How I’m Hitting My Stride As A Teacher

What determines a person’s workplace happiness, or lack thereof?

Is it your supervisor’s personality? Their management style? Your coworkers? The task you’re there to do? The amount of freedom you’re given? Or some combination of all of these?

I ask because I am happier at work than I’ve ever been. I’ve been reflecting on the reasons why.

I am teaching at such a sweet little school this year. Our school is small; only 320 students. I know just about everyone there, at least by sight, and by now they know me, too. Kids who aren’t even my students say hi and wave to me in the hallway. A kindergartner who I don’t know kissed my hand this morning.

 

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image via Pexels.com

Even though my school is 100% free/reduced lunch, we don’t have a lot of behavior problems, which are two things that unfortunately tend to go together. This leads to most teachers feeling pretty happy to be at work, which makes for a cheerful environment to go to every day. Any experienced teacher can tell you that a school’s environment makes a huge difference in what it is like to work there. You can feel it and see it in subtle ways as soon as you walk in a building.

I’m also happy because I’m being given a lot of freedom to teach what I want to teach, how I want to teach it. If I decide to pull a group, I can pull a group; if I decide to push in, I can push in.

I don’t have someone breathing down my neck telling me I have to do guided reading at a table in the homeroom class all day. I think once my administrators saw that I knew what I was doing they pretty much left me alone to do it. Which I appreciate! Because by now I do know what I’m doing most of the time.

So I’m getting to teach ESL through really fun, rich content that’s the same things students are learning in their homeroom classes: 3rd grade social studies and 4th grade english/language arts concepts and 5th grade reading remediation (which doesn’t sound fun but is, in this case).

I love my students, and they love me back. Most are eager and want to learn. They are also needy. I am buying clothes and books and making social work referrals. But don’t count them out! I have a feeling our progress this year is going to be something to see.

Years ago I once said that I loved teaching ESL so much that I would do it for free. Over the last few years I lost that. I got bogged down with school politics and who was talking about whom and whose parents didn’t care and which teachers weren’t any good. In some ways I lost sight of why I became a teacher. I still knew why, intellectually, but I couldn’t feel it in my heart anymore. I needed a year away doing something else to come back to it refreshed.

But now when I am teaching about Frederick Douglass or the three branches of government, elements of poetry or phonetic vs. non-phonetic words, I am thinking: This is what I was born to do.

I know no one asked me, but if I have any advice to give new and/or pre-service teachers, it would be the following:

  1. Pay very close attention to the vibe you get from administrators. That will set the tone of the school. Ask them about their management and evaluation style.
  2. A school with a negative environment will kill your soul, and it’s almost impossible for one person to change it despite their good intentions. Visit the school before agreeing to work there, during a school day if you can. What do you see when you walk through the halls? How are adults talking to children? Do kids and adults look happy? This is important.
  3. No matter what the school environment is like, make a work friend! You need someone to talk to about all of the craziness that happens on a daily basis.

I’m feeling grateful and blessed.

What do you think is the main thing that leads to happiness at work, and why? And if any young teachers would like advice from me about work, I’d be happy to give it!

Rainy day reflections

I’m sitting here at Barnes and Noble, drinking an iced coffee and eating a pumpkin muffin. Today it’s raining all day, but it feels like fall, and that is something to be celebrated. Jonathan encouraged me to steal a couple of hours away this afternoon (sweet man!). I should be working on guided reading lesson plans, which is purportedly what I came here to do, but instead I want to return to my long-neglected blog.

I haven’t been writing for a couple of reasons: 1) I forgot how much creativity good teaching requires. I also forgot how tired I am by the end of the day. After Jonah is asleep and I have time to myself I haven’t been able to muster the energy or creativity to write anything. 2) I have been deliberating on what to write publicly about my job. More on that below.

We’ve been in Atlanta as a family for a little over a month now. For the most part, the transition has been a dream. For example:

  1. We absolutely love our new home. We are settled in and about 97% of the way unpacked. The house is such a blessing for our family and so much more than we could ever have afforded or expected to have on our own without family support.
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    Our backyard view
  2. Jonah has transitioned amazingly well to my mom watching him during the week. He didn’t seem to really be phased by the change. He absolutely loves his Nonni and looks forward to going to her house. At the same time, he talks often (every day or two) about all of the family we left behind in NC. When Jonathan’s parents visited over Labor Day, Jonah picked back up with them as though we had never been apart. I like to think that his heart is big enough to hold love for the multitude of people who inhabit his world.14262843_1607457612887825_1594653374_n
  3. Jonathan quickly and easily got a job working from home that he will likely be able to continue once he starts school in the spring.
  4. We think we have found a new church home here.
  5. I’m loving my job. If you remember, during my job search I got a very, very strong sense that this job was the one that was right for me, though the others seemed to make more sense practically. I haven’t been disappointed.

As I mentioned above, I’ve made the decision that the wisest course of action is not to talk about my job in detail on the blog. This may seem like CYA (cover your …), but my school system tends to get a fair amount of attention, and I’m just trying to be smart. Here are the important points:

  • I feel more effective than I ever have as an ESL teacher. The time away from the classroom in an administrative role made me a better teacher.
  • I feel respected. I’m not a novice teacher anymore. It’s nice to have people come to me for help instead of it always being the other way around.
  • I like working with almost all older students. Upper elementary, baby!
  • Many days I am home at 3:30. That is something I never would have predicted when we decided to move to Atlanta.

6. I feel a great sense of balance in my life since we moved. Jonathan and I are getting         more date nights out and quality time together than we have since Jonah was born. Being home earlier in the afternoon means more time with Jonah. Even though I’m now commuting 25 minutes to work, I’m actually spending less time in the car than I did this previous year between taking Jonah to and from daycare, going to and from tutoring, my in-laws house, etc.

This will have to be all for now. Thanks to everyone who hung around and waited for a new post from me! I promise it won’t be this long until the next time I write. In the meantime…enjoy fall!

We Did It!

Well, we did it! The whole family is here in Atlanta and we are spending our first night in the new house. In the past two weeks, I have:

  1. Driven from Greensboro to Atlanta with Jonah by myself
  2. Gone on vacation with my family 
  3. Started a new job
  4. Driven all over Atlanta to accomplish various tasks related to starting my job 
  5. Gone back to Greensboro to help Jonathan get the rest of our stuff and the dogs

I am worn out! More to come…

I’m Back (In the Classroom)

Around this time a year ago, I wrote about leaving the classroom to work at a nonprofit. I thought I was probably done with teaching forever. Well, now that we are moving to Atlanta, I am going back. And I’m really excited about it.

In my Atlanta job search, I’ve applied for a bunch of different positions: nonprofit, school system administration, and teaching. I’ve had three interviews: one at a prestigious nonprofit that had been my first choice, one for an ESL position at a high-performing (ish) school close to home, and one for an ESL position at a 100% free/reduced lunch school a little farther from home that was over the phone only.

I knew from the beginning that a teaching job was always a backup for me if I couldn’t find a nonprofit or administrative position in Atlanta. What I didn’t expect was how I strongly I would feel like teaching was what I was supposed to do again, in a particular environment.

I first started to think about teaching seriously during my interview at the close-to-home school. I had such a sense of comfort and ease while talking to the interview panel, the way I always do with educators. Like, these are my people; we get each other. We were completely on the same page, speaking the same language. I knew exactly what to expect from the interview and exactly what I would say in response. But for whatever reason, I wasn’t very excited about working there. They told me they would let me know their decision by the end of this past week.

I felt like the nonprofit job interview went well. They also told me they would let me know by the end of the week. So then when a different school district called on Wednesday about another ESL position, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to participate in the interview process but didn’t expect to take the job.

But after talking to the school system’s ESL director and then the principal of the school, something happened. Maybe it was because I really liked the principal, especially when I googled him and read about his impressive background. Maybe it was because all the particulars of the school and position just seemed to fit: all new administration, lots of new teachers, 3rd, 4th and 5th grade ESL, a small school, combination of pull-out and push-in ESL instruction, my own classroom, etc. Maybe it was because the school is low-performing and 100% high poverty, which is what I am used to. Maybe because the school system is struggling and I feel like they need me. To be totally transparent, maybe it is also because this particular school system pays quite a bit better than the other. For all of these reasons, but also because of something indefinable that I am not really able to articulate, I started feeling like this position was the job I should take, even over the nonprofit job if it was offered to me.

I have always had a very strong intuition. One of the best examples of this is that I knew that Jonathan’s and my first child would be a boy before we were even pregnant with him. So when my intuition was telling me that this was the job for me, I listened to it, asked the principal for a day to consider my options before accepting his offer, and waited to see what would happen.

The rest fell into place. The nonprofit went with someone else. The close-to-home school wanted to hire me but was still evaluating their numbers to see if they needed another full-time ESL teacher. So I am taking the job that compared on paper to the others makes the least sense, but is what I really want. The way everything turned out contributes to my feeling that this is where I’m supposed to be.

The great thing about doing a job that you’ve done before is that you walk in on the first day (which, by the way, is Wednesday!) knowing exactly what to do. So even though I haven’t seen the school other than through Google Streetview, or met the principal or any staff in person, I feel like I’m going home.

 

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Thank you Target for getting me appropriately prepared with cute classroom decorations for the new school year.