Tuesday was my last day of school. The 180th day I had spent with my Littles, some of who were not so little. I meant to write a post that day, or yesterday, but as fate would have it, I caught the stomach bug. To be completely frank, this was a total surprise for me. I have a horrible immune system – I missed seventeen days of first grade because I got so sick, spent many summers with tears in my eyes because of ear infections, missed a week of high school because of sinusitis, got mono senior year of college and missed my twenty-first birthday, BUT I hadn’t missed any days this year due to illness. So as I told my mom what had happened, she replied with one word: “exhaustion.” My body had withheld all the illnesses, battled viruses and colds to make sure I could get through the year and then, twenty-four hours after I said goodbye to my babies, it let its defenses down.
But this post isn’t about my illness (I am feeling much more like a human today just as an update). It’s about those one-hundred eighty days that have made me a completely different teacher than I was back in August. There are so many things I want to say and I’m just not sure if I can fully express my feelings through words, but I’m going to try.
First, reflecting on nearly a year ago, I was down in the dumps going through the job search process. Here’s a blog post about it. I had gone through numerous interviews, second round interviews, demo lessons and nothing had stuck. Then, within a week, got offered three jobs. And the one that I wanted the most wanted me back. And I can honestly say, I never looked back.
Then, came the honeymoon period of August and September, quickly followed by an October that pushed me close to my breaking point. October is really hard. It’s a lot of adjusting and readjusting and evaluating and analyzing and reflecting and trying to get better. It was calling my mom at 5:30 in the morning saying “I don’t think I can do this” and her telling me gently but firmly “You have to. Do it for them.” It was twenty-five kids by myself with a variety pack of behavior and academics. It was meeting with my principal and coaches and grade level partner and swallowing my pride and saying “how can I get better?” It was redesigning my lesson plans, becoming more structured, having more authentic and honest communication with families, being open to critiques and comments from my colleagues.
After October came November, December, and January and a breath of fresh air. I got a para. There was winter break. And the most amazing thing? There was growth! My babies started to grow. We were growing together into a huge family. We supported each other. I made positive phone calls home, in the middle of the day, to cheers and hollers from the rest of the class. We had lunch together. We played at recess. I started to become more confident in the changes I made over the fall. And they made growth academically, too. They started to emerge as readers and mathematicians and scientists and learners.
In the spring, time started to fly and move very slowly. February brought me a new 1:1 para for one of my Littles and her and I hit it off immediately. Due to unforeseen circumstances she was relocated and I had to reevaluate (again). Then, March. March is an incredibly long month which honestly looking back on now, feels like a blur. Next, in April, I felt like we started to move backwards. After a brainstorming phone call with my confidant (my mom) we planned a relaunch to take me until the end of the year, returning to behavioral scaffolds that had been removed in the mid year. We talked about acceptable vs. non-acceptable choices and our class rules and we practiced our skills and centers.
Then, we came to the end of the year. In May, end of year testing. My data was not where I wanted it to be, a problem that first grade had been faced with for many years now. In my end of year conference, I spoke to how I had done some professional development on that topic and would spend my summer on it as well. But I also told my principal how the data is not reflective of how my students became readers. How a student who at the beginning of the year would spend read to self time glancing around the room, shyly asked if he could take Splat the Cat home. How my girls created a book club around Owl Diaries because they loved it. How excited my students were for read aloud. How students begged me to be the class read aloud for the day.
And here we are, in June. The last few days raced past with field trips and picnics and movies and science experiments. As my Littles walked out that door on Tuesday, I made sure to give them each a hug. I told them all that I loved them and always will. It’s hard to put into words what kind of affect those children had on me. They pushed me to become the best teacher I could for them. We all made mistakes but we rallied around one another to become a classroom family. Everyday I learned something new from them, something new about them. It was so hard, but it was so worth it. I’m so incredibly fortunate to be in the school that I am, working with the people that I do, and to have that first class that I did. And it’s only confirmed to me that this is what I’m meant to do. Year Two, I’m coming for you!