My whole life changed for the better the moment I was offered my job at Gold Academy Elementary in Decatur Township. I will gladly admit that I was in over my head the moment I walked through the doors as an educator instead of a student. Walking through the hallways felt a lot like déjà vu, even though I was on the Blue side for my fifth and sixth grade years. A lot of memories reappeared, mainly since the principal and assistant principal of Gold were also my sixth grade teachers on Blue. The two fifth grade teachers I work with were also my fifth grade teachers at Blue. A third grade teacher that I work with was also my former fourth grade teacher from Stephen Decatur. It oddly felt like coming home. And those five teachers have turned into my colleagues and my friends. Not many people can say that about their former elementary school teachers.
My very first day was filled with A LOT of NWEA testing and shadowing the English Language Learner Instructional Assistant (ELL IA) on the Blue Academy. I got to see what the days of NWEA testing was like. I remember taking it as a student, but boy, things have changed. Instead of taking it just twice a year, they take it three times a year. Anyway, that day, I only met three of students: my three fifth graders. Along with them, I also met four other marvelous IA’s that I now share a LGI room with. That was also the day the LGI room was all moved around and chaos ensued. It was definitely an interesting and overwhelming first day.
The following days after that consisted of a lot of testing and introducing myself to the teachers and the students I’d be working with. Walking into classrooms to talk to teachers was probably one of the scariest things I have ever done. I mean, I’m taking students from their rooms to work with in a small group. I wanted to make sure every teacher trusted that I would take care of and help their student, which is difficult to persuade them of such a thing given I was freshly out of college and the only students I’ve ever worked with before were college students. However, I walked into their classrooms with confidence. And, honestly, all the teachers I work with are AMAZING. I’m not just saying that. They are. They put hours and hours of work into their classrooms for their students and I guess I never really realized that until now. Lesson planning isn’t always easy. I, a little ole IA, have stayed at work until five or later for lesson planning (my schedule is so packed that sometimes my prep time turns into a pull out session). I know of several teachers who have stayed until eight or later grading and making copies and just getting things prepared for the upcoming days. It’s inspiring.
About a week after starting the job, I finally got to work with my students! I was so nervous that I didn’t eat all day. Since I didn’t know any of them and they didn’t know me, I thought it would be fun to fill out little index cards with fun stuff like birthdays, favorite colors, favorite foods, favorites books, etc. (I actually just found those cards yesterday). Little did I know then that just an act as simple as having them write down some of their favorite things was huge steps toward building a relationship with them. Six months later, the bond I have with all 45 of my students is strong. They trust me, they’re comfortable around me, and that’s a feeling like no other.
It took some as little as a few weeks to be comfortable around me, others it took a couple of months. Now, I’m not saying everything has been perfect or that I’m perfect or that my students are perfect. I’ve had arguments, I’ve written students up, I’ve taken away recess, I’ve started a clip chart in my room, I’ve done behavior charts. As an educator (can I call myself that? I mean, I am teaching them some things), I’ve taken a step back and looked at everything I’ve done wrong when it comes to disciplining my students. I talked to the Master Teacher. I’ve talked to other teachers. I’m still learning, but I’ve learned so much from them and I’ve been going about things differently than I was before. So far, so good!
One of the hardest things I had to get used to was lesson planning. I didn’t know my student’s weaknesses right away, so it was slow going. A lot of spelling board races, reading as a group, talking about the day just to get them using English, and rereading the story of the week. What I didn’t know then was that all of that was exactly what they all needed. A few extra minutes with the story helped with their comprehension tests. More spelling practice helped with spelling grades. Everything I thought I was just putting together to hold me over until I knew exactly what they needed, was perfect for them. They aren’t crazy needy students, they just need a little extra help to make things click easier for them.
One thing that I make my students do is to read for thirty minutes every night. At first I didn’t make them document it, but now they have to. Anyway, every single one of them fought me on it. BUT… I’m going to brag a little bit real quick, THEY ARE EXCELLING IN READING. Going up on NWEA tests, going up levels in benchmarking. I’ve even got some to actually like reading! It’s crazy but so much fun.
Just so everyone knows, I love sleep. I love sleeping in. But on weekdays, I don’t mind waking up early to go to work. I don’t mind standing in the commons area and greeting all the students when they get off the bus. I don’t mind staying after school to plan for pull out groups during testing season. I don’t mind when I need to change my schedule up a little when a teacher needs to me help a student at a certain time. I love my job, and sometimes I wish I went to college to be a teacher. But for now, I don’t mind working with ELL students, fighting for what they need, or being someone they can talk to. This job has been one of the best accomplishments of my 23 years of life.