Saturday, June 27, 2015

My Teacher Story And the lessons learned

This year I start my 12th year teaching and have felt like maybe I was at a crossroads with teaching. I have been on maternity leave since Christmas break. I love being home with my daughter and thought maybe it was time to say goodbye to teaching. But after a lot of praying and studying, I am returning the classroom. It isn't possible financially for me to stay at home but more than that I still have work to do as a teacher. A few months ago, I was participating in a Bible study on the book What Happens When Women Walk in Faith by Lysa TerKeurst. Through this study I knew that God was still calling me to be a teacher. I feel pretty strongly that teaching is a calling from God. Part of why I was thinking of leaving teaching was because of all the difficulties we are facing in the classroom these days. My class size and responsibilities are growing. My freedom to really teach is slowly being taken away. I left in December feeling pretty beaten down. Of course the pregnancy hormones probably played a big role in that. I am participating in another Bible study from Proverbs 31 ministries and this morning my reading got me thinking about my journey as a teacher. The things I have been through that have led me to where I am now. I thought I would share and maybe it would encourage a new teacher or remind a veteran teacher of what it was like to be a new teacher. So here is my teaching story. It is a long story so grab a coffee and settle in.

I went to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. The teaching program at UT is a five year program. You major in something else besides teaching and then complete an extra year getting your masters and doing your student teaching. I student taught in first grade and learned a lot. I learned a lot about school culture because we started on the first inservice day and ended on the last inservice day. I learned about needing a best teaching partner and about not eating in the teachers' lounge. I learned about trying to do what was best for our students and what was required of us. But it still didn't prepare me for my own classroom.
I decided that I was moving to Nashville after I finished my masters classes. Several of my friends lived there and my extended family was there. I got an early contract saying that I would have a  job come August. I remember my first interview just like it was yesterday. My mom and I got up early and drove to Nashville so I could interview at this middle school for a job that I knew I didn't want. But I was too scared to say no to an interview. I was offered the job but declined it because I knew middle school teacher wasn't for me. Eventually I returned to Nashville over the fourth of July and interviewed at a couple of other schools. By this time I had a lease on an apartment and was excited to interview at a fairly new school not too far from my house. I was interviewing for a first grade position which seemed perfect since I had done my student teaching in first grade. I returned home without knowing whether I had gotten this job or not. A few days later the principal called me and said she was in Knoxville, could I meet her to discuss a different position. We met at Macalisters on the strip and she offered me a third grade ELL position. I had no idea what she was talking about but I liked the idea of being at a fairly new school near my house. So I accepted the position. The first time I went to see my classroom I was so disappointed. Here I was in this school that was only a few years old and I was in a portable. And it was a disgusting portable. And it was no where near any of the other third grade teachers. They were all inside on the second floor. I was smack in the middle of fourth grade. But I made that room as homey as I could. This was before Teachers Pay Teachers and creating my own classroom materials. I quickly found the closest teacher supply store and found things to make the room better. This first year was definitely a learning experience. Being an ELL teacher, I had a self contained classroom of third graders who English was not their first language. I was suppose to have a small class. But instead I had 21 students. 3 spoke no English at all. 19 of them were boys. I was in way over my head.
This is me on the first parent night ever. I was so nervous and really had no idea what I was doing. While I thought this was the hardest thing I would ever have to do at the time, looking back on it I have such fond memories of this first class. My grandmother would come in once or twice a week and work with my kids that didn't know much English. I made great teacher friends who I could cry with and grade papers with and plan with. My best teaching memory from this year was a student who came in not knowing any English and being terrified. He would meltdown and refuse to move like a preschooler regularly. But I learned that he had just come into the country to live with his mom who was living with an abusive boyfriend. We worked through all that and at the end of the year he stood up and read a three paragraph paper about his favorite things in third grade. That is one of those moments I hang on to when teaching gets hard and I feel discouraged. Here's another picture of me that first year and my lovely room. 

The next year I was moved into the school building with the other third grade teachers. My best teaching friend and I planned together a lot. I had so much freedom with what I was teaching and I loved it. If there had been teacher blogs and TPT then, I would have been all over them. I was open to anything new. This picture is of the girls in my class and me dressed as Junie B. Jones. 

A new school was built down the road that was opening the next year and some of the students from our school were being moved to this new school. That meant some of the teachers would have to leave too. My principal that I worked for was not always on the up and up with us. In fact, we were a pretty tight staff because we had to stick together. She wouldn't tell me if I was the last one hired or not. So when the principal at the new school contacted me to interview for the third grade ELL position, I jumped on it. She was your dream principal and I ended up taking the job at this brand new school. The school wasn't finished until the week of inservice. The school wasn't even approved for kids until 7 am the first day of school. It was such a cool experience getting to start a new school. I loved it. I loved my principal and assistant principal and I loved my teammates. But I started to miss my home in East Tennessee. So at the end of this school year, I packed my stuff up and headed home. In case you are counting, this would be the fourth time I packed up my classroom and moved to a new one. Thanks to my aunt and uncle and then my dad. 
Now when I moved back home I had no job just some connections. I also had no apartment. I was moving back in with my parents who didn't really have room for me anymore. My sister had just graduated college and was living back at home too until she got married in May. But I felt like this was where I was suppose to be. I went to a job fair for the county and was basically told they couldn't hire anyone anytime soon. I left and cried. I had left a job I loved and tenure to come home to hear there are no jobs. I was told not to worry about it that there were jobs and come July they would be hiring. And that was right. In July I got a couple of calls for interviews. I ended up interviewing at my old elementary school that was down the street from my parents for a kindergarten/first grade looping job. I really didn't know anything about kindergarten but accepted the job when it was offered. I spent the remainder of the summer reading about kindergarten. I was so excited to start my new job but terrified. My sister helped me get my room ready and I met a new teaching friend who was also new to teaching and new to kindergarten. I love my school that I teach at now. I've been there for going on 9 years now. But that first year was hard. There hadn't been very many new young teachers in a while and there was a lot we had to figure out on our own. We did a lot of things wrong because we were told wrong or because we weren't told the right thing to do. 
My first day of school as a kindergarten teacher was a blur. The only thing I can distinctly remember is the student who was crying and singing "If you're happy and you know it." 
Remember how I said my first year teaching was the hardest thing I ever thought I would have to do. I was so wrong. My first 6 weeks in kindergarten was the hardest thing I ever had to do. Part of it is just how kindergarten is. The first six weeks is the hardest but a lot of what made my experience so hard could have been prevented. 
I truly had no idea what to do with kindergartners. I had zero experience as a kindergarten teacher and how much they didn't know. I'm also not the smiley, warm and fuzzy type. I love my kids but it takes a lot of effort on my part to be smiley and upbeat. I live in a small community and it didn't take long before some parents were complaining about me. (In fact, I had a parent call and complain on the first day of school because I wouldn't let her son play with the counting bears. Of course the fact that he was throwing them at other students wasn't mentioned at all)  I was struggling and I was mad at myself for struggling so much. I am an overachiever and I'm use to succeeding and I was drowning. In the middle of the day, I got called to the principal's office for a meeting with my principal, assistant principal and the teacher next door (Who I had known since I was in 7th grade). This caught me off guard as they told me that parents were concerned that I wasn't warm and fuzzy enough for kindergarten. Of course I cried and really didn't know what to do. I was prepared to fix my teaching but how do you fix your personality. Luckily, it wasn't just a meeting to tell me what I was doing wrong, they had some ideas to help me connect with the parents better . I was crushed though. I went home and cried to my dad and really didn't know what to do. I'm so thankful that I have parents who believe in me and a dad that knew that I just needed to cry. (As I write this, I still cry a little over it.) 
The assistant principal set up a visit at another school for me so I could get some help. It helped a lot to visit this other classroom and in another school where my troubles weren't so widely known. I also held an open house and took the opportunity to interact with the parents in my class in a less stressful environment. But the damage had been done. I really doubted myself and probably still do doubt myself as a kindergarten teacher because of this. I was also told by someone from central office that I didn't have the personality of a kindergarten teacher when he came to observe me. He had nothing negative to say about my lesson. But thought I wasn't warm and fuzzy enough with the kids by not letting them talk to me during the lesson about whatever they wanted. My opinion then and now is that during teaching time is not a time to share and let students hang all over me. If you wanted to see how I interact with the kids like that, come during recess or free center time. Those are the times when the kids come and talk to me and tell me what is going on with them. 
This class was the most difficult class I have ever had. They continue to be a difficult class and teachers in other grades can't believe the mix of kids I had for two years because I looped with them. But I learned a lot those two years and am a much better teacher because of it. But I believe some of this could have been prevented. Here's what I hope you take from my story:

- Reach out to new teachers in your grade and in your building. I have made an effort to do this since I had this experience. If someone had reached out to me, I think I could have had a better year. There were so many things that I didn't know about the school culture and no one told me. In fact, one of my co-workers was doing everything she could to prevent me from having a good year. 
- If a teacher is struggling, don't talk about it with the parents in your community. Talk to the teacher, see if you can help or stay out of it. 
- If you are starting your first year, it will be hard but you can get through it. Find a teacher to be friends with. 
- IF you are starting your first year, don't be so hard on yourself. You will struggle and it's ok. 
I'm starting my 9th year at this school and in kindergarten and first grade this fall. I still am not a smiley person but I have learned how to put on a smile for my kids. I know the first 6 weeks is going to be hard and I can get through it. I know that if I spend more time enjoying my kids and less time worrying about other teachers, things will be good. I have also learned to ask for help and to offer help. 

I would love to hear your teacher story.  Grab the button and link up with me. 


  1. Thank you so much for sharing your story! I agree with you that teaching time is not hang-on-the-teacher-and-talk-about-whatever-you-want-to time, even in Kindergarten!

  2. Great story Kerri! I didn't know you were in ELL first. I also taught a different subject my first year. I know how you feel about staying at home too. I wrestled with that for a long time during pregnancy, but just knew it wasn't feasible. So glad to have family nearby.