I remember the single biggest lightbulb moment I had as a teacher. It was the summer in between my first and second years in the classroom. Anyone who has ever taught knows this is a big summer. That first year, no matter how well prepared, educated and realistic you are, can still be a game of mere survival. You get sick. You feel overwhelmed. You hope every day you’re not wrecking these kids. You hope every second they’re not killing you. I am never more grateful for anything in my life than the chance I got to teach my “first year” kids again in another grade two years later. Talk about the ultimate redemption.
Back to my lightbulb summer. The summer after your first year in a classroom, you’re a survivor and you have a renewed commitment to saving the world one mind at a time. You are also quite humbled. At least, I was. I never thought I knew everything, as I had a healthy respect for those who came before me in the profession, realizing time in can be way more valuable than any nugget in my college textbooks. However, that first summer I was a clean slate, ready to learn whatever it took to not struggle through another round of kids.
I had taken extensive training that year due to some major curriculum changes in my school so I was in the classroom a lot that summer setting up and creating all new literacy centers. (Oh sure, they provided the training but we, of course, had to provide all the materials and learning tools. Duh.) In planning the first few weeks of school, I incorporated “literacy centers” into my daily plans.
It was a concept drilled into us in training, that kids needed to be taught the behavior to accompany this type of learning. They needed to be given time to adjust to the freedom of self-paced centers but given the appropriate instruction and time, they would ultimately thrive in the environment. Kids want to achieve.
The lightbulb went off when I realized that my class (and I) could benefit from practicing ALL the behaviors in the classroom. Sure, I could post rules and discuss them until we were all blue in the face.We could even create the rules as a class, like many suggested. But the simple fact, that I learned the hard way the first year, is that kids don’t inherently KNOW how to behave in all situations. They must be taught.
Kindergarten teachers know this. But for some reason the rest of us felt like they should have gotten it all down in kindergarten. Then we were frustrated when our kids didn’t “listen” or “follow the rules”. Pretty dumb now that I look at it in black and white. And yet, I was guilty of these erroneous expectations until the lightbulb went off.
We spent some time every day for the first month,( yes, month) of school physically practicing our routines. We walked in the hallway in a line. When we were goofy or loud or didn’t keep our hands to ourselves, we turned around and started again. We walked in that darn line until we got it right. We transitioned from subjects until we acted like a well oiled machine. We demonstrated bathroom behavior and we acted out treating our friends well. We showed what “good classroom behavior” was for a solid, damn month and then you know what happened, we had a fantastic school year and indeed my students, and I, thrived.
I’ve been out of the classroom a long time, but sometimes the lessons I caught there come back to smack me in the face with my own kids.
Summer transitions are hard. Time is spent differently when they are all home. Behaviors are different when we’re all under the same roof with all of this TIME on our hands. For a minute, I forgot my own learning. I forgot that we need to practice our summer stuff. I forgot my patience and expectation adjustment and wondered (often aloud) why my kids weren’t just “following the rules”.
Then another lightbulb went off. We practiced clearing our breakfast dishes. We walked through the house to remind everyone of summer routines (where the wet bathing suits goes, how to close up a cereal box and put it back on a shelf, options for occupying yourself when mom’s office door is closed). I reminded myself that if you do something FOR someone for nearly ten years, they don’t just figure out how to do it themselves. They need instruction, practice and patience. So I instructed. They’re practicing and I am working on being patient. Guess what? We might just have a fantastic summer after all, the children, and I, thriving.
I thank the lord nearly every day that I was a teacher, because without the lessons of my 2nd, 4th and 8th graders, I’m not sure I could have ever been a mom.
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