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On My 9th Year of Teaching – Looking Back at Year 1 August 19, 2012

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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This week I’ll go back to school. It will be my 9th year working as a credentialed teacher in a public school.

I took the scenic route to becoming a teacher. I taught art in NYC. I worked as a substitute on and off. I was a District Intern with the Los Angeles Unified School District for 10 months teaching in a modified bilingual classroom. There was no toilet paper. The jello made the kids sick. My own sons were acting up. I quit and sold my blue pocket charts at a yard sale.

Two years later, I tried another alternative program to credentialing and was placed in a classroom of high risk 5th grade students. I didn’t have the experience at that time to deal with them. Every day after school the custodian would push his broom through my classroom and say, “These are bad kids, very bad kids.” The enrollment numbers were down, so I was first to go. After only 15 days in the classroom, I couldn’t leave fast enough as I was done – or more accurately, done in.

Yet, no matter how many times I decided I was DONE with teaching, I always returned. No sooner had I sold those blue pocket charts than I was out buying more. Ultimately, I realized that it’s when I’m in the classroom that I feel most alive.

In 2004, I finally earned my California Teaching Credential. I was 50 years old. What can I say? I’m a late bloomer.

Did you know that half of all teachers leave teaching within the first five years? Looking back, it’s a wonder I even made it through my first year. It’s a year still seared in my memory as no class in pedagogy could have prepared me for what was in store.

It was only the second week of school when the principal came to the door of my classroom. This was not a good sign. Had I filled out the attendance incorrectly? He led me to the office where I met the father of one of my students. The man, head in hands, was weeping.”She was just so stressed,” he kept saying. I wasn’t quite sure what this was about.

It was only the next day that we learned his wife had committed suicide by shooting herself in the garage. And the kids? They were still at home watching TV as he had told them their mother was at work. I’d never felt so at a loss for what to do/say in my life. Several days passed and the boy returned to school. I bought a heart-shaped pillow where he could sometimes rest back in the library when he felt sad.

A new boy, Ezekiel, joined our class. He was adorable and so smart that he’d skipped first grade. He immediately befriended the boy who’d lost his mother. I remember thinking, “This is a good thing” as they were both such bright and kind-hearted boys.

But after Thanksgiving, Ezekiel did not come back to school. Could he have gone on a trip to see relatives I wondered? Then came the call. He’d collapsed at home and was at the hospital on life support. Could the children pray for him? They did – with all the strength their little second-grade hearts could muster.

The next day the principal and I drove to the hospital to see this precious boy. When a child was pushed by us in the hall on a gurney, the principal asked, “Was that him?” I honestly didn’t know. I was used to seeing Ezekiel in his school uniform with those big sparkly eyes. The family was gathered. The mood was somber. He’d just collapsed one evening at home. It all happened in the blink of an eye.

Ezekiel was taken off life support the next day. Crisis counselors from the district descended on my classroom. I’d never felt so at a loss for what to do/say in my life. But the words eventually came to me. We wrote a poem. We talked about how someone is never really gone unless you forget them.

At Ezekiel’s funeral, his first grade teacher was the first to speak. I will never forget what she said.

“Teaching is a dangerous job because you can fall in love with other people’s children.”

That’s the truth. And so begins another year.

Photo Credit: Jan Marshall

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Comments»

1. Sheri O'Brien - August 20, 2012

Gulp. Have a good first week, Jan!

All the best to you, Sheri. As a Special Education teacher, your job is all the more challenging. Your kids are lucky to have such a dedicated teacher. Jan

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2. Tracy - August 20, 2012

I used to visit my 1st grade teacher, Mrs. Crunk- until she left our school (I think I was in 5th grade then). She was the mother-figure everyone liked- even those with great mothers. Some time later a friend, who is also a teacher, told me she’d seen Mrs. Crunk at a gathering & which school she was now teaching at. I called the school to see if it would be all right for me to stop by to say hello, & they agreed to me dropping by just after school. I was then 18. I felt a little silly- I mean, she hadn’t seen me for over 7 years. When I walked through the groups of kids, I was struck at how little they were! Was I ever that small? Then, I saw her at her room doorway- & every little kid was hugging her as they left the room. When she saw me she hugged me & said how wonderful it was that I’d called- she actually remembered me! Wow.

Anyway, I just wanted to say that it’s good to know there are great teachers, like you & Mrs. Crunk. I’d like to say they’re all good & memorable for being so- but sadly, they aren’t. If you get even one great teacher in 12, you’re doing well. Thanks Jan, for being one of the “good ones”. :)

Thanks Tracy,
I had several teachers I remember vividly. My art teacher in high school, Diane Hanson, was one. I’ve been on the internet searching for her to tell her how much her confidence in me meant at the time. Know this. Teachers never forget their students. As the years pass, you might have to give them a prompt, but I can then tell a child exactly where they sat and what they did. They’re always amazed at my ability to recall these small details. I also have a very hard time throwing away any notes of thanks from my students, as these mean the world to me. Jan

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elissestuart - August 20, 2012

What a lovely story Tracy, I’m glad that you had such a priceless teacher when you were growing up.
ES

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3. elissestuart - August 20, 2012

Hope you have a great first day Jan.
I’ll be thinking about you.
ES

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4. Eva - August 20, 2012

Great entry Jan. I am so glad the kids at McKinley have you to invest in them. Thinking of you and everyone as the new year begins.

See you soon!

Eva

Aaah…I heart Jack. Jan

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Moon - August 20, 2012

Hi jan,its so nice what you do for these children,what lovely work you do.its also beautiful that you have thought if this site where women can find some support and a good giggle,you are a real light worker,hugs moon

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5. Lesley - August 20, 2012

Great article. My favourite teacher was Mrs Sheila Strachan..she was so strict at first but had a heart of gold. We were eleven and twelve and she got sick of the grubby classroom windows so we spent three days painting them with glass paint.
I remember her reading ‘The Listeners poem in such a voice that I didn’t sleep for days.
So brings back memories…

Haha. I once had a student tell me that I reminded him of Professor McGonagall from Harry Potter. I had to go home and google her. Maggie Smith? Strict but very supportive of Harry. I think it was a compliment!
Jan

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6. Donna - August 20, 2012

Jan, I loved you blog very much it shows your determination especially while entering the mid-age years. I also admire the fact that you chose teaching as your calling in life. Only very special people are cut out to teach. I hope you have a wonderful school treatment.

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7. The President Elect - August 23, 2012

Wow. It’s so hard to lose such young kids. My mom had a wonderful kid in her class her first year. Darren. Even I remember him. Big brown eyes, and a big, big heart. He accidentally hung himself in the morning before the school’s 5th grade Olympics. He was practicing climbing on his bunk bed with the aid of his toy lasso, and all it took was about 5 minutes, during which his mom thought he was brushing his teeth. It still makes me sad, and he wasn’t even my student.

May this year be uneventful!

Ahhhh. It is stories like this that haunt you because you realize how your life can be turned upside down in the blink of an eye. Jan

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8. Bev - August 28, 2012

dont know what to say now… u said so much in this blog … some incredibly inspiring and some incredibly sad…

hope this new year is going well so far !

HUGS

Today is Day 5. The other day one of my friends in Scotland (Yes, I can tour the UK visiting people I’ve met online!) said she was an Eternal Optimist. I find that working with children keeps this quality alive in me as well. You can’t work around ones so full of life and hope and be too cynical. It’s great hearing from you, Bev. I follow your very lively life with your family via FB. Jan

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9. Imogen n Pen - October 1, 2012

Jan,wanted to add that your posts about teaching have entranced my partner and I throughout the weekend and given us so many hearty laughs…often needed as the recession hits all corners of our globe and particularly the resources we desperately need to be even ‘adequately’ meeting kids needs.
Off to read more about your obsession with dead insects…now that’s what we call recycling!
Imogen

I was just on my way out the door, iced coffee in hand to go to school when your comment came through. Glad to have provided you with some laughs. :) Jan

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