Sunday, December 18, 2011

Growing up.


So much has changed in just a few short months. Upon finishing up my student teaching last Monday, I feel even more "grown up," another step closer to entering the "real world" and getting a job. I have a few feelings on that, but wasn't really able to properly order them until today. I was watching Glee (ok, laugh...), and one of the main characters was talking about how growing up is all about loss. It seems you have everything when you're young, and growing up is all about losing those few things. I mean come on, who hasn't heard about "losing your innocence," right? I think this has a deeper meaning though, and I appreciate you taking a moment to think with me.

A few things I've lost in the past few months/years:

-financial support from my parents (for the most part). I feed and clothe myself, and pay my own rent.

-friends. I left a ton of friends behind after graduating high school, and leave behind more each semester in college. Although some stick around, friends seem to be fairly transient these days, for what it's worth.

-health. Each day I get older, and I am in worse health. I mean, generally, this is true for all we grow old, our health declines; usually this results in our death. I think I decline a little more quickly than most, so this is certainly worth mentioning for me.

-the ease of obtaining A's in classes. This used to be so simple in grade school and high school. Now, I work diligently for every grade I receive, and even then sometimes I don't see the results I think I should.

And now, for the most recent thing I've students.

In August, I stepped into a fifth grade classroom, expecting a pretty normal experience. What I gained is knowledge and experience that has proved to be life-changing. I will never view education in the same way.

A big part of life includes change, but have you ever gone through something that left you entirely different than when you began? This is my student teaching experience.

I started out viewing student teaching as a learning experience; very quickly, my mind changed and it became a challenge that I accepted and needed to complete. Every day was intense and required an inordinate amount of preparation. I quickly learned that there is no "sleeping on the job" in teaching--in order to be a successful teacher, you have to be on your best game every day. Your students don't accept "I didn't have time to get everything ready" as an excuse...if you're unprepared, they can tell, and will take advantage of you. So, the first part of the challenge was learning to be prepared for anything and everything, and most of all, being prepared to teach.

But what happens when what you're teaching is above what your students know? This happened to me not too far into the semester--I was teaching something related to probability, and assumed my students knew how to deal with fractions.

Was I ever wrong.

The second part of the challenge was learning that you always need a backup plan, you need to be flexible, and not unwilling to take a step back and quickly re-evaluate the situation. I didn't know what to do when my students stared at me incredulously when I brought up fractions. I looked at my teacher, as if to say, "What now?" Incredibly enough...she didn't help me. She let me stand there for a few moments, and I could feel myself sinking. I wanted to melt into a puddle on the ground and run down the sewer. How could I not be ready to back up and meet my students' needs? Now I know better how to analyze what I'm teaching from an objective standpoint; I'm always ready with extra resources in order to address situations such as these.

The third part of my challenge was learning to take responsibility for my students and their learning. Teaching is a two way street--I teach my students, and they teach me. However, I am primarily responsible for what their classroom experience looks like. In that regard, I learned that I do not have enough time to cover everything so I have to make use of my time in the best way possible with relevant learning experiences.

And the last part of the challenge, possibly the hardest, was figuring out how to say goodbye to the 55 or so young people to whom I became so closely attached during my challenge. Another day, another loss...Some losses are harder to handle than others. This has certainly been one of the hardest goodbyes...I spent more active waking time with my students than nearly anyone else in my life, including my closest friends. I guess Rihanna sums it up best when she sings:

And I know you’re going somewhere to make a better life
I hope that you find it on the first try
And even though it kills me
That you have to go
I know it'll be sadder
If you never hit the road
So farewell!

Somebody is gonna miss you
Somebody is gonna wish that you were here
That somebody is me

And I'm gon' try to hold it all in
Try to hold back my tears
So it don't make you stay here
I'mma try to be a big girl now
Cause I don't wanna be the reason you don't leave

Somebody is gonna miss you
Somebody is gonna wish that you were here
Somebody is gonna miss you
Somebody is gonna wish that you were here
That somebody is me

My students wrote me an entire book thanking me for "everything I'd taught them," and begging me not to go. That definitely made leaving a whole lot more difficult. However, I'm taking this loss as simply another part of growing up. We have to leave what we love when we grow up; this is clear. Sometimes we choose to leave, sometimes we're forced to leave; in the end, we only truly have ourselves and our accomplishments. I'll have another classroom someday, filled with more bright-eyed eager students, but I will never have these fifth graders back. I will never have an experience quite the same as this one. I'll never see things the same as I used to; I'm filled with so much more knowledge and motivation now than I used to be, and this is what's going to drive me to leave, to reach on for "bigger and better" things, despite the loss I feel.

In the end, even if I lose everything, I'll always take these memories on with me, until I breathe my very last breath. They'll continue to haunt me, to guide me, to motivate me and push me to my full potential.

Maybe this isn't a loss, then, in the end. Maybe it's a gain, and I just have to change my perspective to see it.

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