Back to School

As I mentioned in some of my prior posts, I was interviewing at different schools around town all summer trying to secure an internship for my Reading Specialist program. I started getting pretty nervous late in the summer, because I interviewed at three schools and two of them turned me down. The third one didn’t get back to me for several weeks, and I pretty much assumed that I hadn’t gotten in. I started looking at other more affordable options for obtaining a Reading Specialist degree (online? Phoenix University or the like?), and I just kept hitting dead ends. For example, Penn State has an online program that would allow me to obtain a grad degree in Children’s Literature, but I wouldn’t be able to call myself a Reading Specialist after graduation (and though a degree in Children’s Lit does sound fun, what exactly do you DO with that, career-wise?). You can imagine my surprise when the associate director of the Reading Specialist program at Pitt contacted me and said I’d been granted an internship! I was placed in the third school that interviewed me. They took a long time to make a decision about me because the person who had the final say on the matter was taking a summer vacation for a few weeks. Phew! What a relief!

I can’t even explain to you how surprised I was that everything worked out so well. Justin and I were really wondering what we were going to do next–should we renew our lease? Should we stay in Pittsburgh? So it’s such a relief now that everything is settled (at least until next summer). We’re staying in Pittsburgh. We’re staying in our little apartment (the first time we’ve ever stayed in one place for two years in a row). I’m getting my grad degree at the University of Pittsburgh and I’ll graduate next summer in exactly the area I wanted to major in. And I have secured an internship that will pay for 95% of the cost of my classes. Life is good!

All that remained was to actually start school. And I was a little nervous.

I’ve worked in bad schools before. In the past, I’ve had principals and trusted mentors question whether I have what it takes to be an educator. I’ve been trained by professionals who made certain that I knew they did not want to be there and they were doing me a huge favor. I’ve had students and parents who have vocally disliked me and complained about me to the principal daily in the hopes that I would get fired. I once held an undergrad internship in which I was treated more like slave labor than an actual teacher; they always gave me lunch duty, which involved wheeling a giant trash can around the cafeteria and letting students throw their trash in my direction, and wearing rubber gloves to clear tables when they were finished eating. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this internship, but just to be safe, I expected the worst.

Friends, I am happy to report that I am working at one of the good schools. I have a principal who is never too busy to talk. He can rarely be found locked away in his office because he prefers to be in the hallways and classrooms of the school, involved on a face-to-face level with the students and teachers. I haven’t found any school employees who have anything bad to say about him behind his back, even off-the-record, when no one else is listening in. And this is great news because the first indicator of what the atmosphere of a school will be like is the principal–he (or she) sets the tone for everyone else.

All of the teachers are great, too. Sure, it’s a real-life place, so not everyone is best friends with everyone else. But no one is mean and nasty to each other. And everyone has been incredibly welcoming to me, all asking me questions about myself and making sure that I feel “at home.” The Reading Specialist who is training me really couldn’t be any nicer–she’s never put out when I ask her question after question. She is endlessly patient.

In fact, things have been going so well that I did have a negative interaction with one of the teachers, and it didn’t even seem like a big deal. I’m going to be working with some 5th graders during their language arts period each afternoon, so I’m I’ll be working side-by-side with one of the 5th grade teachers. I set out to meet her before classes started, just to put a face with the name and see if there was anything that I could help her with during the back-to-school chaos. She was completely blown off-kilter when I introduced myself as the Reading Specialist intern who would be in her room each afternoon.

“Well, I don’t know what they want me to do with you, to tell you the truth,” she said, looking frazzled. “I mean, I just have no idea what this collaboration is supposed to look like at all. It’s probably best not to come to my class on the first day of school.”

“Really?” I said. “Not even to introduce myself to the students?”

“No, we’ll just be much too busy for all of that,” she said. “I’ll let you know when I need you.”

“Okay, well let me know if I can help you with anything…” I said, trailing off.

This did throw me off, since it was my understanding that I was to report to her room every day to “co-teach” with her. According to past training I’ve received, in an ideal “co-teaching” setting, the teachers should split their responsibilities so equally that the students aren’t even aware of who is the “main” teacher and who is the “secondary” teacher. This obviously will not be the case with this 5th grade teacher.

I mentioned this to one of my new teacher friends later on (only because she asked how the “meeting” went), and she just kind of chuckled and gave me a knowing look. She told me that particular teacher is notorious for seeing support teachers as a threat and intrusion, even when they’re just stepping into her classroom to help.

“She’s stressed out, I’m sure,” I said, rushing to the defense of the rude 5th grade teacher so that this wouldn’t turn into gossip.

“She’s always stressed out,” my teacher friend said. “It’s not a beginning of the school year thing–it’s a constant state of being for her.”

She giggled again. I realized that this is a good attitude to take. Rather than getting offended by a teacher who obviously doesn’t want me in her classroom, I could just silently laugh about her furrowed brow and sour face. And outwardly smile and continue saying, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help!”

I found that my teacher friend was right about the 5th grade teacher. After spending some time in her room, I realized that she is one of those people who is constantly barking orders and “getting a headache,” usually caused by the actions of those around her. I just feel sorry for her students. I only have to be with her for one hour each afternoon, but they’re stuck with her sour face for the entire school day!

Remember how I was scared about the kindergarteners? So far, I haven’t started working with kindergarten, but I do have a few kindergartners in my charge during dismissal time each day while they wait for their bus to arrive. It’s a group of kids in kindergarten through second grade who all live on the same street and ride the same bus. I wasn’t sure if they would like me, or how I should even talk to them. I have very little experience with young children. However, a little kindergarten boy named Cody (whose mom gelled his hair into a tiny faux hawk) immediately grabbed my hand and said, “Look at my new zipper case! It’s a wolf!”

He held it up to me and displayed it proudly. “Wow, it is shaped like a wolf. That’s pretty cool,” I said.

He looked up at me and grinned in such a way that my heart just melted.

Every time I get nervous about kindergarten now, I just pull up a mental snapshot of his sweet little face. Elementary school won’t be that bad, will it? πŸ˜‰

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Categories: School, Teaching | Tags: , , , , | 9 Comments

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9 thoughts on “Back to School

  1. See! Kindergartners aren’t so bad πŸ˜‰ Glad you are working at one of the good schools, by the way!

    • Me too! I can handle working at a bad school if I really need to, but it’s so much nicer to work at a good school where the coworkers are friendly and considerate!

  2. Tammy

    Elementary school is awesome!! I don’t teach, but the majority of the programs I manage are in elementary and middle school. Just talk to little kids like you would talk to adults. They really do get it πŸ™‚ Also, glad to hear your in a good school!!

    • I didn’t realize you were spending time in elementary school, Tammy! Most of the kids, especially the fourth and fifth graders, I talk to like regular adults. However, I’m never sure about how to talk to the younger kids, and I’ve been trying to observe the other teachers to know what to do. So far it seems like some of teachers take on a “Disney Princess” voice when they talk to the little ones. A lot of the kids seem to like that, but I’m not sure I could do it with a straight face. πŸ˜›

      • Tammy

        I don’t spend a ton of time IN elementary and middle school, but I work with a lot of them once they get into the studios. In Chicago most of the “elementary schools” are K-8!! Most of the kids I work with are in grades 1 and 2 πŸ™‚ I definitely talk to them like they’re adults… Because they know better!! They really do!

  3. I love that you’re having such a good experience!!! That’s awesome. Keep it up!

  4. You will have a great time with elementary school too! I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed the kindergartners! Sorry about that teacher, but it sounds like you really have a great attitude about working with her. I’m glad things have just fallen into place for you guys!

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