As I sit here typing this, I’m officially on Summer Break. And for the first time in 5 years as a teacher, I’m not teaching summer school. Instead of busily gearing up to start up with a new group of students, here I sit, very reflective on this year gone by. It’s funny how a year can change your perspective on all the things.
Last August, as I was preparing to start at my new school, I wrote about how sometimes change isn’t for the best. Rereading it, all those emotions come flooding back, thinking to when I wondered if I made the best decision to voluntarily ask to transfer to a new school, reliving all the anxiety that wracked my brain as I prepared for the worst. But now I sit here, smiling, because after a year of this change, I do know that I made the best decision for my professional career, despite earlier wake-ups. I’m a happier person because I go to a job I enjoy. And happy mommy means happy family. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t always perfect, like the time my day sucked donkey balls, but overall the positives out rained the negatives.
Though my heart was so in Alternative Education during the first four years teaching, where I was striving to make a difference in the lives of students struggling so much, my time in that sect of education was more so vested in the social emotional realm, and less in the educational realm. I soon realized that I wanted to be at a place where the majority of students showed up to school, wanting to learn, and whom I can teach. And this school year, my 5th year teaching, I got just that. I got several end of the year notes from my new middle school students, but this one stands out the most:
…and then I teared up. It was from a student who was always quiet, got her work done and did well. She’s one who I wondered if I challenged her because she seemed so bright. I had no idea what an impact I had on her this year.
And then I thought to a day last week where I had students look at pre-assessment essays they wrote at the beginning of the year, compared to end of the year post-assessment essays, both on the same prompt. They were done without any support from me. It’s a district imposed assessment so I can measure my own teaching to see if I taught them anything. Instead of reading all those end of the year essays myself, I decided to have students self-assess their own work. I asked them to raise their hands if they felt they improved their writing. Almost every hand went up. I asked students details as to what improved, and I got 12 and 13-year-olds to articulate about specific standards. This is huge.
There was one student who didn’t finish his end of the year essay and I called him out on it for not coming after school to complete it. He still read both of his essays, even though the latter was incomplete. I asked him about his essay in September, as I held it in my hand. He giggled as he said, “It was terrible!” I looked at him, and agreed. He told me what his writing was like at the start of the year, and I glanced at his paper, nodding along with his accurate assessment. Then he told me how he did better writing in June. Though he’s not yet to standard, he did make huge strides in the right direction, and I know next year in 8th grade he can get there with some more extra nudges. And I could see that. In his face. In his smile.
I also did a lot of work at my new school working with struggling readers. This was a huge learning curve for me, especially as I think back to deciding on a career in teaching based on my writing experiences. I was faced with so many obstacles, within myself and within my classroom. But this year I’ve learned so much about how to help students to be better readers, from working on filling in decoding gaps for some to helping others navigate comprehension questions, and making students who never wanted to read for pleasure become avid readers because I gave them the space to do it at their own pace. I saw fluency scores go up. I saw comprehension scores go up. And really, I saw struggling students raise their heads up higher and higher as the year went on.
This is what teaching is about. This is why I CHOOSE to work. I’m making a difference in so many lives, and though I’m so appreciative of this much needed break over the next two months, I know that I will no longer dread the start of another school year. What a difference a year can make.
Note: I have to say that so many commendations are deserved to those who choose to teach at risk youth. They are truly special people and I admire their strength as they fight a hard battle to get so many kids back on track. Because of my experiences working with these students for four years, I was able to really help my struggling readers this year. And I am blessed for that opportunity of growth in my professional career as a teacher.