Falling Apart or Falling Into Place

This is the time of year that teachers begin to notice changes.  Some changes are easy to spot.  Joe grew what seems to be a foot over Winter Break.  Annabeth and her sister got braces.  Jed’s voice has begun to change. Kids are more gangly (or less) and are better (or less) able to recognize where they are in space.  Awkward misunderstanding-based interactions become less frequent.  Behaviors teachers are tracking become less frequent or require fewer redirections.

They can walk in a straight-ish line from the classroom to another location and it didn’t take six years to get them into a mostly reasonable line to start with.

Other changes are more subtle.  Some kids seem more mature, more responsible with fewer items lost or left behind every afternoon.  Some are suddenly more independent. The mass exodus of pencils out of classrooms slows slightly.  Angry outbursts happen less often and kids seem more mellow.  More writing happens with less complaining about how utterly awful it is.  Confidence has appeared.  The ability to make and defend arguments improve.  Random acts of kindness happen more often with no expectation of reciprocation.

Newer teachers are beginning to feel hopeful. The days become less focused on surviving until dismissal and more focused on growth, both for their students and for themselves. They don’t feel like everything is falling apart every moment of every day.

They’ve gotten into a bit of a groove.  One or two nights they stay late to prep for the week, and are starting to take more time for themselves on weekends, setting boundaries about planning and prep at home to make room for time with spouses and friends. They know where they put things in their classroom and why…and can find them again with more ease now.  Watching them teach, they seem more at ease, both with content and flow, but also with their role in the classroom, whether that’s “Sage on the Stage” or “Guide on the Side” at any given moment.  They’ve grown the eyes in the back of their heads and are now able to tell Toby to put it away without ever turning around.  They know when CJ has a cell phone in her lap to text Josh across the room and can confiscate it without a word, beginning the draft of an email to CJ’s father while giving the next set of instructions so she doesn’t forget to send it later.

Their “teacher bladder” has kicked in and their ability to consume lunch in 20 minutes while fighting with Bob Marley the copier has improved.

They’re willing to share strategies and learnings with others now.  They have more confidence in their own abilities and have a better idea as to what they need from their colleagues, mentors, coaches, and principals.  They feel more comfortable asking for what they need and brainstorming solutions with others.  They’re digging into data and looking for opportunities to challenge their kids…and themselves.

They start thinking about next year.  They see the light at the end of the tunnel…and it looks promising.

There are still frustrating moments of course.  There always will be when you aren’t working with widgets.  Some afternoons at 2pm, visions of being a barista or bartender look pretty good.  There’s gripe sessions over wine or beer with friends and spouses (and opportunities to teach their spouses and friends that griping doesn’t mean they have to fix the problem…just listen) that lead to a reset of sorts.  Sometimes that verbal processing leads to newfound determination and ideas.

And for me, it’s the time of year that I look at my growing to-do list and hope that I, too, find my groove before June arrives.  I need to find a good schedule for the things I’ve put on my plate: getting into classrooms to observe, supporting kids in the moment, and other projects that have due dates…mine or someone else’s. Another round of conferences begin next month and I want to grow in how I present sessions to teachers.  The feedback received in the fall was great, but now I need to tweak to ensure I’m not the only one having fun.  I want to create a solid induction program that makes sense for both new teachers and those new to us, that focuses on the most important practices and gets to the heart of our mission and vision. So many projects.

I had the opportunity to be with kids for a little while this week and did an impromptu mini-lesson based on an objective listed on the whiteboard. Once the kids got started, a parent volunteer in the room noted that she thought I ought to be with kids in the classroom all the time again…I was a good teacher. She was so sweet to say so. I do miss it. I miss the predictability of it all and the control I had over how my day went. There was little chaos in my world then, and I was protected in my classroom from anything else going on in the building. I had one job…and it was glorious.

I chose this. I could have said no. But it was a chance to grow and learn. A challenge. An opportunity to innovate something that we hadn’t had before. I was handed the opportunity to build my own job–few people get to do that in their lifetime. And even on the most frustrating and difficult days, it’s still glorious. Every day I learn something new and feel more confident in the decisions I make. I don’t second guess myself as often, and yes, I still screw up. I’m willing to ask for support and learn quickly what I don’t know when a situation arises. And there are lots of those.

I’m no less a teacher. It just looks different. And my tall poppies are educators, learning to navigate the field of their own tall poppies, with all of their beautiful quirks. It’s all falling into place.

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