Saturday, June 4, 2011

Becoming a Teacher, Part Two

The next two years of teaching brought about a change in scenery.  We moved to the country outside of a small farming town, Krum, TX.  My role here was not only elementary teacher, but pastor's wife as well.  This was our first "live-in" position.  I had no idea what was in store for me as I stepped into that classroom the first day.

Whereas in Ft. Worth, it was important to be a strong disciplinarian, in Krum, these kids felt like they had gotten a Marine Sergeant.  I was used to pre-empting fights by having strict straight lines when walking the halls.  I was used to "nipping" things in the bud!  It finally took a little chat with my principal to realize that these kids were not hiding weapons, or just waiting to "jump" each other.  In fact, most of these kids were related somehow or knew each other since birth.  I could relax and not be quite so"wound tight" I believe were his words.  So, I ventured forth into a new realm of teaching.

Without energy being expended on discipline, I found more time to focus on creativity.  Although I found this fun and rewarding, there was something missing.  I was bored.  So the next year when a challenge presented itself, I grabbed it!  I would be teaching a blind student who had an assistant who would be in my class part time and I would have to have all lessons and papers ready two weeks in advance to be Brailled.  Moreover, whenever this child had a seizure, everything she had learned would be erased and we would have to start over.  Lastly, she was spoiled.  She was the baby in her family by 15 years and the world pretty much revolved around her.

This second year also offered another challenge.  I would have a child in my classroom with whom I was friends with her mother.  I had never had this happen, and was worried about it.  But the child had cystic fibrosis and missed a lot of school.  Since I lived out there near her, I could tutor her after school.  It took me longer than Amber to acclimate.  She did slip a few times and called me "KaKi" but no one seemed to care since many of them had had teachers they knew or were related to!
Both of these challenges would not even come close to the challenge that came that second year for me. I adjusted to Nicolette, I became much more organized which would be beneficial in the future.  I enjoyed having the assistant and learned how to co-teach which would also prove to be a plus for my future.  Having Amber turned out to be a true joy!  She was my biggest cheerleader!  Her hugs meant a lot to me that year.

But the biggest challenge came on New Year's Day.  Shane Howard, a shy, sweet boy from my class, died.  He had fallen into an icy pond before Christmas, and before I could get to the hospital, he had died.  There is no class in college to prepare you for this.  How do you deal with your own grief?  How do you tell 18 nine year olds that their classmate has died?  How do you deal with the media?  How do you deal with nine-year olds' grief?  How do you do all of this alone because your district is too small to have counselors?  I don't know.  Basically you take one minute at a time.  One day at a time.  You make mistakes, and you apologize and you keep taking steps.  

Telling my class went much smoother than I would have ever imagined.   They took it in stride.  No tears, no anything!  But, what I didn't know is that grief for kids comes out physically.  So, I sent my kids out to recess and that is when the grief showed itself.  Other students started saying that they were glad that Shane had died because he teased them.  Suddenly these calm, kind kids turned violent!  They started chasing and hitting.  When I brought them back inside the tears and emotions began to pour out. It was overwhelming.  Into my lap they poured their sorrow and grief.  I gathered them all into my arms and hugged and wiped tears and before we knew it, it was lunch.  We got our lunches and came back into the classroom, they couldn't stand the thought of being apart.  We ate and talked.  After lunch, we read a book about dying and talked some more.  They decided that they couldn't stand the thought of moving his desk, so they memorialized it.  They also decided to take up money to buy books for their library in his memory.  It was an amazing thing to be part of.  Kids have such resilient hearts.  Kids have such love.  I learned a lot from those kids about grief, friendship and love.

I learned many lessons from those country kids.  I learned that all kids want to be loved, respected and listened to, no matter their circumstances.  I learned that all kids crave boundaries and the chance to show they are responsible.  I learned that all kids love to be read to by their teacher, even if they have a mom at home who reads to them.  I learned to relax and trust my kids and myself.  But the greatest gift came from Shane.  I learned to appreciate life.  I learned to live in the present.  I learned to hug my kids often and tell them I loved them and how proud of them I was, no matter how they might seem to not like it! 

Thank you, Krum.  Thank you kids for loving me and taking this strange, outsider in and loving me.  Thank you for all the lessons that have helped me become who I am today.

I came to realize from that two year period, that my true passion lay in teaching inner-city students.  I realized I must use my gifts where they were most needed.  I would only be truly happy when teaching in the inner-city.  For that, I am eternally grateful.

Let's see we have lived here in Krum two years, so it must be time for a move!  Stay tuned to part 3 to see where we go next.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Becoming a Teacher, Part One

I grew up thinking I would be a teacher.  I loved kids, I seemed to be good with them, and that is what my mom did.  Then as I got older, I wanted to do MORE.  I wanted to make more money and have more prestige. While in college, I didn't enjoy my first year of classes.  I was discouraged because I wasn't doing well in the classes that prepared me for these other careers.  Then, my second year, I was asked a simple question.  "What brings you joy?"  Immediately I said,  "working with children".  I went and changed my major and never looked back!

I did my student teaching in an upper-middle class neighborhood school.  It was unique because it was an open-concept school.  I guess that is when my interest in finding "other" ways to educate was sparked.

Then we moved to Ft Worth and I applied all over the city.  I don't think then I even knew what "inner-city" meant.  I was hired, and started at a school that was on the edge of an established neighborhood and the projects.  I walked into that first classroom and had no idea what I was doing.  Luckily Cheryl Wisch was right next door.  She shaped me more than any professor I ever had.  I learned more from her that first year than all the years after!  The very first day I had completed the whole day's lesson plan by 10:00 a.m.!  Yes, I had a lot to learn!

 I was a naive white girl from an upper-middle class home walking into a classroom where the 7 year olds were smarter than me, street-wise.  I was overwhelmed and distraught. But, somewhere within me, I found a way to connect to those kids.  They responded to me in a miraculous way.  I mean, we had NOTHING in common.  Absolutely nothing.  I couldn't imagine their lives any more than they could imagine mine.  How does that happen?  Over time, I gradually had to admit, it was a gift.  God gave me a gift to relate to those little ones no matter the differences.  I was given the gift to see inside those kids, past the walls around their hearts to their real selves.  They inspired me to work harder, try more, and to never give up on them.

My second year of teaching, I saw the neighborhood deserted and my classroom become a revolving door.  I started the year with 22 children and I ended the year with 22 children.  But only 4 children had been with me the entire year.  FOUR!  I watched as children held up their shirts and showed me the blood from being whipped by extension cords.   I cried as I called social services time and time again.  I watched as children were taken from their homes.  I waited for children who never showed up again because their families had skipped out in the night.  I endured being cussed out by parents because I had taken their child's dinner money, two quarters.  I sat with children left out in the cold on the last day before Thanksgiving, being forgotten by a mother who was working a double shift at the strip club.  I accepted the gift of cat's collar still warm from the body of the cat.  "Hear that beautiful sound, Ms. Mckenzie?"  I listened and cried as that huge smile beamed while the hand shook the bell attached to the collar.  Okay, and I chuckled cause they never did get my name right!!  :-)   I watched, I changed, I wept.

So, I opened my heart and was forever changed....and that was just the first two years.
to be continued