Happy New Year!
In this inaugural post I introduce myself, contemplate an important idea in education---strengths and weaknesses, and thank an influential mentor.
It is common for people to avoid the unpleasant, and what can be more unpleasant than the sight of our own glaring flaws? It is much more comfortable to avoid them altogether. To reach our fullest potential though, we must find the strength to stare down our weakness, learn from it, take action, and improve. We are all capable of growth and development, but first we have to find the strength to confront our weaknesses. As I reflect on my fifteen year career as an educator I think back to that first challenging year and the person who helped my find my strength.
When I first wanted to become a teacher, I imagined being a first grade teacher---teaching kids how to read was always my biggest passion. As a result, in college I selected courses and based by projects and field experiences on primary education. So it was with a bit of culture shock that I started my first year of teaching in middle school. The sixth graders with facial hair really threw me! Class management was extremely difficult.
My principal at the time had several mottos that he said over and over to the large group of new teachers that year. One was “It wouldn’t be your first year of teaching without tears” and the other, “If you can manage to keep all the students in their seats and not kill each other by the end of the year, you have done your job.” The first was true on many occasions that year and the other wasn’t too far off… Something was not clicking, I was acting the way I thought a middle school teacher should act, but the kids were not responding.
In the spring, I chaperoned the end of the year trip. Something happened there. I wasn’t trying to be a “middle school teacher”, I was myself, relaxed and enjoying being with the kids. That is when it all clicked. The relationships built that day and my new found comfort with middle-schoolers transferred over to my class management.
The class behavior improved dramatically during that last quarter. Before the class trip I was seriously considering transferring to elementary school, now I liked the challenge of middle school and I was finally feeling successful....so I was shocked when my grade level assistant principal, Ms. Phillips, gave me an N-Needs Improvement, for classroom management. Didn’t she see how much I improved from the beginning of the year!?!
That summer I read every book on class management that I could get my hands on, wrote down ideas and insights, and planned my new approach. I created a list of Class Procedures A-Z with every single class situation covered. A-What do during the announcements, B- Begin class by coming to class on time and begin the Do Now, C…
Ms. Phillips came to observe me on the first day of school, first period. Instead of thinking that she is out to get me, I focused on the class and my plan. She had one of those poker faces, so I nervously awaited her evaluation. Before my meeting with her, we had a faculty meeting to debrief the first day of school. The assistant principal took the podium and talked about how she saw that some classes were unruly in the hall and suggested that they line up outside the class, like Ms. Garrido does with her students. There was a lot of down time at the beginning of class, she said, so she suggested that they have their students complete a task as soon as they enter, like Ms. Garrido does. This went on for several more “suggestions” and each time she said my name, I was in disbelief---but couldn’t resist smiling a little inside.
Fast forward to the end of that second year in Ms. Phillip’s office…
She told me that she could not think of one negative thing in the classroom, that she could see me being “Teacher of the Year” one day. The one thing she did want to see improve—that I get more involved in the school.
I went on to a new school that opened up in the district the following year and Ms. Phillips went on to a different school as well and I haven’t seen her since that day. I am grateful to Ms. Phillips for believing that I can do better and holding me to a higher standard. With her words as inspiration I took on the role as team leader that next year, my third as a teacher. The following year I became the head of the Reading Department, in 2009 I was named “Teacher of the Year” and a few years later became the Literacy Coach for the entire school. This year I will take on a district position and work with several schools to improve literacy. I tried to contact Ms. Phillips to thank her, but have not been successful. In case you are reading this, Ms. Phillips, thank you for seeing my potential, pushing me to work harder to achieve things that I never even thought to try. I hope I can do the same for the students and teachers that I work with.