This is me. This is me in a tiara. This is me and the story of how I ended up with a tiara…and why I am sharing mine with all of you
This was my worst teaching year ever. From the very beginning something just didn’t feel right. As any teacher can tell you, the first week of school tends to feel more like organized chaos than actual school. Between the new students trying to find their way and the old students trying to see what they can get away with true learning doesn’t begin until at least week two. I’ve had the pleasure of working at the same school for almost 10 years so I am very familiar with how things work when the school year starts but this year we added a new monkey with a wrench.
Most schools have one of two schedules: Traditional, where students have eight classes a day that are approximately 50-55 minutes and Block, where students have four classes a day that are 90 minutes each. On a traditional schedule, teachers see all of their students every day. On block schedule teachers see students every other day on an A/B rotation. We, however, had a hybrid that ran on an A/B/C schedule and each class was 70 minutes. Sounds pretty simple, except for the fact that 4th period was our lunch period so while the frequency with which I saw them was the same, the length of time was not. These students had me for 90 minutes 3-4 times/week while my other students had the regular 70. That’s equivalent to 60-120 additional minutes of instruction for my 4th period. This of course made planning challenging because I had to either add 20 minutes or subtract 20 minutes each time I thought about a lesson. Trying to remember which class left off where if we didn’t finish the days activities during the designated time was frustrating and we won’t even begin to talk about the students’ never remembering what day it was.
Teachers complained. Students complained, more than usual, and the year just seemed to be a series of adjustments. Interruptions that would normally mean simple changes in a traditional or block schedule caused “Godzilla stomping through Tokyo” type issues . I never found my “flow.” All teachers know what “flow” is, that moment early in the year when everything finally settles down and you can focus on teaching. That moment never happened for me.
Now, I would be wrong to lay all the blame for my lousy year on the shoulders of this new schedule. It also did not help that I had additional responsibilities as a teacher leader, was working two part time jobs to make a few extra bucks (I’ll rant about that in a different blog post), and was working on my dissertation. Add to this that I got very sick as a result of everything I was trying to do and, well, it was my worst year of teaching ever.
At least that’s what I thought…
At the end of each school year, I have my students complete a final assignment titled “While I was Reading Reflective Project.” It asks students to look back on their year and reflect on 1)what books they’ve read, 2) what characters they’ve been, 3) what lessons they learned, and 4) how they will use those lessons to help get them to where they want to be in the future. Admittedly, these projects are as much for me as they are for them and this year I needed to know that I had taught something worth knowing, that they were leaving my class with something that would help them be successful in the future. My illness coupled with everything else that was going on had me feeling defeated. I needed some light.
Their presentations were so thoughtful and honest. They talked about learning why procrastination should be the 8th deadly sin and how they learned to love themselves unconditionally. They spoke of overcoming their fear of public speaking because I had taught them that sometimes you must do what needs to be done even if you are afraid. They reminisced about Critical Thinking Wednesdays and Pop Quiz Fridays, Socratic Seminars, Vocabulary Rhapsodies, and what it takes to get on the Wall of Excellence. I was so proud. Then one student, in the midst of her presentation, said the following:
” I’ve learned that Mrs. Holliman cares about us. Not just her students ‘us’ but our whole ‘us.’ She comes in when she’s sick. She stays late when she’s tired. She responds to all our questions, text messages, and emails even at 3:00 in the morning. She fusses at us and even yells sometimes but that’s only because she love us, in all of our quirky, maddening teenage foolishness. You think we don’t notice all that you do Mrs. Holliman. We do. So, this being said, I declare that you are the Queen of Teaching! All in favor say “aye!”
The entire class shouted. “And because you are queen it is only fitting that you should have a tiara too.” Can you hear me sobbing?
Sometimes as teachers we feel like our work is not valued, that our students don’t understand the sacrifices we make, the time we spend away from our own families, the sleep we don’t get, the money we don’t make all because we have a passion for planting seeds of promise in our children. But, on this day, I was reminded that our students watch us, on our good days and our bad ,and they learn form everything we do…and they are grateful. No. They may not say it and you may not think you did anything special, but I promise you, there is a student who will remember you in the future and smile.
So, to every teacher who had a lousy year, who felt defeated, frustrated, and overwhelmed, I crown you the Kings and Queens of Teaching! You have earned your title well.