>A Year-End Reflection

>The successive field placements of the M.Ed program were intended to scaffold the transition from student to teacher, giving us take increasing responsibility in the classroom as time went on until we were ready for our own classroom (whatever that means!). I thought, somewhat naively, that it would be easier as we progressed through the program, but I could not have been more mistaken. Having been a student for over sixteen years, I have had to make the leap to being a teacher in little more than a year, and I do not feel as though I have “stuck the landing” well, so to speak. But if I have learned anything this year, it is that nothing happens all at once and that it is all right—even beneficial—to accept being a work in progress. And I have had the chance to remember, over and over again, what matters most to me as a teacher.

A week after graduation I went right back to school, and for three months I continued playing a role I knew I was comfortable (and good at) playing: reading articles, writing papers, presenting my work. I got a taste of what was to come from the microteaching assignment in our first methods course, but that was a quick performance in front of a captive and friendly audience. In my head I knew it was never going to be that easy in a real classroom, but I had no idea just how difficult—and rewarding—the real thing was going to be.

On August 26, 2009, at 7:20 in the morning, I stood in Pat’s eighth grade classroom, and heard the terrifying sound of two hundred eighth-graders storming up the steps. Even though I had nothing to do but watch and learn, I was scared. I had never seen so many children in my life, never had to learn so many names and personalities. It was easier than I thought, however, and on October 14, I taught my very first lesson. It was quite successful, I thought: I had dutifully incorporated everything I had learned about inquiry and conceptual change and different kinds of assessment, and the students had responded positively, for the most part. Throughout the quarter I played the part of drop-in teacher, all the while learning from my mentor and other teachers, as well as the classes we were taking on reading across the curriculum and the nature of science. By the time December rolled around, I was practically team-teaching with my mentor and I felt confident about my ability in the classroom. Though I subconsciously felt some anxiety about the person I was becoming, I chalked it up to end-of-the-quarter stress and plowed forward.

I had heard nightmarish stories about the double load of graduate courses and student teaching during winter quarter, and I went in with a plan for tackling the challenges. The students in Betty’s tenth grade class were impeccably behaved and generally knew how to succeed in school, so I thought my student teaching would be a piece of cake. I started running into trouble, however, when I tried to pull them outside of their comfort zone, and I also felt unspoken pressure to teach like my mentor, whose style was quite different from mine. The sense of identity crisis became acute, and I tried to bury the feelings of uncertainty and fear of rejection by working harder than ever at my lesson planning and classwork, casting aside all good intentions of balancing school and personal life. By the end of the quarter, I did not feel like a very good teacher at all: post-tests showed an apparent increase in student misconceptions and I missed the ease with which I had related to my students in the fall. While I was still able to meet the demands of my graduate courses, being a good student no longer satisfied me, and I felt like I was being relentlessly ground down with nothing to show for it. I took these failures as reflections on my personal worth and spiraled through severe anxiety and depression.

My first day in spring placement, back at Wedgewood, felt like a breath of fresh air, but I knew right away that things were different. The students had changed physically, cognitively, and emotionally since the fall, and now there was pressure on them to do well on the Ohio Achievement Assessment. Soon I would have to be the teacher, not just the smiling face who tried not to get in the way too much. I would have to dish out both rewards and discipline, give and grade assignments, and actually try to help them learn something. This shift was embodied, oddly but meaningfully, in a change in name from “Miss D” to being called by my full last name.  (Although in that transition, I got a lot of confused “Miss D…D…D…” and one student’s invention, “Miss Dawoolo” has become my alter ego.)

My first lesson taught on my own was, by any measures, a rather spectacular flop. The students had just come back from spring break and I tried to jump straight into content without establishing my expectations for the class because the big test was in a week. When Pam and I debriefed, she reiterated that a trusting relationship with students was of paramount importance and supported me in taking time to work on that relationship before trying to do anything else. Every day brought new challenges, however, that never seemed to improve: discipline, motivation, expectations, behavior. I had learned a lot about organization during my winter placement, so that was less of an issue in the spring, but when it came to actual instruction I felt like I was pulling teeth, especially after the OAA. As each day passed, I kept asking myself why I could not get the students to focus and do their work. Again, I took this personally, and the fear of failure made me a lot snippier with students and harder on myself. Toward the end of the quarter, I started to realize that there were a lot of things influencing students’ behavior that were completely out of my control, and that was not necessarily a reflection on me.

My father asked what success as a teacher meant for me, and when I stopped to think about it realized that what mattered most to me was making each of my students feel special and important, only part of which was teaching them about science! I spent the last few weeks in my placement focusing on my students as people, not grades or test scores, and I felt a lot better as a result. I think the moment I first felt like a teacher was not when I taught my first lesson, wrote my first test, or even gave my first lunch detention, but when Corey first stayed behind after class to tell me about how his dad was not speaking to his family. These are the moments I will remember even after years of teaching: when Sarah first asked if I could attend her softball game, when Mary said, “Come here, Miss D_____, I want to tell you a secret!”, when Tyler told me how much he missed seeing his family after moving. Peter wrote by his picture in my yearbook, “Remember me,” and there is no chance I will ever forget these little people who helped me change from a student to a teacher this year.

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