In my final semester of college I did student teaching in Montgomery and Fayette Counties. I loved time spent with my Kindergarten students in Mt. Sterling, Kentucky. The children were wonderful, the teachers were helpful, and my time there was memorable. It seemed way too soon when the time came to leave those children, but I was assigned to head to Lexington, Kentucky, to a second grade classroom. I arrived bright and early on my first day at the new elementary school. I went to the office and checked in. I was then directed to my classroom to meet my supervising teacher. I was a nervous wreck. My heart was pounding and my pulse was racing.
This school was a lot bigger than the little four room school house I had just come from. I made my way down the long hallways with the other teachers who were arriving for work and finally located the room where I would spend 6-8 weeks. The door was closed; I knocked tentatively. “Come in, come in!” I heard a friendly voice say. I opened the door to a classroom of thirty little empty desks, long windows looking into a courtyard and a teacher with the biggest smile ever. She was very dressed up. She wore a nice suit, high heeled shoes, a beautiful pin, and earrings. I wondered if she was that dressed up for me, but I later realized that she looked that nice every single day. What a great role model!
We began to chat and she asked me all kinds of questions about myself as she busily wrote the work for the day on the blackboard. Soon the bell rang and children began noisily filtering into the room. One by one they came, until all the desks were filled. Wow! Thirty little faces staring at me. I was a stranger to them. I took a seat in the back of the room, eager to watch the class and the teacher perform their daily classroom routines. I could hardly wait to see how she handled each lesson and the transition times. Would she be a strict disciplinarian? Would she be laid back? Would there be a standard daily class schedule? Would she just “play it by ear”? So many questions, so many things to learn, so many things to observe. I decided to sit quietly and listen.
The morning announcements were read over the loud speaker. Everyone listened to what the principal had to say, then rose to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. When they finished, they settled back into their seats. The teacher started by passing out paper and pencils. She had a writing assignment and some busy work on the blackboard that had to do with October and fall.
So far: so good. I settled in and relaxed just a little bit. My heart stopped racing and my pulse was back to normal. I thought that everything would to be all right. No need to be nervous. The teacher would probably let me help her today and give me something more specific to do tomorrow. It was getting easier.
After introducing me to the class, the bomb dropped. She told the children that I would be taking over the class. And she meant THAT MINUTE…NOW!! Really?? Seriously??
I had nothing planned…Why hadn’t anyone warned me about something like this happening? What was she thinking? How could she do this to someone she did not even know? It was only 8:30 in the morning! Was it a prank on the new, unsuspecting, student teacher? Nope… She went over and sat down at her desk and wrote in her planner. I managed to walk to the middle of the classroom. I asked the class, “So, it is fall and this month is October. What kinds of things happen in October?” As children began to answer we built a conversation on those responses. Everything clicked!
I ended by asking them to look at the blackboard and, in their best handwriting, copy the paragraph that the teacher had so nicely printed that morning. I walked around and complimented each one on their fine writing skills and helped the ones who were having a little trouble.
The rest of the day went smoothly, and at the end of the day the teacher handed me her plan book. This was the most remarkable book that I had ever seen because it was so well planned. It was written in pencil, with every detail in place!
The teacher told me that she would take the little reading group that was having some difficulty and work with them daily, but basically, the class was mine. Go for it! I was astounded by the trust that she showed me that day and I wanted to excel because of it. Our relationship grew so strong. She was one of the best role models that I have ever had. She helped me when I asked, was never judgmental, and we developed a mutual respect for one another.
One day in the school cafeteria, one of the other teachers took me aside and told me that my teacher had said that I was the best student teacher she had ever seen. That comment made me feel wonderful because I wanted to do well for her and the children. My teacher, however, was not the type to tell me that personally.
I was glad that the other teacher had told me about that comment… but, for a completely different reason. My teacher had been absent from school a few times during those eight weeks. She never said why, but she had a nagging cough that she couldn’t shake. I hated when she was out. The substitutes took over, but I felt like it was MY classroom, not theirs! Of course, they were only doing their jobs.
When my time was over in that classroom, I was very sad. It was mid December and I wanted to stay until the Christmas break, which just wasn’t allowed. But, I was invited back to the class holiday party two weeks later. When I arrived the children jumped up and ran to meet me. I was greeted with hugs all around …and my teacher’s smiling face.
We exchanged presents. I gave her a beautiful, vintage pin and matching earrings. She gave me my first planner book. It was such a sweet day that I cried on the way home. I would really miss them, but I also looked forward to what would happen next. Where would I get a job? In January?? As happens in life, I got busy job searching and we did not stay in touch.
I was hired as a substitute teacher. Before long, it was late summer and I had landed a job as a first grade teacher. By chance that fall, I learned that my teacher had passed away from cancer, earlier that year. She had not said a word to me about her illness. I was stunned and saddened.
When I got my own classroom, I used many of the techniques that I had learned from my teacher. I just wished that I could tell her. Maybe she knew; maybe she was right there still guiding me because one thing I had learned from her was always with me. There was nothing more important than a detailed monthly planner (written in pencil) to keep your classroom operating on schedule. Even when it had to be adjusted…it was essential.
My first planner was always open on my desk. It was detailed, precise, and completed 6-8 weeks in advance. It was my guiding light, just like my teacher had been!
BA @ Kids Matter