Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Livin' The Dream

When you are a teacher, having "teacher dreams" just goes with the job.  School and the kids are never far from our thoughts and it's only natural that some of the anxiety and stress bleeds over into our dreamworld.   My first five years of teaching, I probably had dreams about school and teaching at least six nights every week.  By the seventh night, I was so exhausted when I fell into bed that I didn't even dream.  Some weeks I felt like I was teaching all day and all night.  In some dreams I acted out complete lessons, and upon waking, actually used some ideas in my teaching.  But more times that not, the dreams stemmed from my anxiousness and insecurities - one of the reoccurring themes was not being able to control the classroom.   Now, let me interject that classroom management is actually one of the things I think I handle fairly successfully, so it was always interesting that the majority of my 'nightmares' involved me having no control over the little ones. 

Over the years, thankfully, my "teacher dreams" have become less frequent and now, in fact, I rarely have them.  After over a decade, my brain has finally allowed me to rest.  A few weeks before the start of the school year, I always have one or two, but now they are more cheerful and involve less of my anxious thoughts.  Once a year I tend to have the dream where I walk into my class and I have fifty students, but even in my dreams I am now more experienced and better able to handle it. 

Last week, I had a "teacher dream" of another variety.  This one involved me as the student.  I had returned to school to keep my teaching certificate and needed two classes or I was going to lose my job.   I was late for my first class because I got lost finding the classroom.  (Note:  I am an extremely timely person and have been late on only rare occasions.  You could set your clock by me!)   Once in the classroom, I looked around and everyone was working on a test, filling in bubbles on the dreaded scantron form.  The teacher was walking around and I waited for her to approach my desk.  She began berating me for not starting my test yet and I looked around on the desk, locating the test and answer sheet.    At this point, several others had stood up and declared that they were done.   My heart began to race!  I had not even started the test!

I opened the packet and began to read the first question.  It was complicated and made no sense.  As my heart pounded, I read the second question, and then the third, but each one was worse than the one before.   I looked around at people scribbling in the bubbles as panic set in!  I didn't know what to do.   I could feel hot tears building up in my eyes.  What was I going to do?  I was going to fail.   I was stupid.  How could everyone else be capable and I didn't know anything?  Why was this test so hard?

And then somewhere a bell, or something rang, and I realized I had to get to my next class.  The teacher collected everything and I began to rush to class #2.   This one was located in a large computer lab and, once again, everyone was already at their computers, clicking away on the keyboards.  A teacher (who, by the way looked very like our own Media Center Specialist at my own school) pointed me to my computer and matter-of-factly instructed me to get started before I ran out of time.
I tried to log in, but kept getting errors.  It was horrible!   Finally I logged in and I once again read the first question and it didn't make sense.  I read and re-read it.  I asked for a piece of paper and the instructor told me that was not allowed.   She told me that I should be able to figure it out.

And, then, like dreams so often do, it abruptly ended and I was startled awoke, sweat on my brow, and my heart still doing double-time.   Ahhhh... transference at its finest.  Bravo dreamworld!  

I'm sure by now anyone reading this blog who is a teacher already gets where this dream came from.  In fact, our staff meeting last week involved doing practice questions on the new Michigan state test on the computer.  It's a stressful time for a teacher, but, hey, we are used to that.  We deal with twenty-some kids and parents on a daily basis.  We juggle teaching writing, reading, math, and four hundred other things in a given day.  We write report cards, answer emails, and correct papers after school hours.   But it's not US we are worried and anxious and stressed about.. it's the kids.  These little ones are being asked to test and, in some cases, know things that little brains can't yet understand.  They are kids.  I've seen the stress and the anxiousness on their tiny faces when they take these mandated tests.  There are no words needed when a little one looks at you across the computer lab with such desperation and fear.   And all I can do is smile back and pat them on the back and tell them to try their very best.   Ugh.

Life is not a multiple choice test or a reading and answering questions test.

Life is problem solving and working together with other people, even ones you may not like.   It's being a good person and helping others.  It is learning and asking questions, and then asking more questions.  It's collaborative and engaging.   It's sharing ideas and reading good books. It's saying, "I'm sorry" and "What can I do to help?"  It's trying your best and when you fail, trying something new.  It's using your imagination.  It's learning and doing and trying. It's challenging and enjoyable.  It's taking risks.  It's being a good friend and making new friends.  It's understanding different viewpoints and appreciating differences.   It's being prepared and going with the flow.  It's up and it's down.  

But most of all, life is dreaming big and following your dreams. 

I hope in all that's going on in the world of education, we never lose sight of that. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Two For The Price Of One

For the first time in my teaching career, I have a student teacher this year. She started full-time with me on Monday but has been in my classroom once a week since September.  Now, obv I don't have much experience with student teachers and I'm certainly no "student teacher expert" but I would venture to say that I've pretty much hit the Student Teacher Lottery (if there were such a thing). 

For starters, she is an attorney and decided that her passion in life is to become a teacher.  So she went back to school and put in time and effort and $$ because she wants to do something that makes her happy. Teach. Now I'm sure without a doubt she is an excellent attorney and could probably make tons and tons of money and get to go to the bathroom whenever she wanted and take vacations in October, but she knew deep down  that being an attorney wasn't what was going to make her truly happy. I, too, after getting my teaching degree (100 years ago), went into the business world for almost twenty years.  But then I went back to school, earned my Masters degree and spent every minute trying to get a teaching job. I knew that was my passion.   Luckily for me I found a wonderful job in Bloomfield Hills and was fortunate to work my first few years with the best teachers on the planet:  Michelle Alt, Leah Heydenburg, Karen DiPietro, and Erin Marra.  They taught me more in one day than I had ever learned in an entire year in the business world.  Really.  There is a fine art to juggling twenty-five students and managing hundreds of learning objectives.

So, here it is Day #2 with my student teacher being in my classroom every day.  She arrives early.  She asks lots of good questions.  She listens to feedback and makes changes.  She admits she's nervous.  She spends countless hours after the school day preparing.  She listens to the students.  She takes copious notes and is organized. She strives every day to learn and grow and be a good teacher.  She's exhausted at the end of the day.

I think I'm very lucky to have this student teacher with me for the next three months.  But I think my students are even luckier.  They now have two teachers to help them, teach them, encourage them, push them, and learn with them.    They have two teachers  who care about them and, let's be honest here, their chances of getting more personal attention is now two-fold.   

This year I have one of the most wonderful 3rd grade classes I've ever had.  They are polite and kind and have a terrific sense of humor.  They are smart and curious and respectful.  They are fun and sensitive.  It's only January and I already know that I will miss them all very much when June rolls around.  

So here's hoping that my student teacher has a wonderful experience in my classroom this semester. She will be overwhelmed and overworked, but I hope she realizes that the passion she has for teaching is real, and that the fact that she pursued this profession at this point in her life means that she will be a really, really good teacher.  I hope she sees that the bad days can be wiped out in an instant by one good one.  I hope she learns a lot and grows a lot and discovers that even though this is probably the toughest job in the world, it also is one that is worth every ounce of effort.  And to anyone out there who is thinking about it.... always go for it and follow your passion!

                                                  Excited for her 1st day!