what it was like to be a child, in case being on the grown-up side of the desk clouded my judgment.  I was never at the mercy of mandated curriculum; I could modify my instruction to meet the needs of the kids in front of me and still meet goals, because my cupboard was full.  I marvel at teachers who hazard to enter the classroom without this freedom. I have said it before and will always say it:  sending a teacher into a classroom without a knowledge of children's literature is like sending a plumber into the bathroom without a wrench. 

But not everybody can work in a bookstore. Children's literature courses are largely undervalued in too many teacher preparatory programs.  And with scripted curriculum, standardized testing, corporate influence and mandates that require robotic everybody-do-everything-at-the-same-time malarky, it almost seems like a moot point to learn what to bring in from the world, because there never seems like there will be time in the day to share. But this summer, read all you can from the shelves of children's literature anyway.  Universities will never supply you with enough knock-knock jokes, spooky stories or science experiments to do the damn job right.  Hold tight to the dream that the day will dawn again when teachers (and students!) can give the best of themselves and what they know about the world in their classrooms, because one of two things are bound to happen: either that day will dawn, or people who are truly accountable, not to scores but to children, will reinvent contexts that will allow it to be.  What an exciting time!
Artist to Artist: 23 Major Illustrators Talk to Children About Their Art
As a teacher, what did you learn this year?  As you relax on the beach with a slushy beverage that contains a paper umbrella, please take a moment to enlighten, celebrate or vent in the comment section below; one reachable person will be chosen at random at the end of the month to receive a copy of one of my favorite books, ARTIST TO ARTIST from the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. 


luckeyfrog said...

I feel as though much of my college experience was surprisingly predictable. The classes that felt useful to me generally have been. The classes that seemed to only tangentially relate to everyday in the classroom have very rarely proven themselves important.

I have only been a teacher for one year, but I wish my college would have spent much more time discussing classroom management techniques and theory. I wish we would have had a class specifically in the challenges of high-poverty kids and schools. I wish my children's literature course had allowed us to explore children's literature, rather than just critique and analyze it. Even in college, I realized that we were being well-prepared for teaching individual lessons, but not units of study or full-day plans that fit everything in.

I think I've come to realize that many things just have to be figured out firsthand when you are really experiencing teaching, but I do wish every professor would take the time to make sure that their lessons are truly relevant. I am so thankful for the few who did!

Sarah Cooley said...

This was my fourth year as a teacher, and my second year teaching first grade. It has been quite a journey so far! Lessons learned this year:

*I can’t fix everything and everyone, no matter how much I want to, and how hard I try.
*I can never have enough band-aids.
*Singing in the classroom gets the kids excited, and they don’t care how bad I sound!
*I’m not teaching to impress administrators or parents, I’m teaching to make a difference.
*22 tattling kids surrounding 1 very pregnant me=not good times.
*When I heard a child who had been struggling finally read a book aloud, it gave me a feeling like none I have ever felt before.
*If I just close the door to my room, I can make learning into an adventure for my students, I don’t have to conform to everyone else!
*I still learn things everyday, and I should tell the kids when even I am learning something new!
*I’m cooler than a 100 foot shark (according to one of my kids).
*I really do love what I do.

Marie said...

I've been teaching for over 20 years. This year I went back to school to start my endorsement in library media. It's been good to take the place of the learner and I've adjusted my teaching a bit to make things easier for my students. I've learned that there are many ways to use children's literature to teach other subjects in the classroom. Whether you're teaching math or social studies (or anything else), there's a book out there that will help your students visualize or experience the concept you're trying to get across while still teaching to the standards.

To Luckeyfrog: Our teachers are reading "Teaching with Poverty in Mind" by Eric Jensen for the summer. You may want to check that one out. :)

nmrosycheeks said...

I might be late to this party, but during my first year teaching, I learned how to "accidentally" lock the 3rd grade classroom door. I can then focus on what my kids actually NEED to work on, not just what the grant money dictates we should spend our block minutes on. If they already "get" compare/contrast, why spend 17 more minutes on it, when they need fluency practice.....Also, Madame Esme, thanks for the blog update, and Marie, thanks for the book recommendation!

Anonymous said...

I love children's litature! While I was still in college earning my elementary ed degree, I would always make a beeline for the children's section in every bookstore I went in. I've collected/bought so many picture books (fiction and non-fiction) that my friends and family think I'm crazy. After graduating, I was unable to find a teaching job right away because of the economy. I then, however, got a job in a bookstore as the children's specialist. I'm glad events happened that way because I'll never forget what I learned while working there. Starting in August, I will be teaching Kindergarten and blogging about my own first year experiences. I will definitely be following a few of your blogs!