Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Roller Coaster

(#FirstYearTeachingChronicles Part 2)

On a roller coaster, there are formidable drops, anxiety-ridden slow climbs, and many surprising twists and turns along the way. There's also a lot of screaming, holding on for dear life, and wondering why I am on this godforsaken thing in the first place. But as there is a beginning and an end, I know that I'll be able to plant my two feet on the solid ground in 2.8 minutes. As of today, I have currently been grounded for 7.5 weeks, having gotten off a roller coaster that lasted 9.5 months. You see, my first year of teaching was so much like that of a roller coaster ride.

A few months into teaching after 11 glorious childrearing years off, a friend shared this image with me after I had confessed how incredibly overwhelmed I had been.

Click to enlarge

First, I laughed. Then, I cried. This graph was so freakin' accurate. If you did a quick calculation, I saw this at a depth of despair, at about the end of November. Truthfully, the course of my ride had been a tiny bit different than this graph. I had reached rock bottom at the end of October, on Halloween. And the upturn had actually started somewhere by December. It went something like this:


I was elated to be given the opportunity to return to my pre-children profession at, of all places, my own kiddos' school, where I am familiar with teachers and school happenings. I was excited and nervous to meet the kids and their parents. I was worried about learning the curriculum and teaching it well. I was scared about not being "good enough" for these fourth graders because I was new. But I knew my heart was in the right place and that I was going to give it my all, as not to forsake this class of students who depended on me for an entire year's learning and growth.

I am responsible for all of these kids. I have to do things right.


I braved through a beginning of the year marked with many scheduled testings and initial school events. I asked a lot of questions and returned kind help and advice from my colleagues with the most, shall I say, adorable deer-in-headlights looks? In reading lessons, the kids stared at me, ready to learn, with expressions of "okay, teach me." And I sat there, gesturing and talking, really hoping that I looked like I knew what I was doing. I soon realized that classroom management was going to be far different than what I am used to at home as a mom managing her own two children. How is it only September?

This was also when DH stepped up and took over all household matters and became a single dad my superhero. He negotiated to work from home to help out with the chores and the kiddos. I became a shadow that appeared at random times, armored with my infamous deer-in-headlights look as I showed up for meals and came up for air.


Routines were starting to sink in. Kids were settling into their new year in school. I, on the other hand, began to fret about all the new things I had to do: cut, glue, read, staple, highlight, recycle, toss, erase, sort, pile, devise, organize, remember, print, copy, pass out, count, file, correct, record, plan, time, mark, study, execute, say, remind, email, type, redo, attend, write, encourage, discipline, change, grade, note, absorb, process, show, demonstrate, return, checkout, put on hold, pair, model, decide, answer, conference, and still eat and sleep and see my children and DH. By the end of the month, I was at an all-time low, physically, mentally, and emotionally. If you had just as simply as looked at me, I was at risk of shattering into a million little pieces. On Halloween, the school had class parties, and I "teachered" the best I could and barely made it through the day.

I dressed as Captain Nobody for Halloween because I had just read aloud the book to the class. Ironic, because inside I felt like a nobody. And DH was the superhero that took me aside and gave me The Talk that began my turnaround for the rest of the school year.


Deep, deep breath. I decided to be myself and trust my instincts. I had to be comfortable with my decisions, so I should not try to be someone I'm not. The kids really knew my expectations by now, and there was learning taking place. Huh. Besides, I just had to make it till the end of the month and there would be FIVE DAYS OFF IN A ROW! Just before break, the students wrote thank-you notes to their peers. And I thanked the heavens there would be a much needed break to spend with family, food, and a lot of wine.


We read The Birchbark House and the kids surprised me with their enthusiasm. A memorable highlight of the year was their spontaneous clapping when I finished reading the last sentence of the book. They were noticing character developments, making connections, asking tough questions, and drawing conclusions based on text evidence. We studied legends, tall tales, and pourquoi tales. We read about explorers and "went deep sea diving" to explore sunken ships. We had our school holiday musical, Pajama Day, a pizza party, and the month was over faster than I could say WINTER BREAK.

Recharge. Replenish. Rejuvenate. And two weeks turned into three because SNOW/COLD DAYS! During this break, I ate and slept and read. Over 1,000 pages of gripping, haunting words, unspeakable circumstances, and tear-jerking moments. The best way to teach a love for reading is to love reading myself, no?


Refreshed, we returned to school as the world was literally frozen outside. We dove into reading nonfiction texts and writing essays (personal, persuasive, and literary). We learned about fractions and electricity/magnetism. I felt prepared. I timed lessons better and I gauged student needs with more accuracy. I anticipated. I plan-B-ed. I pulled things out of the magic hat with more ease. Three weeks passed and the month was done.


We began talking about PARCC, the dreaded new state testing that aligns with Common Core Standards. Teachers met, discussed, and planned to help students perform as well as they could on this mandated assessment. I actually witnessed students use their newly learned knowledge to attack the practice tests. I realized that my deer-in-headlights look hadn't shown up in a while. I became aware that I even though I was still spending all my waking moments working, my body was used to the hours and I just did it. There was always Friday/Saturday if I work hard and long enough, right? And I actually finished my lunch for once. I took this pic as proof to show DH. And it only took how many months?


This month began with the craziness of rearranging our schedules to accommodate 5 days of PARCC testing, and ended with parent-teacher conferences right before spring break. I took a HUGE breath <inhale>, dove deep, and came up for air when it was time for a 10 day break. <GASP!>


We came back to school after spring break and all the teachers told me how fast these last two months would fly by. Really? In class, my kids were writing an inquiry paper, you guys! Each child wrote a four-chapter information book on The American Revolution. There were essays and narrative stories. There was research and revision. There was peer editing and illustrations. There was so much work and learning going on that our room was filled with vigor and drive. We were working to finish off the year with an inquiry project. It was going to be amazing--for the first time, I felt it.


This month began with 3 more days of end-of-the-year PARCC testing, yet again. It also wrapped up the year with other assessments, where when I finally looked at the scores and graphs, I saw the progress my students had made. The gains and growth were remarkable, and were undoubtedly positive results of their hard work and perseverance. This same group of kids that I didn't know what-the-heck-to-do with back in August are now my kids--no no, not just anyone's--but mine. <Snap, snap, snap.> Mine.

I was feeling all kinds of goodness on Success Night when we presented our inquiry projects on different perspectives (children, women, African Americans, and soldiers) during the American Revolution. The kids proudly showed their parents their writing and poster boards. It was a night--no, a year--to be celebrated.


Because of the 5 cold days we had in the winter, we had to go another week of school into June. Just as well. It was a week of fun. Pizza party, field day, and A-Minute-to-Win-It class competitions. Saying goodbye to this special class was bittersweet on the one hand. On the other, I was looking forward to sleeping and eating again.


I signed on to this blog and started writing again. (The only writing I had done all year was modeling for writing lessons and book reviews on Goodreads.) Because the best way to grow writers is to keep writing myself, amiright?


The roller coaster has come to a complete stop. It is time to disembark. No doubt the next ride will be just as momentous, though hopefully not as much a shock to my system. At least I'll know that initial death plunge isn't bottomless. The amount of learning that took place in this old body of mine this year was tremendous. Now I just have to remember everything I've learned to make next year easier.

*Gets in another roller coaster line.*

You know how they say that the more you use your brain, the slower it ages? Well, at this rate, I'm getting younger by the days.


  1. It indeed was a roller coaster of a time! I only taught a semester at my college, and that was time-consuming and nerve-wracking enough! I can't imagine what it takes to teach a full year. But you saw your kids grow and learn, and that must make it all worth it! Hope the next year is more fun :).

    1. You are right, Lisa! This sort of reward makes it all worth it. It's indescribable. I'm wishing the same for next year!

  2. so glad to see you writing again (and now I know why). Your passion sums up everything we live bed about that school. Wishing you the best this year.

    1. Thank you so much, Jenn! I'm hoping that I won't be "dry" all year this school year. We shall see! I hope you like your new district and school just as much. :) Thanks for stopping by!