The next few weeks I am in reflection mode…wondering what is next for me in education. Will I do substitute teaching (we have wonderful retired teachers that sub)? Part-time private? Move to Ecuador…work internationally? Be a tour guide to school groups on field trips at the Pumpkin Farm? Undergrads at our local college? The list is endless and I just told Dave, ‘I just want it to fall into my lap’. So last week I started looking back and maybe I can see some things along the way, some strengths perhaps that might help me open the new chapter of my life book.
Last week I pretty much stated that my first year was a discipline nightmare. I wasn’t looking forward to going back to teaching that first summer out. But I had to because Dave was planning to go to grad school full-time and then we’d both be considered a ‘hippie couple’ if I didn’t have a job either. As it turns out, he got a teaching job and decided to put grad school on the back burner, because after all, we did need a television…especially for football season and a hippie van, that was purchased one night when I was at open house. Can you even imagine??? In other words, we were broke and had school loans from undergrad to pay off and now a hippie van.
So I reluctantly started back my second year. My principal moved me back a year from 6th to 5th and decided that maybe my noise level was just too much of a gamble in the ‘open space’. I had a self-contained classroom next to two teachers who would become my ‘team’. In 1977 we had just started talking about ‘team’ and that word would become an essential part of my vocabulary for years.
However, I moved to yet another dysfunctional team. One teacher loved to work and the other didn’t (she just liked to take). It became clear to me early on that it would be very smart of me to become more of a ‘worker’ than a ‘taker’. So I asked questions…every day…all the time of my friend and co-worker Sandy.
“How do you get your kids to walk quietly in the hall to specials?” Our school valued quiet halls.
“Easy,” she said, “I walk backwards and I don’t budge if anyone is talking.”
So I began to imitate Sandy, her every move outside the classroom. I walked backwards. I stopped if they were out of line and talking. They stopped talking because they wanted to get to gym, music or lunch. We became a semi-team of two. She willingly planned lessons with me, we both gave things to the third wheel of the team when she asked, and I learned how to share my thinking with a fabulous mentor teacher. In the late seventies the word ‘mentor’ wasn’t in our ed lingo yet.
I need for a minute to go back to the students that I had. Just like today, I taught in a diverse middle class neighborhood. In most of the families two parents were working. For the most part these families valued education and really respected teachers. That summer before I started back my second year I read my first professional book, by Glasser who discussed Reality and Choice Therapy. I also read something else, possibly in Teacher magazine about class meetings. That second year, I decided to start every single day with a class meeting. This class meeting became an essential way for us to discuss behavior issues , what our day was looking like and plan for ‘fun’ events. Back then I intuitively knew that if they could talk in a group about grievances and start to set goals, behavior would be better than it had been the year before. They created the rules together and together we also created consequences and rewards. Class meetings would continue throughout my entire career in some shape or form.
Teaming and mentoring is also a value I hold high. It takes work to team…difficulties occur on a team, and they are worked out. I wouldn’t begin to understand that until my 3rd year. They hired a third teacher, moved us to 6th grade and back into the open space. We had a dream team for two years in a row. I didn’t know how good it was until after it was gone. We helped each other fly. We looked at our individual strengths and helped each other, loved each other and cried with each other. Back in the open space teaching our desks clustered easily in the middle for teacher planning. We held morning meetings with all of our students on the stairs in the middle open space. We were a giant classroom trusting each other to be the lead teachers of our science and social studies unit, collaborating and changing groups every two weeks in math based on student need.
What about reading and writing you might be wondering about. Oh…pretty much it was called reading and spelling and punctuation in those days. In the middle and late 70’s we followed leveled basals. We each had 5 reading groups and they had to pass an assessment to make it to the next level. We grouped for reading- 4th, 5th and 6th grade. That’s right folks…4th graders were sometimes in a 6th grade group. We were on a fast and furious pace back then…not all good, but not all bad either. The one thing that the reading specialist in my building had never heard of was ‘read aloud’.
Once I innocently asked her, “do ya think maybe I could read aloud Blubber to my kids?” “what are you talking about Nanc…no time for that…just make sure they pass those end of level tests.”
All of in open space, however, began to open up our read aloud daily and, I might add, somewhat on the sly.
My world had changed with my students. We had Book Love Mania and it was contagious. It fueled me, my team fueled me and every single day my students encouraged me to grow, change and read more and more so I could learn how to better serve them.
For years after leaving my beloved first school I had dreams that I was hired back and in the Open Space. I still miss this school so much. These people mentored me and loved me. Administration??? We had five principals in the twelve years that I was there. So we basically ran the place, and years later, they finally got smart and hired my friend Sandy, much later in her career.
Okay…so I’m just a third of the way through. It dawns on me now, that I have never quite had that perfect team again. I’ve gotten close, but somehow I’m wondering why I don’t see those kind of teams in our schools today. It is more self-contained than ever. Control your own kids academically; control your own student’s discipline and depend only on yourself! It could be so much lovelier, I think.
I might just have to have a few more posts on the second and third parts of my life in school.
But something is standing out to me today…mentoring and team building… really important to me.