Friday, August 22, 2014

Blissful First Days

Okay, I'm totally going to gush for just a little while, and it's going to be absolutely ridiculous. Don't worry. I'm aware of how green and naive I might sound. I'm also very aware of the fact we have only been in school for two days and I am definitely counting my chickens before they hatch, but

I am head-over-heels in love with teaching this group of first graders!

I loved teaching kindergarten. My group challenged me in ways I never could have predicted, and I am a much better teacher because I taught that group last year. Let me tell you something though, it changed my perspective on what early childhood education was. My first day as a kindergarten teacher was an absolute nightmare. Within the first five minutes of school, I had the principal and guidance counselor in my room helping me deal with an issue. All day long, I felt completely under-qualified for my position, because, for the life of me, I could not get my kiddos to follow my directions. To top it all off, I managed to put two of my lovelies on the wrong buses to get home. It was awful, and I left that day sure I was going to win the award Worst Kindergarten Teacher In The History Of Ever. (It got better fairly quickly, but, holy cow, that first day was one for the books.)

I went into yesterday (our first day of school) expecting more or less the same. I knew I'd be better than last year simply because of last year's experience, but I was still a little hesitant that it was going to be yet another train wreck. Within the first fifteen minutes of the day, I knew this year is going to be different. Here's how it went:

I got to school at 6:30 in order to make sure I was ready to go. My plans were set, my materials were gathered, and I was at my door ready to greet my 19 lovely first graders as they filtered in. I quickly got to work dealing with the various supplies and notes the kiddos were bringing me and got the students all busy coloring the covers for their take home folders. Because I was so busy, I didn't notice it at first. When I got on top of all the "stuff," I finally noticed how not chaotic my classroom was. I turned from my desk area and noticed this: 

Every single one of my kiddos was sitting at their spots doing their work and quietly talking to their neighbors.

My first thought was, "Huh. I didn't know kids could do that." I found myself standing there with this stupid-wide grin on my face, and all of my fears melted away. When my associate walked into my room, I looked at her and said, "This. This right here. This never happened last year." The rest of the day followed suit. We were able to launch Daily 5 right away. During our first practice run, we were able to maintain our stamina for four minutes! (Four minutes! On the first day of first grade!) We managed to make it to recess, specials, and lunch on time and in a respectful manner, and by the end of the day, our room was full of smiles and budding friendships. 

I'm not going to lie. I was a little afraid yesterday was a fluke. This morning, I sat at my desk rechecking plans and praying I had good content and activities to make the day worthwhile. As my students started coming into the room and getting busy, I realized we were going to start our day in a very similar manner as the day before. Before I knew it, it was lunchtime and, once again, we had had a successful morning (including maintaining Read to Self stamina for 8 minutes!). Our afternoon went just as well, and, again, the kiddos left with smiles on their faces!

I haven't smiled this much in a long, long time. Last year was just hard. We had so many successes, but we also had many setbacks. Often, I found myself caught up in the setbacks, and I lost sight of the daily joys taking place in my classroom. When I left school at the end of the day last year, I felt defeated and tired. I know I'm going to have days like that this year too. That's the nature of teaching. I needed these two days though. I needed to remember the goodness children bring to the world and the wonder with which they view it. I needed to be able to smile at the music coming from the music room because my mind wasn't so bogged down with worry to miss it. I needed the peace I felt in knowing that my kiddos were safe and learning without distraction. I needed to be able to build relationships with my students from the very beginning and to remember those relationships are important. 

No one can say for sure where this year is going to take us, but I'm ready for it! I'm so, very grateful for the blissful first two days of school, and, even it's hard, I'm excited for this year!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

When Teaching Hurts

I recently came across this post by Ashley Hurley (@ashleyhhurley) in which she encourages bloggers to blog for themselves. It inspired me to blog about something that is very close to my heart - something I've been afraid of even mentioning here. When I created this blog, I wanted it to be about my teaching heart - my passions, my hopes, my dreams. It's impossible for me to ignore this post for any longer and stay true to that goal.

Sometimes teaching absolutely breaks my heart. Not only in the sense that many teachers understand in the pain I feel when I get a glimpse of what my students are going through outside of my safe haven, and not only in the sense that teaching takes every ounce of me until there is very little left, teaching breaks my heart because it is, at it's soul, a career of loving, caring for, and inspiring children. My life revolves around children, and I love them dearly. What hurts is that those children are not mine.

There is no course in college to teach new teachers how to deal with teaching while battling infertility. Luckily most teachers don't have to deal with. I have been dealt these cards though. My husband and I have been fighting this war (and if you know what I'm talking about, you'll understand that it truly is a war) for two and a half years now. I've had surgery, been on all kinds of medications with ridiculous side effects, and prayed harder than I've ever prayed. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I would be 26 years old, married for almost four years, and have no children. This whole battle takes it's toll personally. It occupies some portion of my mind at all times. Recently, as much of my hope seem to be slipping away, I rarely have a day where I don't shed a tear or two when I wake up in the morning and realize there isn't a sleeping child in the room next door.

That personal toll has impacted my teaching in so many ways and I'm tired of it being a factor.

I'm tired of going home at night to think about those kiddos who are struggling only to find myself thinking, "I could do better." That's a ridiculous thought, and I hate that I've thought it.

I'm tired of kids repeatedly asking me if I have kids of my own and, when I answer no, asking me why. More importantly with this one is that I'm tired of feeling upset when they do ask me that. My war is silent and invisible; there are no physical signs that I'm hurting. It's a war that is way beyond what my students can understand. I cannot fault them for innocently asking questions.

I'm so stinkin' tired of Mother's Day. I love my mom and celebrate her every year on this day, but it hurts to know that I'm not a part of that group. Mother's Day is big in schools, too. The amount of time I put into getting my kiddos' gifts to their mothers ready weighs very heavily on me. Last year, we actually put on a whole circus (literally) for the kiddos' mothers on the Friday before Mother's Day. I had to wear a clown costume in front of a gym full of mothers, and I hate that I was the teacher who had to leave in the middle of the performance to cry in the teacher's lounge.

I'm tired of having a legitimate excuse to spend every waking hour at school. I don't have kids to take care of at home, and my husband works long hours. Why should I go home?

I'm tired of having the room in my heart to love my students as if they were mine. I'm tired of pretending and laughing it off by saying, "Well, luckily I have 19 lovelies at school who need me."

I'm tired of feeling my heart break a little bit more when some sweet mother brings her newborn infant to school to have lunch with her school-aged child. The kids all coo and giggle and crowd around, and I stand back wishing that was me.

I'm tired of feeling sad when the teacher next to me in the teacher's lounge who already has multiple children talks about how she plans to have many more. It hurts to know she'll probably get just that. What about me?

I'm tired of looking at the staff Christmas cards posted in the lounge at Christmas time. Sure, my husband and I send out a Christmas card each year with a picture of us, but I don't feel worthy of the Christmas card bulletin board yet. I so want to be worthy.

Above all of this, I'm tired of being tired of these things. I want to be that happy teacher without these dark pieces hidden in her heart. I want to be able to forget all of this and be okay with being an amazing teacher. Most days, I can do this. Sometime, though, being a teacher hurts.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Hangin' Out with Children

This week's #kinderblog14 challenge is to write about the parts of our job that make us laugh the hardest. Here are a few of my examples from my four years in teaching:

(After finishing a song and dance at circle time, here's what one three year old had to say)
Student (with attitude): My mom has moves like Jaggar!

Student (4 years old): My dad doesn't live with my mom any more.
Me: He doesn't? Where does he live? (Keep in mind that her mom was president of my parent advisory board and a good friend of mine. I knew this child was telling stories.)
Student: In a green house down the street.
Me. Wow. I didn't know that. I'll have to ask them about it tonight at conferences.
Student: ..... Just kidding!

(Scenario: My preschoolers are outside playing during our outside chunk of time. I'm supervising)
Student (4 years old - playing nearby): singing Jesus loves me and my father and my mother and my brother, but sometimes I don't like my brother.... (She continued to sing random thoughts for about 3 minutes.)
Me: Wow, that was a really cool song. Where did you learn it?
Student: Menards!

(Scenario: Morning announcements had just finished up and my kinders were coloring at their tables while I submitted attendance.)
Student: Mrs. Hansen, if you were just a little bit bigger, you could be principal.
(That's what's holding me back - I don't meet the height requirement!)

(Scenario: Same student as above. Her name is Kendra. It's the 100th day of school and my kinders are writing about their favorite memory of kindergarten so far.)
Student: Mrs. Hansen, come look at mine!
Me: Can you read it to me?
Student: Sure: My favorite day of kendragarten was....
(At this point, I lose track of where she is in the reading, because I notice she wrote exactly that - "kendragarden." Her name was Kendra, and she thought she went to "kendragarden." I nearly died.)

(Scenario: I had run into a student and her mother at Target one weekend. We chatted for quite a while in the check-out lane. On Monday, this is what she wrote in her weekend journal, which, by the way, she promptly asked me to read.)
I saw Mrs. Hansen at Target. We got her a gift card, but I didn't say a word!

Student (kindergartener): Mrs. Hansen, I have a supervisor!
Me: Really?
Student: Yeah! It's a visor and it's super! Get it?

(Scenario: I went to a 8th grade baseball game with a teacher friend to watch her son play. She had her soon-to-be 4th grader and her one year-old with her.)
4th grader: Do your kids like Frozen?
Me: Well, I don't have any kids.
4th grader: You don't? I thought you did. Does that mean you're going to be pregnant soon?
Me: I don't know. We'll just have to wait and see.
4th grader: Okay, well if you do get pregnant, tell me, okay? Maybe you'll get pregnant with triplets or four triplets or five triplets.
Me: Maybe. How many babies do you want me to have?
4th grader: Like, 5 babies!
(Yikes! That's a lot of babies all at once!)

Hope these made you smile!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Finding Passion in DC

Kyle and I just returned from our first trip to Washington DC. This trip served dual purposes: one to see as much as we could, the other to visit and spend time with my husband's best friend, also named Kyle, and his wife, Shannon. Our friends are spending the summer in Bethesda, Maryland while he interns with the government. We landed in Baltimore around noon on Thursday. Kyle and Shannon picked us up at the airport and we grabbed a bite to eat. Then we headed to their home for the summer so we could drop off our things and plan the next few days.

We decided to stay in the Bethesda area for the rest of the day, and I'm so, so grateful we did. Shannon mentioned she had heard good things about taking a tour of Clara Barton's home in Glen Echo, so we decided to make the short drive there to do just that. Clara Barton is the founder of the American Red Cross and her Glen Echo home served as its headquarters starting in 1897. While I was there, I was introduced to two people who let their passions drive their lives. I couldn't help but think of my incoming first graders. I hope I can help them begin to identify their passions so they might make a difference in the way these two people have.

Kyle and I outside Clara Barton's home.

First of all, I was introduced to Clara Barton. I had heard her name, and I knew she was famous for her work as a nurse during the Civil War. That was the extent of my knowledge of her until I set foot in her home. What I had no idea about was how passionate Clara was about helping others. She knew she had gifts to offer, especially in times of disaster, and she challenged many thoughts at the time about what women should and shouldn't do. She not only served as a nurse during the Civil War, but she used that strong desire to help others to start the American Red Cross. Also, she used her passion for the things she was doing to give lectures to all kinds of audiences in the hopes of inspiring more people to step up and help. That's amazing!

Secondly, I met our tour guide, Kevin. He was by far the greatest tour guide we had during the trip, because I could tell he was doing something he loved. Kevin let us take the last tour of the day even though we got there about five minutes late. (We didn't show up late on purpose. We just didn't know about the timed tours.) We were the only people in the group, and he treated us as I imagine he would treat a group of important officials. He knew Clara Barton. He could answer any question we had, and I could see and feel his respect for her and her home. He spoke of many of the hardships Clara had to battle (e.g. starting the first public school in New Jersey but not being allowed to be principal because she was a woman) and it was almost as if his heart broke each time. About halfway through the tour, I realized how passionate he was about the history in that building and what it meant to our country and I found myself close to tears.

Clara and Kevin were certainly not the only passionate people I met during this trip. Our tour guide at the Capitol building was pretty incredible too, one of the rangers outside the Lincoln Memorial was able to answer all of our questions, and the ranger inside Ford's Theater was passionately answering questions about Lincoln's death and the moments leading up to it. In all of them, I could feel their love for what they were doing, and it made a significant impact on me.

Standing beside the Washington Monument

Just outside the Capitol

I want to be Kevin for my students. I want them to see my passion for learning and to be inspired by it. More importantly, I want to help them identify their own passions and share those passions with the world around them. In a sense, I want them to be little Kevins. My hope is for my classroom to be so much more than reading and writing and math and science; I want it to be a place where my students can come to explore their world. While I will certainly push to meet standards, I don't want them to be the focus. I don't want to get lost in the world of numbers and percentages. My students are people with real thoughts and feelings, and I want to respect them in every way I can. My trip to DC was unlike any trip I had taken before. It was filled with wonder and learning, and I want to duplicate that in my classroom.