If I had a million dollars, I'd build you a school.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

End of Year Reflections

Now that graduation is over and all the kids are gone, it is time for one last week of faculty meetings and cleanup before summer officially begins. It is time to tie up loose ends, reflect on the past year, and start getting ready to do it even better next year. I would be really looking forward to vacation, but my summer job starts this week, too, so I have a few more weeks to go before the Fourth of July break.

Monday morning's meeting started with an opportunity to reflect journal style on the past year and then to discuss our thoughts as a group. While I am still in that mindset, I thought I would continue with some of those ideas here.

School didn't begin for me until the end of January this year. My wife and I had been living abroad for two and a half years, first in the U.K., then in the Gambia. In England I worked teaching English to adults, and in the Gambia I played a lot of volleyball and ultimate Frisbee in between frustrating efforts at writing the novel that has been bouncing around in my head for years now. We returned to the U.S. in mid-December, and on January 1 moved here to the D.C. area. By the end of the month, I had found a job as a long-term Spanish substitute at the K-8 school in northern Virginia where I an now just finishing the year.

When I had my first class back on the Tuesday following Martin Luther King Day, it had been almost 32 months since I had last been in a classroom. To add to the challenge, my class load included at least one section each of first through sixth grades. I had one year of previous experience with fifth and sixth grades, but my other seven years of teaching experience were all at the high school level. It's hard to even begin to explain the difference between teaching AP Spanish Literature and first grade. There are almost no transferable skills between them.

Needless to say, the first few weeks felt like being a rookie teacher again, and that is essentially what I was. I particularly remember my first class with the first graders. I had a lesson plan that I thought was age appropriate, sufficiently varied to keep their interest, and active enough to get them involved. Every activity fell flat, and I found myself in that horrible position of having half an eye on the clock, just praying that I would live through the next twenty minutes to fight another day.

Eventually, with a lot of help from my very supportive and welcoming colleagues in the language department, I got my teaching legs again, and started to get the hang of seven and eight year olds. One of our housemates from England, who is also back in D.C. now, mentioned to my wife a few weeks ago that I seemed much happier now than I ever had in England. It's true, and the main cause is that I am a teacher again. Being a teacher is a huge part of my identity, and I feel much more myself now that when people ask me what I do, I can once again say, "I'm a Spanish teacher."

In the fall I will be changing schools, returning to my comfort zone as a high school teacher and a volleyball coach. I am very much looking forward to it, but I am also extremely grateful to my current school for giving me the chance to get back in the classroom. I believe in the philosophy that we are what we do, and I am very happy to call myself a teacher again.

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