When I stepped out of the building on the last day of school this year, it was official, I could retire anytime I want. I wanted to do a little happy dance, but restrained myself. I just cannot believe how quickly 20 years have passed.
I stumbled into teaching about the same time my oldest, Sarah started school. I think that happens a lot, people like me who love the school environment sort of forget until they are thrown back into it. Once I was there, in Sarah’s school, dropping her off, eating lunches with her at school, volunteering in her classroom, I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I switched my major from social work to education, to be specific, elementary education. This was a few years after my first round in college when I studied English/ History, it was a long path getting there.
So I landed on education and started the coursework. There were lots of tedious philosophy and history courses that almost drove me out before the fun stuff started, my practicum classes. Just in case you don’t know, practicum is where you learn a little bit about the core subject area, writing for example. Then you get to GO INTO THE SCHOOLS, observe and sometimes teach that subject.
Truthfully, I felt a little bit like a faker when I started teaching practicum classes, like I was “playing school” sort of like I did when I was ten years old. But on the flip side, it is thrilling. During one of my first practicums, the teacher handed me chalk (yes, chalk) and asked me to “brainstorm” -IT words with the kids. So there I was with my scratchy penmanship (I had not worked on my “teacher writing” yet) scrawling on the board “sit” “fit” “hit”…. and realize the teacher has left the room, I continue on until I am SURE there are no more words, the kids are starting to squirm and it happens, a little angel calls out “shit” and the class, long since bored with this activity busts out laughing and hooting and this is when the teacher returns. *Sigh*
In those days college classes were face to face, there were no on-line options and another difference was that you dressed up to go to a practicum. So there I was, dressed up in my twisted pantyhose, uncomfortable and hot, sitting in the back of a classroom watching a teacher do his magic when a fifth grade girl slips me a note that says “you are so pretty.” Classic fifth grade note, hearts and butterflies. For some reason I found this flattering, the connection with this fifth grade girl and it has stuck with me.
Marianne Smith was my host teacher for student teaching. Other teachers referred to her as “The Rock.” The one who stood in the hall, arms crossed and barked at students to “Stop Running!” She knew she was “That Teacher.” She said, “Every school has to have one.” She was also “Teacher in Charge” when the principal left the building. My third day of student teaching and she had to cover for him for two weeks because of a medical emergency and that was it. I got three days of training and I took over the class. I stood there that day, alone with 20 six year olds for the first time, watching them play chase around the room, running at full speed, pushing slower kids out of the way and knew I was in for trouble.
Thankfully, I figured it out pretty quickly, and even after the principal returned, the host teacher pretty much left me alone. She was retiring that year and she spent most of her time sifting through items from 32 years of teaching. Yes. I was “gifted” many many boxes of materials, but mostly she held sales in the staff room, where she set up shop and hung out drinking coffee. I know it sounds bad, but this “trial by fire” thing really helped me develop my own style. I wasn’t imitating anyone, I was just doing what came naturally.
Looking back, that year is foggy, foggy, foggy… but I have a few images in my brain. One is large pieces of butcher paper on the floor, and small groups of kids laying on top and drawing ocean scenes from books about sea-life. The other is discovering how much time was eaten up with mundane tasks. Each morning the kids would come in and spend…. I am not kidding here, 20 minutes getting out of their snow gear. Stuck zippers, mittened hands, stepping out of snow pants, hanging up all of the coats and pants and putting on school shoes, me lacing up shoes. And then… lunch recess. 30 minutes to put the stuff all back on, everything damp, helping kids zip up coats, tugging mittens back on, buckling boots, adjusting socks “That are twisted.” Repeat the process when they return from recess and again at the end of the day. This ate up what felt like HOURS of the day.
I have had so many amazing years since then. My path has crossed with master teachers, exciting philosophies, colleagues who have become best friends, and students. Oh my goodness, the students. Like that first year, they are a bit a blur, but there are so many that have touched my life, changed me, made me grow. So here I am, today, 25 years later, officially able to retire if I wanted, From that first year, I remember the names and faces of only two students. Sebastian and Paris. I wonder where they are now?