Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Time to Fly

I've been starring at this blank "new post" screen for 20 minutes now. Actually, this is the third time I have sat down to attempt to write this last day of school post. It's hard for me to put into words how this year and these particular 19 students have touched my life. Those who know me well have heard many of the struggles and frustrations I have experienced over the past three years of teaching in my particular school setting. My emotions have certainly gotten the best of me on more then one occasion. There were times where I thought for sure that I was in the wrong profession or that I had to find a way out. I even tried to find a way at the end of last school year. Thank goodness I chose to stick it out. This past year was a true sign that I was supposed to stay at my school to teach these children and have the amazing experiences that I know I'll never forget.

When I created this blog, I hoped to reach other new teachers and share my frustrations and learning experiences teaching in an inner city school. Quite honestly I was at a low point professionally and finding the blogging world gave me a glimpse of what else was out there. I thought I could share my experiences in an urban setting. I'm so glad I started this blog because tonight I can honestly say I am in the right profession and I love what I do. I know when I have to leave my school next year and move on to the next adventure with my husband, that I will deeply miss and never forget the students, friends, and colleagues I have come to love in Richmond.

Two years ago, I attended a city-wide staff development session by an extraordinary third grade teacher in our district. Her session was so good, no one wanted to leave and we turned it into a double session. She spoke on writer's workshop and creating a writing community where children feel safe. It was such a captivating experience to see one of our own sharing her love of teaching "our" children. This same teacher recently wrote a beautiful piece in our local paper (check it out here). In the article she talks about the struggles of school reform and how to balance a decreasing budget with children's best interests. She writes,

"Here is the truth: Every child deserves a good teacher and a reasonable class size that supports and encourages his or her class participation. We can teach our children to flap their wings, but conditions have to be just right for them to fly. Public education is a precious part of our nation's infrastructure. It has been built twig by twig and is in constant need of repair, refining, revision and, yes, reform. True reform, like education, is a real-time miracle that cannot be rushed. It isn't that we've gotten it wrong. It is that we are still working on getting it right. Miracle and fragility walk hand in hand. Good teachers (and there are plenty) guard the fragility and bet on the miracle. This is the week that I celebrate the 19 miracles before me, my students. On Friday I will say good-bye to each of them. I have loved being their teacher, and I will miss each of them. Experience has taught me this: I will also love watching them soar."

I really can't say it any better then that. I have loved watching my students grow and learn. I know I have grown and learned personally and professionally by being their teacher. They have helped me understand what it means to be a public school teacher and what an important vocation it truly is. I can't imagine doing anything else. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Things That Are Working...(End of the Year Edition)

It is truly humbling to think about how far I've come since my first year of teaching first grade at this school. A "wise owl" (veteran teacher) once told me the best thing I could do the last weeks of school was to keep to my schedule. That seems like simple advice, but it is not as easy as it sounds. Of course there are all those pop-up assemblies and special activities that are out of your control...but for the most part it is completely up to the classroom teacher to maintain control and expectations in his or her classroom. As much as I would like to stay out and play for an hour, it sends a message to my students that I am relinquishing control, and with this group of students that can be a dangerous signal to send.

Last week we had a few terrible days. By Thursday I couldn't take another negative report upon picking up my children from resource. A light bulb literally went off in my head. I bounded across the room and rummaged through my sticker box until I found a pack of reward cards I had been hanging onto since my first year of teaching. I waved them in front of my kids, who are now looking at me like I'm crazy. I explained that if they wanted to attend the First Grade Parent Appreciation Ice Cream Social then they would have to earn their way...and so became the ICE CREAM TICKET. The greatest invention I've come up with for the end of the year, yet so simple. Every time I say, "take out your ice cream ticket" it instantly calms and quiets my class, even my most challenging students. It's funny how sometimes the most effective solutions are actually quite simple, it just takes commitment and effort to follow through.

Our best friend right now!