I’m at week five of returning to teach in a third grade classroom after five years of serving as an instructional coach. Yesterday I was talking to my former “boss,” whom I consider a mentor. She asked me how things were going. Such a simple question that required a complex answer. “Things are going better. Teaching is so hard!” was my immediate reply, and then I went into why teaching is so hard. I won’t spend time repeating all that I had said, but I will, instead, cut to the chase of this blog post. Teaching is hard because learning is hard.
I talked about implementing new curriculum, new teaching methods, and using new teaching resources. All hard things to learn. And then I went into all that I wasn’t doing, yet. Hey, I included the word “yet.” That shows I have a growth mindset, right? I was reminded through this conversation that I am very hard on myself, that I have expectations that are probably unrealistic, and that I focus on what’s not happening instead of all that is happening. So what has been happening these past five weeks? What “new” things have I been doing?
First and most importantly, I’ve been getting to know 18 incredibly special and diverse eight- and nine-year olds and their families. I’ve also been getting to know an additional 14 students in my math class and their families. We’ve been creating a community where risks and “failures” are celebrated, and we realize that learning requires grit. As the saying goes, kids don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. I’ve been trying to let my students and their families know how much I care through conversations, communication, sharing my life stories, and listening to them share their life stories. That will continue all year-long.
Second, I have been learning how to use the Units of Study for reading and writing. Great teacher resources based on what I am seeing and hearing kids do and say, but not the easiest resource to implement. I want to do it all and do it all with 100% “fidelity” (whatever that word means) and with 100% success. Pretty lofty desire, right? Yeah, and pretty unrealistic.
Third, I have been learning what it means to teach a group of very capable math students who are ready for deeper and more applied learning of mathematics skills and concepts. Math is my thing, so I love that part of my day, and I still feel like teaching math is hard. Without a solid, quality core resource, I feel like I am figuring out how to use a map (our district curriculum), but have no Mapquest directions to tell me how to complete the journey. Maps are great to look at. Directions are helpful, too.
Fourth, I’ve been incorporating and teaching my students about inquiry. We use inquiry to learn about social studies and science, and even reading, writing, and math. My teammates and I have decided to use student inquiry for goal-setting this year. I’m excited about this, even though I know it will be VERY messy. I’m ok with this messy work because I know it’s authentic. I’m not ok with messy when it feels contrived and fake.
Fifth, I am now in a one-to-one Chromebook teaching and learning environment. My students and I have been learning not only about technology tools, but also digital citizenship etiquette and practices that go along with using those tools. I knew the technology train was pulling away from me fast and furiously when I left the classroom five years ago, but…wow! It really left me in the dust. Thank goodness for my IT coach!
I almost forgot that all of what I am learning is occurring in a school where I am a new third grade teacher. I’ve been an instructional coach in this school for the past five years, but being on the teaching side of the classroom door is different from being on the coaching side of the classroom door. Now I’m responsible for thirty-two students instead of twenty-two teachers and their students. Sounds like teaching my own kids would be less intense, but it is just as intense in a more personal way. I didn’t communicate student progress or challenges with children and parents as a coach. That’s a huge and very important part of my job as a classroom teacher. Luckily I have amazingly supportive teammates, not just in my grade level and hallway, but all throughout the school, and in the principal’s office, to help me as I get acclimated to my new job in my new digs.
So, at the end of the conversation I had with my former “boss,” she told me to be kind to myself. She asked me to think about the things I am doing and to choose ONE thing to focus on moving forward. That’s the exact same advice I would’ve given the teachers I was coaching last year. Funny how I can offer wisdom to others and I forget to heed that wisdom for myself.
I have my “one” thing to focus on for this week as I continue on as a learner of all that I mentioned above. No matter what I learn or what I focus on, the well-being and happiness of 32 little ones who say good morning to me each day are what’s most important. We will figure this out together.
What are you learning this year? What advice would you give yourself when you are feeling overwhelmed with the responsibilities and challenges of being an educator? I’d love to hear from you!