I didn’t go to kindergarten. Straight from daycare/preschool at La Escuelita Infantil Bilingue in Brooklyn to 1st grade at Marks Meadow School in Amherst. At Marks Meadow, I had a magical first grade teacher, Mrs. Edwards. I don’t remember a whole lot about her teaching, but I do remember that I loved her, and that she made me feel comfortable even as a kid who had not been in kindergarten with the other kids.
Positive experiences count so much as students - and as teachers, they do too. At last year’s Western Mass Writing Project Summer Institute one prompt we had participants respond to was to write about a positive experience in the first few years of your teaching. Even as I tell you that I love my students, and love teaching, I can also spout off things about the way education is going in the U.S. or about my own experience as a teacher that are not so positive. So, that day we decided to focus on the positive.
As I wrote I remembered my first teaching job at a private all-girls school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. I taught French and had a group of Seniors I had taught for 4 years straight. They were so thrilled when I got engaged that they threw me a bridal shower at the house of one of the students. They were a thoughtful group and they helped make my experience there a positive one.
As I wrote, I also remembered a funny a-ha moment I had at that school. I was co-teaching a French class for 6th graders at the same school with my friend Claire. One of our students could NOT understand how to conjugate verbs for the life of her. She tried and tried to get it; we worked with her after school, we each met with her. Still, she didn’t get it. Finally, we were wrapping up that unit and we gave the girls a quiz on conjugation.
As we looked at the quizzes we were thrilled with the results. SUCCESS!! Sort of. Our confused student had written:
Je table, tu tables, il/elle table, nous tablons, vous tablez, ils/elles tablent.
She had gotten the endings right, but she had not conjugated a verb. She had conjugated a noun!! We laughed for days about that one.
The teaching profession has gotten more difficult in the last few years and sometimes I find myself clinging to those amazing moments with students. I started putting together an album with cards, drawings, note that my students have left me. Once in a while, I look at it and smile, thinking about the thousands of students who have been in my classrooms and wondering where they are. I’m still in touch with some, and I see many around town. When you teach middle school, it’s very gratifying to see your students when they grow into adults.
As education becomes more standardized, high-stakes testing determines the paths or more teachers and of students, and many school administrators adopt a more top-down approach, it is more important than ever to remember the positive. It takes more than staying away from negative teachers, or investing in self-care, though those are important, too. It’s essential to remember what we love about teaching, to think about the students who have been extra special, and appreciate the moments that help us go on. I’m trying to remember all of this myself as I hang in there for the last 20 days of school.