When I first started teaching, I thought I was set. I thought I knew what I was doing. After all, I went to school, got my degree in ECE, and loved working with children. I did my student teaching in an infant-toddler program, a preschool, and a public school. I took classes in child development and such. What more was there? Boy was I wrong!
The things they don’t teach you in school, and what you’re not exposed to as a student teacher, REALLY!
Like what to do when you have a “runner”, you know the one, the child who runs out of the room, and out of the building in the middle of the morning, while you’re the only adult in the room with 26 five year-olds.
Or how to deal with the administrator who doesn’t think that Kindergarten is a “real” grade.
Or how about a class of 26 students and just me, where 11 of those students don’t speak English and 12 of those students already have IEPs for speech-language services. How do you communicate?
And when do they teach you how to respond to the parent who says “My child is the only white boy in the class”?
Or how to talk to parents when they state every educator’s favorite parent quote “My child does NOT do that at home!”
My education did not prepare me for how to deal with any of these challenges. Talk about on the job training! For the past ## years, I have been learning how to handle these situations, and I’m still learning each and every day.
As a new teacher, I didn’t have time to read education journals and keep up with research in the field. I could barely make it through each day. If I was lucky, I found a few extra minutes to flip through the Mailbox magazine for activity ideas. But that wasn’t enough. I knew I was on the right track with what I was doing, and how I was planning, but I also knew that something was missing…all the pieces of the education puzzle were not fitting together for me.
I started networking with my colleagues, and talking about best practices, strategies that work, and why some strategies work better in certain situations. I realized that those “academic” journals were really what I needed to help better understand the research behind different teaching strategies. But I still didn’t have time to read many articles. I took to skimming the call out boxes and bold print. Yes, I survived high school on Cliffs Notes. I was starting my teaching career in the same way.
For some teachers, figuring out how the pieces fit together comes from working with a trusted mentor or having a good network of teachers to provide guidance. For me, I had a really bad experience in the first few years at my first school. That experience forced me to move from my love, Kindergarten, to a new school and a new grade. In the middle of the school year. Yes, the situation was that bad. Needless to say, I was feeling a little lost in third grade. Those children were so BIG! They already knew how to read and write their names. They could count past 10, without skipping any numbers! They knew all the letters, and the colors, and they didn’t mix up the triangle and the rectangle. WOW! Now what do I do?!
It turns out, that was one of the best experiences of my career. EVER! It was while I was teaching third grade that I was introduced to Howard Gardner‘s Multiple Intelligence theory. It was while teaching third grade that my view of children changed. It was while teaching third grade that I learned how to give up control and allow children to make choices. It was while teaching third grade that all of the pieces of the education puzzle started to fit together for me. Oh, I also learned how to stand up for myself and my students.
Now, I don’t wish my experience on anyone. I only taught third grade for one semester, but what a semester it was! All of the things that I learned, I was able to bring back to my Kindergarten classroom the following year. All of the things that I learned that year I still carry with me to this day.