Sunday, August 21, 2011

Becoming a Teacher Part Three

The notebooks stacked, the erasers piled in bins, the array of pens all signal one thing, the BEGINNING OF SCHOOL!   My fifth year finds me in yet another small country town, McGregor.  We had moved to Waco, TX, for my husband to pursue a Ph.D. at Baylor.  I couldn't find work in Waco, so had to start looking outside in the smaller ISDs.  Driving 30 minutes each way, was not my idea of a good school year, but the principal, Mrs. Holbrook, caught my attention.  I had yet to meet a principal who embraced Whole Language and my philosophy of teaching.  I was excited to see what could happen when the administration backed you!

This was another first for me, I was teaching a self-contained, gifted and talented third grade class.  I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  These kids were smart!  I mean, SMART!  No one was below grade level in any area.  But with this, came a new challenge, how do I challenge these kids and motivate them to do even better?  I enjoyed the challenge and fell in love with these students.  With the exception of a couple, most of these kids had no idea how smart they were, they were just kids.  With the exception of a couple, most of the parents recognized that their kids were not geniuses, just above the curve.  The exceptions almost killed me at times, but I learned a new skill, dealing with obnoxious parents.  Unfortunately, Mrs. Holbrook, had failed to mention that her staff was not too keen on her views on Whole Language.  She had filled all 10 of the empty positions with "outsiders" who held her same philosophy.  We were therefore, lumped in with her and disliked by most.  Not all, there were some "insiders" who liked us and adhered to the same philosophy.  By Christmas, the staff had won, and Mrs. Holbrook resigned.  I was stunned and a bit afraid for my future.  The next semester ended up having an all-time high, and all-time low.  Having succeeded in ousting the principal, the staff decided to focus in on getting the "outsiders" out as well.  They made our lives miserable.  The only time I was happy that second semester was when I was in my classroom with my kids.  The most unfortunate thing was that the students became aware of the bullying.  I tried my best to hide my hurt from them even as I was being yelled at in front of them.  But kids who are in your classroom know you.  They could read my feelings better than me!  Plus, they felt protective of me for another reason.  I was pregnant!  Jack and I had been trying for two and a half years, and that Valentine's Day I found out!  So, as I said that was the best and worst semester of my career.

As it turned out, all but one of the newly hired teachers resigned that year.  None of us had other positions, but we could not return to that nightmare.  It was unfortunate.  I learned a lot that year.  I also made a lasting friend in Mary Witte.  I taught her son, Cameron.  She was the second grade Gifted and Talented teacher and she taught me a lot about thinking and researching and stretching students' minds.  In fact, years later, she came to see me in DC and I got to spend some time remembering the good parts of that year.

One of the things I learned that year was how much a child's early years affect their growth.  These kids I had in McGregor had been loved, read to and cared for.  Their minds were open books ready to learn whatever I put in front of them.  What a difference from my previous experiences.

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