Friday, May 18, 2007

Teaching & Learning

Our class photo:
Front Row from left: Me (yup, that's me in my "teacher getup"), Savannah, Julian, Hannah, Mason, Anthony
Middle Row from left: Brooke, Anthony, Carolina, Jonny-Joe
Next Back Row from left: Ashley, Diamond, Valerie, Jennifer and Tyriq
Very Back Row from left: Cheyenne, Kaitlyn, Noah, Cierra and August

When we arrived in North Carolina a little more than a year ago, I didn't really have a "career plan" in hand or in mind, so instead - after a summer-long stint as a camp secretary - I headed out and answered any help-wanted ads with my fancy resume in hand.

It wasn't as easy as I assumed it would be. No one was too impressed with my glossy portfolio or willing to pay me what I had last made in "glitzy" Vail, Colorado, instead I was offered part-time menial labor jobs - those or commuting about 30 minutes to Asheville looked like the only options for a little while. I refused to drive. I wanted to make a living here in small-town Brevard.

I did get a break when Brevard Elementary School's officials decided to hire me without any previous experience in the field of education and put me in a classroom with 19 giggly 5th graders, who found my halting teaching attempts amusing and my "weird" accent, extremely funny ("say 'two' again Mrs. Dinkins," was a repeat request)

So since September of last year, I've been working mornings in public education, struggling with time constraints, a class body as varied as a box of chocolates (and about as sweet when they want to be), more frequent and endless tests than anyone wants to correct and the fact that I had a fleeting idea of "how to teach."

With my dismissal coming up in less than a month (I'm choosing not to go back after The Bean is born, I am feeling weary yet warm-fuzzy about public education.

In order to teach or mentor anyone, you have to have humility, courage and be willing to learn all the time. You have to be quick on your feet and willing to admit mistakes. Your reward will be few and successes will often be false. An "a-ha" moment only comes once in a while, and when it does you have to seize it and hold on to what matter how nontraditional the method...
So we have counted dry beans and glued them into charts. We've written many drafts with me color-coding types of mistakes, we've poured water into gallons and liter containers to learn about the metric system and we've pasted just about anything onto posterboard along the way.

My students were wonderful. Sweet little souls - certain days I could see that clearly, other days it took all I had to keep myself from wanting to shove them in a closet and lock the door...

In fifth grade"
- your attention span is just slightly longer than that of a fly of any kind
- A bug on the ceiling, a classmate picking his nose, a pencil shaving on the desk are serious competition for a teacher vying for students' attention.
- Kids don't lie, not really, they just try to make the truth work in their favor...
- A lengthy excuse is almost as good as getting homework done...
- Knowing EXACTLY how many lines you have to write is VERY important!
- Knowing your multiplications is crucial, but some still try to make up for it with fingers and toes
- A calculator is a work of wonder and a protractor is a tool of much shagrin
- No one wants to know about geometry or history
- Everyone wants to know about any of the following: Today's menu choices, time of recess and frequency of bathroom breaks
- It's not talking back, it's just that there is so much to say
- Two-step directions are a stretch, three-step directions are beyond possible
- Students still think the world of any adult who takes the time to talk, joke and "learn" with them, males have an automatic's takes a man to be a father figure...

In a way, that makes me think God designed this time in the classroom for me as preparation for what kind of a parent to The Bean I want to be:
- Kind but strict
- Loving but not full of false flattery
- Involved, no matter how trivial the trial
- Present, not preoccupied
- Patient - I can pull my hair out later, if I really still want to
- Determined to raise a child who can play by himself, wonder out loud, be grateful for anyone who tells a good story from a book or memory.
- I want to raise a child who can sit still and play with abandon, who values wisdom and abhors boredom.
- I want a child that sees life as the opportunity it is, and aims to a fullfilling dream somewhere between Rocket Science and Carpentry

I am grateful I got to go back to school.

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