It was a long time ago….but I remember well!
1982. Yep, over 31 years ago….can I remember back that far?? Or that far back?? Oh yeah.
I graduated the summer of 1982 and was blessed to get a job as a special education resource room teacher. It started two weeks after I graduated. It was in a small, rural district. The catch was….senior high and junior high students all wrapped into one job. Little did I know that I was about to learn some lessons myself.
However, I knew it all. I was a college graduate. I had been trained. I had student taught and learned from the best. I had sat in classes for 4.5 years. I had both my elementary teaching certificate and my special education teaching certificate, so I was ready.
Here is where I insert LOL. Or even “roll on floor while laughing out loud.” No amount of student teaching could have prepared me for some of the situations I encountered.
Three of my high school students were boys over 6 foot tall. Not only were they over 6 feet, two were only 3 years younger than me, and the tallest one was..gulp..only 2 years younger. (See, being a child prodigy…I was able to skip kindergarten in my birth state of Kentucky, thus graduating at 17 years of age. Truth be known, it was not available and when we moved to another state I was already able to enroll in first grade. So…I graduated at 17 years of age, but I digress…) These boys had surpassed that age, so I had to act older, look older and be tough.
The first day I laid down the law. Another LOL inserted here. Excuse me, but they would simply not do what I had told them. One of them told me as much as he looked “down” into my face. Hmmm…I got through the first day, but went home crying, telling my husband that I could not do it.
Second day I appeared with a new resolve. And there was tobacco juice all over my chair, and in and out of my desk. Ok, some authority had to be established here. I marched down to the principal’s office and explained my dilemma. THANKFULLY, he was in complete support of my situation and promised to intervene. These students had caused trouble in all their classes basically. And intervene he did. At that time “paddling” was allowed, and he made sure they knew it. It was my job to let them know I could help them learn in the ways that were best for them.
Things gradually got better. They knew that I meant business and I demanded respect. I did not allow any “kidding around” and would not put up with anything. I was actually very mean, by their definition. I did not try to be their friend…yet. They were learning that they each had specific learning styles, and that accommodations just leveled the playing field for them. They could succeed.
By the spring of the year we were close to graduation and two of the three were going to make it. The last one, the eldest, needed to pass the Constitution test. And there was a government teacher who did not like this kid and saw no value in him. He had given up on him. Long story short (which by now you know I am not good at), the kid passed after my fight for accommodations. They all graduated and no one could believe it.
Many years later I was in a store and heard my Mrs. name being yelled out in a baritone voice. I turned around and there was a man with grey hair in a ponytail alongside a very pregnant lady. It was one of those first year students. I wanted to tell him that “Mrs.” wasn’t necessary since he looked older than me, but I stopped myself. After all, I had never told any of the students how old I actually was at the time.
Then came the thank you.
“I graduated and went on to be a mechanic. You helped me believe in myself. My life would have turned out different if you hadn’t been mean….and believed in me. Now we are going to have our first child, and I can be a good dad and provider.”
Can you say “weeping loudly”? Yep, right there in front of God and country, I cried. I had taught, I had instilled, I had nurtured. Through that tentative first year, I learned what it took to be a good teacher, a “Teacher Mom”.
Some lessons I learned as a first year teacher…(this is not an exhaustive list by any means)!
1. You will not know everything. If a mentor is not assigned to you, find one! I was so encouraged by a seasoned teacher.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and admit you don’t always get it. You will not survive if your pride gets in the way (especially in today’s educational environment).
3. Do not let down your guard. Demand respect. It seems like it was easier to attain back in the 80’s than it is now. But hold your ground. Be fair, but be strict.
4. Don’t try and be the student’s best friend.
5. Do become acquainted with the janitor, secretary and cooks….You will be glad you did for a lot of reasons.
6. Do not take your work home with you. I know that this is not always possible, but I tried to get everything done at school before going home. Often times I went home at 7:00pm or went in early the next morning.
7. Admit when you are wrong….say you are sorry…even to the students. (Remember the respect issue).
8. Dress like a professional. I know that in this day and age it is more relaxed, but as a new teacher it was important for me to separate myself from looking like another student.
9. Do not feel like you need to defend what you do. If you are called to teach (see earlier entry), then you are called to teach. The Father will enable you to do your job.
10. Pray….and pray. I have always believed that praying for my students was one of the most important things I could do for them. I might have been the only one doing so….
“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives..” Colossians 1:9
Blessings dear ones,