I can smell my kielbasa cooking in the oven. It’s 8 o’clock and still kind of light outside… spring and summer are coming, which is great, because I feel like all my days are starting to blur together.
Tonight I wanted to blog about my elementary experience so far, but a few other things, too. Like being a grown up and dealing with real life.
what happens next?
Elementary school has humbled me. Coming from George Walton, a great school of incredible support and social status, my Clarke County elementary school has been a huge shift, not just in social classes and status, but in expectations, student behaviors and what is necessary to keep things in check.
One of my weaknesses at George Walton was my lack of teacher voice, or my lack of using it. There is a time and place for teacher voice, at least I feel that way, and I never felt the need to use it at GWA (perhaps that was the problem…), but I have found it.
These past few weeks have been hard. I have come to realize that some things are not what they once were, and also have had to accept that this is okay. At the high school level, I never felt comfortable being assertive, or being an individual who enforces the rules. I felt like stepping into that realm would cause waves, and furthermore, that the students would not respond to me the same way. I was alien in their class. They had never had a student teacher. They weren’t accustomed to having two people to answer to, two people teaching, and definitely not two people enforcing rules and implementing teacher voices. Alas, it was a daily struggle. What is my role? Do I step up and take on more or leave things as they are?
My elementary supervising teacher is everything I am not: organized, a hardass, efficient, methodical, confident. She’s fabulous. She’s got her teaching down to an art (LOL. See what I did there?) She is constantly modifying, changing, adding and taking away from her lessons. She caters to every individual class, and tries her best to do the same with all 600 students. Yeah. 600. Can you imagine teaching that many? And trying to remember all their names when you only see them once a week? It’s hard, but I’m trying to get better. I’m down to about 1 or 2 a table (so 6-12 out of a class of 28… not that impressive).
Anyway. Mary is showing me how to do all the things I never would have thought about until it came up in my room. Planning ahead for kindergarten and first, making all the units line up with the same medium so that I don’t have 6 different messes to clean up with no time in between classes to do it. We get two planning periods a week. Two. That is CRAZY. Some days fly by and others drag on like you would not believe. I’m tired every day, but being around these kids is teaching me so much about myself.
At my school, we have an incredibly diverse group of kids. I have several Korean students, quite a few Hispanic students and there are a handful of special education students, autistic students and gifted students in each class. I have come to recognize that in some situations, differentiated learning only lives in teachers’ dreams, because some days, it is nearly impossible to talk to every student individually. Regardless, as always, I’m drawn to the underdogs. The trouble makers with big hearts, who are having a rough day, act out because they need attention, or cut up in class because they enjoy making people laugh. The ones that take the blame for the disruption, even though 8 times out of 10 (I could be normal and say 1 out of 5? haha) they’re telling someone else to can it, or sticking up for a friend. There is something amazing about having a “trouble maker” walk into class, ask to sit next to me at the table, and sit still and quiet through the entire introduction and demonstration. I love having those same students make something they are proud of and walk around the room to show all their friends (even though those little butts are supposed to be parked in their chairs). It can almost bring me to tears when a student offers to help someone else with their work, or to show them how to do something new. Having a warm, tiny body in my lap, girls tugging at my earrings, students calling “Ms. Mockett!!” at lunch and then asking me how old I am, is there ever a good time to break up with a boyfriend, did you find my purple tail for my dinosaur? They are magic.
We focus so much on the end results when kids are kids that we miss the glory that makes them what they are. Their candid nature, their uninhibited creativity and amazing talent of telling stories while they draw, the grown up conversations they have and the innate, pure, and real sense of wisdom they possess, while still being so new in this big, bad world. I adore them. They keep my heart light and remind me when I so desperately need it that right here and right now are the only things that matter, and that I should be present and wide-awake with them. As always, I am a teacher being taught by my students.
One of my sweet girls is always in and out of trouble, and I met her my first day. She was sitting alone at the silent lunch table, and had her hand raised, so I walked over to her and asked her what she needed. Her face was dirty, her hair was knotted from where her head had tossed and turned on her pillow the night before (or maybe for a week’s time, who knows), and her white shirt had turned tan from the stains and wear. She had holes in the knees of her pants and looked up at me with a frustrated face, holding an orange with a huge hole in the side in her hand. “I can’t peel this orange! I’ve been trying forever but I just can’t. Will you help me?” As I took the orange from her, I glanced at her plate. It was spotless. She had eaten everything on her plate (an unappetizing meal and unripe orange, I might add), including remaining sauces. She looked at me as I peeled her orange, a precious side smile, missing one front tooth. All I could say was, “good job girl, look at this happy plate!” Every day at lunch since then, she raises her hand and I walk to her, and she says, “I made a happy plate, Ms. Mockett!”
I am so humbled.
How dare I ever complain about my life again. Here this precious girl sits, one of MANY in ONE school in one tiny, poor county in Georgia, smelling of stale cigarettes with dirt on her cheeks and holes in her shoes. Last week our students didn’t have to wear uniforms. She twirled her way into the lunch room wearing a bright green dress, with the seams coming undone at the straps. “I got this dress for Christmas! Isn’t it beautiful? It’s my favorite.”
These are the kids that grow up too fast. The kids that are expected to raise themselves, and others. To do what they have to do to get by or to help their family get by. Maybe the kids that don’t graduate high school or don’t go to college because they have to pay their bills first and they can’t seem to get ahead. These are also the kids that grow up and turn into high schoolers. Some of them come out just fine. Some of them drink, mess with drugs, bully other kids because no one ever showed them what love looks like or feels like, hurt themselves as a distraction from their home life, or lack of home. People want to know why I want to teach. I love art. I love art more than a LOT of things. But even more than that, what about the kids that can’t or don’t know how to love anything? Not even themselves? Those are the ones that need us most; the ones who will never call out to you, who will take years to let you in, who will make poor decisions but maybe, just maybe, you can help them find self-worth. Maybe you can instill some pride in those hearts that have been made hard by the world, responsibilities that came too early, losing too much, or just never having enough.
I could be just an art teacher. I could just teach design principles and how to blend pastels and how to collage with magazines. A lot of people do that. It’s probably a more sane and safe option. It probably hurts a lot less. It’s risky to do more, expect more and ask for more. It’s risky to invest your heart into a kid, never knowing just what they may decide to do to it. It’s risky to do more than what your job description requires, knowing no one else is watching or going to give you praise for the extra hours spent, the extra lessons given, the money spent out of pocket to provide your students with worthy materials.
But if you just had one student… If I had one little twirling girl with ruined pants and uncombed hair, and I could make her laugh and make her proud and make her want to be more than she thought she could be before, maybe going home wouldn’t be so bad, if she had something to look forward to tomorrow. A lifetime of people telling you you will never be more or you will never be good enough is hard to reverse. But what if you could? Wouldn’t you want to? Wouldn’t you at least want to try? You could save a life. You could mend a broken heart. You could change their fate. A blue little wisp leading Merida through the forest. It’s a wonderful thought that I like to keep in my head for the days I start to question myself and my abilities.
My twirling, dirty princess reminds me.