Friday, July 8, 2016

Losing My Fire

I haven't posted in a while. My life changed significantly over the last year, which is a blog post for a different day. Many days were a battle, and blogging just wasn't high on my priority list. In many ways last year was the most positive and successful year of my life. At the same time it was one of the worst. Unfortunately, the part of my life that took the biggest hit this last year was my teacher life. I had a tough year in the classroom. It took me longer than usual to connect with my students, and I think I will always remember this year for that reason. Right from the beginning I could tell I had a class with more needs (academically and socially) than an average class. I caved under the pressure of meeting those needs. Looking back now there are so many things I would have done differently.

First of all, I have always been a teacher who focuses on relationships. I work hard to get to know my students so I can serve them in whatever way they need. This year, I plowed through the unfamiliar curriculum instead of taking the time on those relationships. I was new to my district this year and there was no carry-over on any of the curricula. Math was different. Reading was different. Writing was different. Even science and social studies were different. I was starting all over (or at least I thought I was). I over-emphasized the importance of getting through the stuff, and my relationships crumbled. Every day took all the fight I had just to get through. It wasn't until April that I felt like I actually knew my students and they were beginning to know me. In March, my husband and I adopted our son, and I shared that moment with my students. At the same time, my students were doing Star of the Week so they were sharing their lives as well. Those two moments changed everything. Suddenly, I felt confident in the classroom again - I felt like I belonged. I'm pretty sure they felt the same way. As I shared such a huge life-changing moment with them, they were able to open up about their interests, passions, and lives, and I could feel everyone relax. I wish I could go back in time and spend the first couple of weeks really getting to know my students. The year would have gone differently.

Secondly, my passion for teaching reading didn't shine through this year. I devoted my fifth year of teaching to teaching my students to love reading - to love books. As I told one of my team members this last year, I was on fire that year and that fire burned brightly. This year, I lost that. As I mentioned before, I was overwhelmed by the curriculum. I never strayed too far from it out of fear of my students missing out on something important. I attempted to come out of the gate strong. I started Daily 5 with my students on the first day of school. We discussed, at length, the urgency of spending time reading every day for the first couple of weeks of school. Then I fizzled. There was just too much other stuff to get through, so I dragged them all along with me as I worked to figure it out. We didn't celebrate books. We didn't share books. We didn't recommend books to each other. We just slogged our way through the day. Now, most of my students loved Daily 5 time anyway, which I'm grateful for. They would complain if we didn't do it. I know it could have been more meaningful for them, though. I could have set them up for long-lasting success. The curriculum can wait a bit.

Lastly, I had a terrible attitude. On top of starting this job in a new district, I was attempting to handle being a new foster mom. There's so much I can say about the foster care life, but that would be a post (or 20) all on its own. For now, I'll suffice it to say, it's hard. There were many days I was just seconds away from bursting into tears, so I did what I've always done - used my classroom, my students, and my school as an escape. During those school hours, I worked hard to forget I was a foster parent. I was mostly successful at this. There was a constant under currant though. The stress, the worry, and the fear of the unknown was always there whether I acknowledged it or not. It made me irritable, even against my greatest efforts to not let it do that. Turns out, there is only so much I can handle with grace. When I reach my limit, I can be a bit of a grouch. I've spent a good portion of my summer reflecting on this and praying for more strength, patience, and understanding next year. Foster care is still hard - having a year of experience under my belt doesn't change that. I do know more about how it all works, and, with enough prayer, maybe this year my threshold for stress, worry, and fear can be just a little bit higher.

In March, I sat in my principal's office just before his second observation of me with tears streaming down my face. I told him I felt like a disappointment. I felt like I had failed to be the teacher I promised I would be in my interview. He kindly smiled at me and assured me I hadn't disappointed anyone. When I look at the data from the year, my students made excellent growth. Most of them met the goals laid out for them in our various standards, and I feel they are ready for second grade. I find comfort in that knowledge. It was a rough year, but it wasn't fruitless. My goal now is to learn from last year, make some improvements, and be that much more better next year. I think I can do it!

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