Teacher tears are when you feel overwhelmed with love for your students. I’m feeling that today. I have had a lot of jobs that have made me cry. My teacher jobs have been no different but the reason changed. Before, I cried for sadness. Now, I cry for the joy I feel at being able to work as a teacher. I’m teary today because I will miss these special little people at Locke Hill Elementary. As I told them, they are special and I will always remember them.
I had a great experience yesterday connecting with one of my more “active” students. Sammy (name changed) is the one in class who finds it almost impossible to sit still and refrain from blurting out answers and comments. He was placed on a behavior contract almost at the beginning of the year. He has a poverty frame of reference that tells him all authority is bad. So by “active” I mean challenge. He is a challenge to conform to the social ettiquette of a traditional classroom. Sammy loves basketball. He plays it every recess. He is constantly practicing jump shots. And I mean constantly. While the rest of the class is writing, Sammy decides he needs a tissue to blow his nose but most importantly to ball it up and ‘jump shot’ it into the trash can. Sammy also practices in the hallway on his way to lunch, the bathroom, music, P.E. (of course) etc. So how do I connect with a student like that? My answer: March Madness. I came up with this idea in an effort to channel the jump shot practice in order for Sammy to want to please me in order for him to be able to sit still and pay attention so that he might actually be able to get the grades in high school to play on a high school team, graduate and get into college where he might get a “jump shot” of a chance to play on a college team. The idea: hold our own Fourth Grade March Madness Championship. Sammy loved the idea. I found a bracket for him online and the idea is taking shape. I hope the connection with have a lifelong chain of positive effects.
My wonderful mentor teacher offered to arrange for me to go into each grade level in my school and observe. I just finished my last one today. I’m so thankful for having the opportunity to observe heroes of education. The mantra for the American workforce for the last four years has been “do more with less.” No one feels this strain more than our American teachers. We have less resources but higher standards; less instruction time but more objectives; more students but less of us. The definition of a hero is: a person of distinguished courage or ability, admired for their brave deeds and noble qualities. I would like to propose that this definition be officially changed to define an American teacher. Distinguished courage…check. Distinguished ability…check. Brave deeds and noble qualities…check and check. I can only hope that I will be able to join their ranks some day.
If you were to ask me why I want to be a teacher the most concise answer I could probably give would be that out of all the jobs I’ve had, it is the only one that gives me goose bumps. It would take me a long time to think of something that I don’t like about teaching. I love it. I’m passionate about it. In fact, I go as far as to think of it as a calling. Daily goose bumps are the norm for me but yesterday I experienced heartbreak as well. For the first time in my life a student told me he hated me. Yes, he is a troubled one. Probably more troubled than I will ever know. Yes, I’ve spent 1/1 time with him attempting to connect with him and meet his specific needs. Yes, I’ve been fair with him. Yes, I’ve treated him with respect. Yes, I’ve sought advice from more seasoned teachers. Yes, I have the right perspective that he is a child and he said a childish thing. Yes, I take it personally ONLY to a point. Yes, I realize that he is 1 student out of 21 and the other 20 are having a great fourth grade. 20 out of 21 is 95%, right? Finally, yes, I realize I am here for 60 very short days. Does it make it any easier that a student’s interaction with me caused him to say that? NO! I’ve gone through the usual self evaluation or to use an education term, ‘metacognition’ about the context of the interaction. At the end of the day I don’t think I would change the expectations or the way I enforced those expectations which was really what made him angry. The happy ending to this experience is that first thing this morning two girls called out and waived from the other end of the hallway and gave me a big hug………and there are those goose bumps again.
I’ve been looking in my rear view mirror quite a bit over the last few months. Moving is considered one of the most stressful things that you can go through in your lifetime and I’ve been doing it every two years for the past seven so I can confirm this. Knowing this is probably one of the reasons I hung around California as long as I did. Experience has taught me that the grass is never greener. When I did finally throw in the towel I wasn’t prepared for two things. First, how many people told me they wish they could leave too. Second, how much I would actually miss California. Specifically, the Bay Area and the quintessentially western town of Vacaville. There are of course some things I don’t miss. Let me start with those so I can end this on a positive note.
5 Things I Won’t Miss
Traffic on I80 – Most of the time there was no logical explanation for the traffic jam.
The Price of Gas – Need I say more?
The Politics in General – I don’t even know where to start with this one. Let’s just say that a reserved, White girl with midwestern values from Ohio didn’t fit in.
The Freezing Cold Water in the Pacific Ocean – And I mean freezing in the literal sense. You really can’t be in the water for any length of time without a wet suit or you will go into hypothermia and die. It kinda puts a damper on beach time. Oh, and there are Great White Sharks too.
The Educational System – Again, I really don’t know where to start. Last I heard they were ranked 49th in the country (public system). Funding issues seem to be the only determining factor for making decisions.
5 Things I Miss (in no particular order)
The Bay Fog Over the Vaca Hills – I loved seeing the fog bank just topping the hills as I looked towards the city.
Napa Napa Napa – My first job in California was in Napa and I fell in love with everything about it. Napa Valley is just about as close to Western Europe as you can get without leaving the States. It reminded me a lot of Tuscany. Its Mediterranean climate exists in less than 2% of the world. I could go on and on…….
The Smell of the Eucalyptus Trees – Second only to Hawaii, I think California is the best smelling state I’ve been in.
San Francisco Ferry Building Farmer’s Market – This is hardly a secret and as a local it never disappointed.
Annual Live Nativity at Trinity Baptist Church, Vacaville, CA – This was such a blessing to be a part of. If you find yourself in the neighborhood at Christmastime it is worth a visit to one of the performance times. The focus of this church is to give to its community and this is the biggest outreach of the year. A live choir, camel, sheep and donkey make the event unforgettable.
I fell in love four years ago…….No, it wasn’t with a guy or pair of shoes. It was with a room full of eight year olds. What is it about eight year olds? you ask. There is something special about that age. They are overflowing with life and they love to learn. I didn’t always know that I wanted to teach. In fact, I stumbled over the dream while working towards a different goal in grad school. I had obtained a substitute teaching position during grad school simply out of a need to make ends meet. I would work my normal job and then sub on Mondays and Tuesdays during my days off. I had always loved learning and liked school but had never pictured myself in a traditional educational setting such as a classroom. I had honestly been a slight avoid-er of children due to a congenital heart condition that I knew would prevent me from being able to have children of my own. As time went on those feelings slowly went away and subbing was a perfect solution for making a little extra money. During that semester of grad school I subbed so much I didn’t have a day off in 5 months. I look back on that time as one of the happiest though. I felt at home in the classroom. I was happy and people noticed my happiness. At the end of the Spring semester I was asked to fill a full time position in the third grade. I spent my first year of teaching as a full time grad student and a full time student of teaching. I didn’t know what hard work was. But I also didn’t know that when you love your work it doesn’t really feel like work. One of the clearest memories I have is watching my students in their Christmas production and feeling so proud of them. I remember wondering if that is what it felt like to be a parent. Fast forward to the end of the year. Master’s degree completed…..check, signed contract for next year……check, part-time summer camp job, check.
I spent the summer making plans for the next year: perfecting my classroom, researching, reading, planning different approaches to lessons and classroom management. I was so ready for my second year – the chance to correct all the mistakes that I had made as a first-year teacher. That second chance would never come though. With roughly a week to go before I was to receive my class list I received a lay off notice instead. To say I was devastated would be an understatement. My entire identity was gone. My hopes and dreams were gone. There was no warning for this. I had a signed contract for the position in April. There were no job performance issues, no reason given at all, really. In my mind I had failed. In short, we are now four years from that life changing event. I’m ashamed to say I’ve spent that time afraid to pursue my passion. I’ve told myself that my ship has sailed, I’m too old, I’ll be too expensive with a master’s……I’ve let fear of failure paralyze me. Until now!
The catalyst that changed all that has been a job in an old school sales company. Recently, I was asked what I miss the most about teaching. Well, I miss a lot but what I miss the most is being seen as someone who was there to help – a service provider. Being in an old school sales job means being mistreated most of the time. No one wants to see me coming. Even if someone wants my product, I am viewed with a certain amount of suspicion because of a general reputation of salespeople. Convincing a client that they want/need my product means being somewhat argumentative which is the complete opposite from my natural conversational style. Although I do think my company is generally ethical I am constantly reminded that we a “for profit” company. And although I was never trained to be unethical in my approach or presentation, I find my personal ethics to be challenged often when I am faced with the situation of continuing to “push the sale” even though the client has said “no” several times. Other times, the client may say that they are in the middle of home foreclosure. So, do I face an unhappy manager or try to make the sale. I choose to wish the client well and walk away. I’d rather deal with an unhappy manager than a night with no sleep. Having this experience has made me yearn for teaching even more because it is such a stark contrast between loving your job and hating your job.
It has been said that we miss 100% of the shots we don’t take. Several weeks ago I decided to shake off the paralysis and take a shot. I know I had to get a credential if I was serious about teaching. So the first shot I took was applying to a California credential program. It took a couple weeks for the decision to be made – Nope, they were so sorry but they couldn’t accept me to the program. Why not? Turned out neither degree I have is recognized by the educational system in Cal. There have been several times in my life when quoting Bible verses has calmed my anxiety and brought peace to my spirit. This time was no exception. I had pulled over to the side of the road to take the call. I hung up shocked and the default setting in my brain started asking God “why?.” This decision to pursue teaching certainly wasn’t off the cuff. I had prayed a lot about it, sought the counsel of friends and family and above all believed that the desire was God-given. If I had a “yes”on all of those, how could California say “no?” Wasn’t God omnipotent and sovereign? That was my head knowledge. Was it my heart knowledge? The still, small voice in my heart quickly answered my question of “why” with “trust”. “Trust in [my] Lord with all [my] heart. Lean not on [my] understanding. In all [my] ways acknowledge Him and He will direct [my] paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6. I drove home that day quoting those verses out loud over and over again. To my finite mind it looked like the death of my dream all over again. But, remember! I wasn’t relying on my mind to understand the circumstance. I was calmly trusting and choosing to engage my head knowledge with my heart knowledge. I remember breaking the news to my family and friends. A good friend of mine teasingly remarked that I was taking the news surprisingly well. I laughed at her candidness. As always, God’s mercy and grace enables us to obey what He asks us to do. In my case it was trusting His decision despite my disappointment.
Another passage of Scripture which has been a staple in my life is Psalm 23. This passage uses the metaphor of a sheep with its shepherd. God promises us that we will lack nothing even while passing through life threatening circumstances. There have been so many times over the past four years that due to unemployment, a heart condition and unhappiness, it looked to me like I was lacking in quite a bit. Those were the times I was leaning on my understanding and trusting with none of my heart.
The happy ending here is that God is so merciful to us. He opens doors and grants desires not because we deserve it but because He is merciful. I have been accepted to a teacher prep program in the great state of Texas. I have an opportunity to support my sister’s family in what God has called them to be and to do. I have the opportunity love my nieces and teach them how to love chocolate and ponies but most importantly how to love God. And I have the opportunity to love a room full of eight year olds.