Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Dear Back-to-School


Dear Back-to-School,

This school year, the jitters I have about you are not associated with the kiddos.  They are, rather, all about me.  (Surprise, surprise.) 

In the past, just before school starts, I get fretful about everything.  The new teachers; the new schedules; the new materials; and how the kiddos will fare adjusting to everything.  This year, for the first time, Dear Daughter and Dear Son are both in the same school!  Since we've been through the drill with DD, everything this year regarding DS going to kindergarten seems so much easier--we already know the school, the rules, the community, and most of all, the spirit with which the school encourages students to learn.  Simply, we love our school.  DS has waited for years to attend the same school and ride the same bus with his big sister.  And DD will take good care of her little brother on the bus and at school--I'm confident of that.

So why am I anxious?  Well, let's rewind back to January of this year.  I started teaching a new Toddler Class at the kiddos' Chinese School on Sundays.  The school decided to open a new class mid-year, for kids ages two to three.  I knew it was going to be a challenge since it was a brand new class, but I love kids and I knew I would be capable of teaching it, so I accepted when the school board approached me.

I spent the next few months with my friend, Google, looking for all the ideas I can find on teaching a foreign language to wee little kids.  You see, when one begins teaching a class with no prior materials, it's called 'starting from scratch'.  It's like pulling things out of thin air.  It's like performing a magic show.  Abra cadabra!  Lessons come together with my magic wand.  Crafts and games (such as ones pictured above) are found beneath my magic cape, and audio/visual aids pop out from my magic hat.  The thing with teaching kids of such young ages is that most learning is absorbed through fun and play.  There's no textbook or workbooks.  You talk, you sing, you play, you dance, and you smile a lot. 

But this seems to have been my lot in life in my teaching career.  My first teaching position was as a Science Lab teacher for first and second graders.  It was a brand new position, again with no prior materials, curriculum, or mentor.  I had thirteen classes come through my 'lab' twice a week.  The hiring principal was impressed with my science background from college (read: medical school fail).  The principal first offered me this Science Lab position, while casually adding that I could choose a homeroom class if I wanted, but this would be challenging and she would provide all the resources I needed to teach it.  I was Miss Goody Two-Shoes and I took the challenge.   

That first year of teaching was the hardest year of my entire life.  

This Science Lab was created so students could learn with hands-on experiments which promote critical thinking skills.  Which means every lesson required materials for experiments.  I began with an empty room/lab for nearly 300 students.  Nary a textbook nor one single manipulative.  Um, yeah.  I was at the grocery store buying materials in bulk most days after school.  I may have cried every day after school for months.

Sure, by my fourth year, teaching Science Lab was a piece of cake.  I had perfected my lesson plans, and mastered my 'teacher character'--sort of like getting into character to act for a role.  Each morning, I'd step into my 'teacher skin' and peel it off when it was time to go home.  I found this concept incredibly helpful when it came to classroom management--because so long as I was 'in character', I was able to find all the extra patience in the world (that my 'good teacher character' would possess) and find ways to face challenging kids.  I wasn't reacting to kids as my exhausted, flustered self, but as my 'effective teacher' self.  That concept pretty much saved my life when I discovered it a few months into that first year.

But when DD came along, I quit my teaching job and became a SAHM.  And I left the school--and the teacher who took over my position--all my precious lesson plans.   

Lucky bastards.

Fast forward to the present.  I did have a wonderful time teaching the toddlers last semester.  We really had a lot of fun.  While I first worried about not having any curriculum or guidelines to follow, I actually quite enjoyed having the freedom to teach what I wanted to teach.  Spending time with the children allowed me to mold and adapt to their needs when it came to choosing subject matter and activities to use.  In those 17 weeks, I accrued a good set of lesson plans.  Since there is always room for improvement, this year, I have twice the amount of time to teach a comprehensive curriculum.

And so the planning begins.  I've switched on my Teacher Radar, meaning that when I'm out and about, anything and everything I see become ideas for activities or projects for a lesson.  I've sketched out the main concepts and themes to teach, and once the big picture is outlined, then the weekly planning will become much easier.  Most importantly, I won't be nearly as nervous as when I first started this position.  Thank goodness for that.

Additionally, I have one more year before both kiddos are in school all day, at which time I will be compelled to find a full-time teaching position and return to the workforce.  Yesterday, we took the kids to their school's Meet the Teacher Hour.  I looked around the school and saw all the hard work the teachers put in to get their classrooms ready; all their time spent on making their students feel welcomed and belonging to this safe learning environment; and all the enthusiasm they genuinely showcased for the upcoming school year.  And I had a flash forward panic attack.  

If and when I do return to teaching full-time, it will be another 'even harder' hardest year of my life.  Because if it's not, then I'll be doing something wrong.  I'm really not sure how all that will pan out, but right now, I am going to focus on my Chinese School class and have some fun with my wee students first.  I know it helps with getting myself ready to go back to teaching anyway.

To be quite honest, I can't say that I didn't have any jitters about the kiddos going back to school.  I woke up way early today as it is DD's first day back.  I faced school-day-morning-madness with grace and style and had DD ready for the bus early.  Only to find that the bus came ten whole minutes earlier than scheduled, and I was only able to snap one terrible picture of DD getting on the bus.   

Total Back-to-School Mommy Fail.

But DS starts kindergarten next Monday, so I will have another chance to re-photograph the kiddos and their 'bus poses' just so I can have a memory of their first time going on the bus together.  

Whew.

So, Dear Back-to-School, as the kiddos begin their transition with you this week and next week, I will have mine in a few more weeks.  I have a little more time to make good use of my Teacher Radar and to prepare for a smooth start myself.  I know that as anxious as I am about it now, as soon as I see their adorable little faces, I will naturally respond with my smile and greet my students with a very special Ni Hao.

Happy Back-to-School, everyone!

Sincerely,
Me

The Mommy Mess
Linking this post with TheMommyMess here.

 

18 comments:

  1. Awww... I can so relate. Not only on the mommy level and being nervous for the kids but also on the teacher level starting from scratch. I taught pre-k at two different schools and each time I was thrown into the class and teaching with nary a thing. To say I was stressed is putting it mildly. It sure was a learning experience for all of us!!!

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    1. Susi, I'm glad you can relate (for my sake, not yours)! I have so much admiration for teachers who are parents themselves. They have twice as much worry, and I'm only seeing a tiny glimpse of it now! I hope your kids have a very smooth back-to-school week!

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  2. I could never be a teacher. I relate better with older kids and adults, and I don't have an abundance of patience, so I know I'm not a fit for young kids. I admire those who have the personality for it.

    I wouldn't call the photo a mommy fail at all. Not only did I skip the photo session, I left for work before they went to school, so I didn't see them off (hubby got the honors.) Hope your 'retake' goes well at least :)

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    1. Well, I did my retake this morning, so at least I have one of DD's face before she got on the bus. And I will definitely be ready for the sibling shot next Monday. My DH is in your shoes as well. He'd love to see the kids off, but yesterday was the first day of a new engagement, so he had to miss it. As for teaching, I actually prefer teaching younger kids. Perhaps it's because I've never had experience with older ones, but I like the playfulness of little ones. It's totally different with older kids, and hopefully I'll get to experience it one day! Thanks, Janna!

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  3. An open book invitation to design and implement a curriculum. Incredibly daunting in my eyes, but your gifts seem tailor made to the challenge. I'll bet the positive ripples you have created reach to more distant shores than you imagine! I was always grateful for a teacher such as you: creative, passionate, and open to new ideas.

    Teacher radar-I love the phrase! That is a perfect description of what happens to me. My focus happens to be collecting resources and information to help moms build stronger relationships through the encouragement of their faith, the practice of gratitude and discovering joy where they are.

    I really enjoyed your post. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences!

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    1. Thank you for your kind words, Kim! I don't know about the 'positive ripples', but a former student I taught my very first year of teaching recognized me in a restaurant and said hello to me, and this was a good twelve years after I last saw her! I was so happy that she actually remembered me! And then I felt very old...

      Your line of work seems to be equally creative and passionate to that of a teacher's work! I bet it feels just as rewarding--albeit sometimes difficult--and requires a lot of Radar Skills. =)

      Thank you so much for stopping by to read, Kim. I really appreciate your comments.

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  4. You sound like a wonderful teacher! That science class would have made me cry for sure! Hands-on is fun, but it does take a lot of preparation. I forgot my science lab list today and have to go BACK to the store tomorrow for our experiments. Argh!

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    1. Now thinking back, I honestly don't know how I survived that first year of teaching. Honestly, I really admire homeschooling mommies like you, since I know for a fact that I cannot succeed with that. For me, being mommy is hard enough without the burden of teaching academics formally! Thank you for hosting the link and your nice words, Adrienne!

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  5. Good luck! I think back to school can be so hard on the kids - and the parents!

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  6. First off, I didn't really realize that you spoke fluent Chinese , or that you were a teacher, or that you taught Chinese. I have so much respect for teachers in a school environment with curriculums and lessons to abide by, not to mention actually teaching and getting through to your students.
    I'm sure you will get back into the swing of teaching again. :) Plus I think teachers make great parents and vise versa :)

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    1. It's like you're finding out all this stuff about me in this post, LOL! Yes, I am Chinese. I came here when I was 9yo (DD's age), so I do speak, read, and write Chinese. :)

      I haven't taught a classroom in nine years! I'm scared silly to go back! I may cry everyday after school again... But don't worry; if that happens, you'll be sure to hear/read about it. Thanks so much, Cassie! :)

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  7. I admire all of the hard work that teachers put into their classrooms--they really don't get enough credit for what they do. I like how you were able to put on your teacher face for the kids at school--I wish I had the patience to do the same for my kids at home! :)

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    1. Believe me, I understand. I've tried putting on a good Mommy Face, but it just doesn't work as well. Teachers get to go home at the end of the day, but Mommies are always Mommies. So don't ask my kids, since I don't always have a nice Mommy Face for them, either! Thanks, Asianmommy! :)

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  8. Sandra,
    I've thoroughly enjoyed attending your class with DS this past semester. Not only is he learning, so am I! It amazes me what you have come up with ... you do have a magic wand. :) Your patience with the kids is indescribable.

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    1. Awww, thanks, Tran! Like I said, I've really enjoyed the little ones (and big ones). :) Hopefully this year will be even smoother than last semester, and I look forward to seeing you all again! I'll be cooking up some magic spells with my wand in the next few weeks!

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  9. It's not a mommy fail if you can only snap 1 photo of DS getting on the bus! Where is the photo??? I want to see how big she is! You captured the moment. That's what counts. Hey, at least you were early. What bus comes early?! Happy back to school for kiddos and you!

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    1. Thanks for making me feel better, Lisa. I sent you a DM on Twitter today. New bus system this year, so everything was wrong. Long story...

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