Packing up the classroom for summer vacation of 2014 was confusing. On one hand, I could hardly believe how fast ten years had flown by. On the other hand, I felt a bit like a failure-- should I have done more in ten years? My tenth year, in particular, was a difficult one. It seemed like anything positive was disappearing in my memories, and only the negative ones were coming through. My positive flame was burning out. I needed fuel, and I needed it fast. Was it gone? I spent the summer thinking about what drove me to become a teacher. I looked pretty far, but I found that fuel.
In 1987, I had the best kindergarten teacher in the world, Mrs. Eckenrode. In addition to academics, I learned how to be a "good person" in kindergarten. There are no standards for that, but those lessons stuck with me forever. In 1988, Mrs. Lander was the best first grade teacher. She made everyone feel special, and she let you sit in her big rocking chair if you were brave enough to read to the class. Mrs. Ransom was the best second grade teacher. When she read, The Boxcar Children, her voices were right on point, and the whole class was whisked away on adventures when she read aloud to us. She was so smart; I remember that she could spell O-l-y-m-p-i-c-s without even looking it up. (My ambition up through second grade was to be an Olympic gymnast.) In third grade, I met Mrs. Reed. Her room was a town, complete with town meetings and a mayor. We ran the classroom, so we thought. It was a family, and Mrs. Reed facilitated everything perfectly. The songs we sang every morning made me really excited to go to school. We also earned money, had auctions, and memorized poems. Most of all, I remember loving to read and write. We talked about books we read, and I even read stories I wrote to the class. That year I changed my ambition from Olympian to teacher. I wanted to be a third. grade. teacher... just like Mrs. Reed! My love for the teaching profession did not stop at third grade. Mr. Morgan had a couch in his room in 4th grade, and he made me LOVE science. Early finishers could learn BASIC computer programming, and I will never forget the day I made the robot pick up an eraser! I still remember every single teacher I have ever had, and each of them is a small part of THE TEACHER I WANT TO BE everyday.
That is my fuel!
In 1990, I decided I wanted to be a third grade teacher, just like Mrs. Reed. Believe it or not, I am a third grade teacher. The disappointing part for me, is that I am not just. like. Mrs. Reed. I know I cannot be JUST like her, but after ten years, you would think I would feel less of a failure. I try really hard to be the teacher I always wanted to be (since 1990), but there is no way. Times are different, and things have changed.
Again, I was faced with a decision. Was my fuel gone? Have I burned out?
Education has changed since the 1990's; there is no doubt about it. I could write 100 pages of things that have changed (that need to change back). To summarize those thoughts, I believe that, as much as political systems in education feel they have the best interest of students in mind, they do not. As a teacher, I have no control of those things, and it is frustrating! Just thinking about it makes it hard to breathe. Am I burned out, trying to be a teacher from the 90's in the 21st century?
I now realize that I am not burning out; I am suffocating.
I still have a passion, and it is strong! I REALLY WANT to give my students experiences that are equal to (or better than) the ones I had. My teachers were (and still are) my fuel, and I want to be that for my students. To do this, I need to step back and breathe. All the obstacles are sure to be around for a while, but I will take my focus away from those suffocating challenges to make a real difference in my students' lives. While a day of third grade in my classroom will not be identical to a day in my dear Mrs. Reed's room, it will be the best day I can possibly arrange for my students.
Today I made a point to KNOW my students better-- to listen, to sing, to play, and to laugh. We still "got through" everything in my lesson plans, but today was different. It was memorable. We took time to breathe.
A fan to the flame was all I needed. Tomorrow will be bright.