As adults, we often forget what it is like to have regular opportunities to start anew. We become used to having made enough mistakes that from here on out we can reliably predict what will happen as a result of our actions or inaction. And so, we float along secure in the knowledge that we are “done” learning and can simply work hard to get ahead.
But children, and adults who are trying new occupations, walk on shifting, uneven ground. The familiar terrain of the people who have “been there, done that” is off beyond the horizon. Rather, each step, each turn, each moment and day provide the unknown — situations where the outcome is unclear; disappointments from which recovery is not certain; words that are unfamiliar; even the roadmaps of directions and examples are so new as to be unintelligible.
This year (2014) I am going to do something “completely” new. I am going back to third grade. Now, truth be told, third grade was probably not my finest year as a child. I butted heads with my teacher (I am sorry, Mrs. Russell!) on many occasions, based probably more on factors outside of school than inside her classroom. I remember pronouncing a word in one way, to be told that it was incorrect (it was an alternate pronunciation, not incorrect!). I remember staring out the classroom window at the old, abandoned house outside, in a snowstorm and wondering about the people who used to live there — and whether that house felt sad like The Little House (story by Virginia Lee Burton).
I don’t remember what I learned, but I do remember “my” spot on the bench outside the principal’s office… and if Mrs. Wright ever reads this, thank you for being so patient!
I have taught in middle school classrooms mostly; even as a substitute my calls were mostly for middle schools once they knew I liked that age. I have volunteered in grades K, 1 and 2, and 4… and student taught in grade 5. But no prior contact with the missing year other than three sub assignments (I went back and looked). So going to third grade? Shifting terrain, for sure!
Add in to this learning I had the job only ten days before the school year. Today is the day after —
And I can tell that already, before the school year starts, I am “behinder” than I have ever been. I will try to pick up copies of the teacher manuals tomorrow, and read over them in the evenings.
I am researching (this is one of my strengths) and, having subbed for many teachers in many places, I know that kids are resilient and any beginner’s mistakes I make this year the students will be fine. I can figure out what they need to learn — and teach it — and they will learn a lot, and grow.
I am fortunate that, in this new territory, I have the most amazing guides. Publicly, I want to already say think you to my colleagues Marilynn, Kim, Cindy, Liz, Cathy and Jeff who have already offered to help me with everything from setting up the room to figuring out the first days and beyond.
And yet, still, persistently, I feel unsure. I am uncertain whether my decisions from day to day are the “right” ones, if the outcomes will be what I hope. I will need to learn new vocabulary — from having taught primarily Language Arts at the middle school and upper intermediate level, I now move into teaching “everything” (except music and PE and computers) with much younger students. Will my vocabulary be appropriate? Will my demeanor?
I am in a new land. With strange and wonderful creatures, landscapes and denizens. Everywhere I turn there are (and will continue to be) amazing sights, wonderful vistas, and occasional frights.
The advantages of starting anew are not inconsequential. Old ways that didn’t work can be left behind. Ideas that weren’t useful can be forgotten. The gait of the walk, the rigidity or fluidity of responses, the optimism that things might be somehow more magical here and now… those are precious gifts, and unusual in adulthood even if the accompanying growing pains are not much fun.
This is my second time in two years to feel this way. Excited about new beginnings, unsure (and a little anxious) about the unknown.
My students are feeling this way for the third time in three years (more, if they move often!). I hope to remember this as we get to know each other and develop our class into a community. When they are unsure, I will be patient with them. When I am unsure, I will be patient with myself. And I will step out confidently knowing that my guides can keep me on the right path!
We may be on different journeys, but for this segment at least we travel together.