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Monday, May 9, 2011

An Up and Down Thrill Ride

I know roller coasters. I'm a Midwest boy and one of the things that get a number of us through the winters is the hope of getting thrown around on wood and steel structures in the heat of the summer. Gemini, Beast, Maverick, and Raging Bull are names that are stored in mid-westerner's memory banks as rides that momentarily suspend the rider into a weightless form, experiencing joy and fear at the same time. The sensations and emotions that roller-coaster rides provide can only be obtained at the big parks, unless you are a teacher.

This was my first school year teaching my own class. In other words, a first year teacher. A moniker that I initially avoided, but came to accept, while never hiding behind. I never wanted my ideas, passion, or energy to be discounted or dismissed by the label. I had spent the previous year (April '09-April '10) completing a Graduate Transition to Teaching program with the primary goal of obtaining my elementary license and the corollary goal of completing two-thirds of my Masters Degree in a truncated time-frame. That story is being reserved for a later post, but I'll say the pressures and sacrifices required for that program set-up me up well for wild ride that I would undertake once I got the keys to my own door.

After being selected as a finalist from an applicant pool of over 245 teachers, in a state where the Governor had recently announced 300 million in budget cuts, I was just happy to be offered anything in my newly chosen field. Fortunately, I had the unusual opportunity of expressing my preference for my first classroom and I chose first grade and its six year olds.

So began my slow, clanky, anticipatory ride to the top of the drop. My room just had just been repainted, so my box was, vanilla'd out, to use a remodeling term. Just desks, chairs, and potential. I spent about 32 hours implementing my classroom design and feel as the anticipation built towards the first day. The non-student teacher report week was devoted to professional development, other training, and clerical tasks. The dull before the roar. The school open house closed out the week and held the promise of a new beginning. Then my slow ride picked up speed as I crested the top of the school year and I sped towards the thrills, the fear, and the ups and the downs

I was fortunate to have an administrator that had previously taught the age level and grade. So early on I received a lot of good ideas, tips, and support. It was nice to have a sounding board of someone that I could trust as well, and I felt she had mine and my students best interest in mind. She talked me down off the ledge to be sure or in roller coasterease, held my hand through the corkscrews. The times where I felt upside down. All of a sudden it was October, then very quickly winter break. Whew.

In January, I felt that we were starting to gain some momentum and doing some great things. The ride seemed a little smoother, akin to riding a steel coaster as opposed to a wooden one. We started blogging and were doing some great discovering in our science and social study units. There were days where the early year preparation, modeling and practice of our classroom procedures made it seem as if I was barely needed. I would introduce the concepts, foster the skill practice, and when possible, allow the students to demonstrate how they learned in the best way they could.

There were days of course, where I felt that our classroom car was heading towards the ground and I couldn't see the track ahead of us. They were mostly self-inflicted, terrifying moments where I felt that I had run out of ideas, or when I felt the weight of my conscious incompetence. There were times of sadness, when a student impacted your life without you even realizing it and times of tremendous joy . Of course, the plunging, pitching ride is always connected to something, but it often felt like I was coming off of the rails.

To be sure, I've learned more than my students and will almost certainly owe them an apology someday because I know that I'm capable of more. I came to realize that there was no such thing as a cast off moment, that I was always teaching. And even-though this year isn't quite over, I can't wait to strap in with the next group of students to take another wild ride. Both hands in the air the whole way.

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