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Entry date: 6-10-2022 - The Last Day of School - Letters to My Friends

Dear Friends,

Last day of school. Last full day in Arizona for a bit. These days are always so bittersweet, aren’t they? Maybe I’m just weird that way. Sometimes I think I put too much weight, or maybe pressure on myself, on days like these.

The school year has been a wild ride. I was talking to my mentor (who is a wonderful gal, by the way, and headed back to Indiana soon) about how much I’ve learned this year and it occurred to me that I would do things almost completely differently if I were starting over. Hindsight is a great thing when you can learn from it.

I was so clueless at the beginning of the year. I know I’ve touched on this throughout these last few months, but my teacher friends will understand. I’d always heard that the first year of teaching was the hardest and I kind of dismissed that notion because I’ve spent so much time in classrooms.

Boy, was I wrong about that idea. This was definitely the hardest year I ever spent in the classroom, but also the most rewarding. I guess preaching to my kids for the last 25 years about appreciating things more when you work hard for them was not just lip service. My first year at my current employer was hard for different reasons but teaching second grade was harder.

Just knowing what I’m supposed to be doing would make it so much easier. Back in July, I would have blamed my lack of understanding on poor training, but that is totally wrong. There really is no training for being a classroom teacher that is as effective as a personality like mine would want it to be. Perhaps the trainer in me just wants the challenge of putting together a better training for new teachers?

What a scary goal that is. I’ve been saying for years now that I wanted to help teachers become better at their jobs and there was a lot I learned this year that shows just how tough that proposition actually is. I was lucky, though, and did have a good mentor who helped me a lot along the way. I was able to bounce ideas and frustrations off her and she gave me great advice and tips and tricks to make things happen in the way I wanted them to all along.

Baptism by fire is something I profess to like and can do if I need to, but I can admit here, today, that I really don’t care for it. The first couple of months with these kids felt like a daily dip into the flames. I would have sworn to you, back in August and September, that they were enjoying making me suffer, too. They really did seem to have fun, at times, watching me twist myself into knots at trying to figure out how to manage them without killing them.

I know now that it takes a while to turn a classroom into a well-oiled machine. Habits take time and old behavior must be unlearned at the same time new behavior is being adopted. I can look at my students and see who they have changed in these 10.5 months of knowing them. This is a wonderful thing.

The next time I have a classroom of my own (since I will be online next year again), I will be able to speed up the processes that foster community building and getting to know the strengths and challenges I am dealing with, both as a group and individually. Because of this, my next batch will benefit from what I have learned, and I will benefit from learning to move at a much more rapid pace.

I see now how I have moved slowly this year. Time will tell if that is a product of my inexperience or if it is, at least partially, a product of the pandemic, as well. I have to remind myself that this is not a typical time in education. I truly feel the pandemic will bring a massive amount of change to how education and educational systems operate. It may take a bit for us to catch up to all the data that has been created over the last few years, but change is coming. Hopefully for the better.

It does scare me that I have seen enough to know that our state, good ol’ Arizona, doesn’t really have any interest in schools churning out the best and the brightest. We are not currently set up to foster independent and critical thinking. Social and emotional learning aren’t even the buzz words they were pre-pandemic and that’s terrible. Yes, I’m a believer in it, but I also believe it is truly necessary for me and other teachers to provide this in our classrooms as often as possible.

I’m curious who my students will turn out to be. I have a few that can be whoever and whatever they want to be and that’s very exciting. They are supported at home and have the drive to be successful in life already. I would love to be a fly on the wall for their big moments growing up.

I also have a few that were already on a tough path. I hope I have given them some tools to work with that will make that path easier and I hope they continue to get teachers who care enough to listen to them, while also guiding and inspiring them. Life is going to be tough for them in so many ways, either because of the parental hand they have been dealt or their gender or color or the amount of money they won’t have in the bank.

I was talking to Tom and Quentin yesterday about one student who has just been so coddled by his mother that for the first half of the year, I was fairly sure he didn’t wipe his own ass. He would just lose his mind if things didn’t go his way, but now, he’s great a self-regulating and takes things in stride. Hopefully, the short summer break won’t allow him to backslide.

I’m sure I will write more about them as I reflect further. They all deserve their own story, but then again, they are writing their story themselves and it probably isn’t mine to tell.

200 days down, well, at least at 1pm today. I was present for 196. Not too shabby.

See you tomorrow.

My old calendar from 1977 matches up to 2022. Cool, huh? The students love it.

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