Timehop – 20 Years Ago

Twenty years ago, I walked into a first grade classroom as a long term sub.  The position was only supposed to last until January, but I ended up there all year.  It’s a year I’ll never forget. My first few moments were panicked as these sweet little first graders started arriving and I thought, “What am I doing to do with these little kids?!?!”  Panic turned to wonder as these children turned my world upside down with their wonder, amazement and questions.  I learned quickly to follow their lead on questions and build upon their own curiosity.  We ended up building our own rainforest in the hallway outside our door because of questions they asked.  We created videos about the stories we were reading as students acted out favorite characters and scenes.  We moved our desks around to make our work more comfortable or we laid on the floor and stretched out to work.  We read books that had text that was comfortable for us as readers.  We wrote about the things we did in the classroom and I spent a lot of money on photos, actual photos that were pretty and glossy that showed our friends and our experiments and our life together. I remember being physically exhausted but mentally invigorated by the possibilities.  All the possibilities that this group of children possessed and all we were able to accomplish. 

Three years later, I would get my own classroom.  A place to knead and break and make my own for students who would need a home away from home. I would learn that pillows and bean bags and soft lighting make a classroom feel more comfortable. I would learn who Fountas and Pinnell were and how much they would make my teacher life easier with their independent and instructional reading levels.  I would learn that each group of students, each individual student was special and changed the way I approached content.  I would learn that I could not keep my lesson plans because I could never teach the same thing the same way twice.  I would learn to always look to my learners to find out what adventure we would go on each year. I would learn.  And continue to learn. 

The hardest lesson I would learn was that I did not fit the mold of many teachers.  I thought I was a broken model of what I should be.  Never living up to an ideal teacher.  My desk was messy because I didn’t really sit there. I just threw papers on it.  I didn’t follow a manual (if there was one) to a T because my students never fit it to a T.  I was always thinking of new ways to do things, not necessarily reinventing the wheel, but reinventing how the wheel would be used. And there was constantly glitter on my floor.  Getting reprimanded for being disorganized was crushing, but I learned how to be more organized and got back to what I was good at doing.  Being admonished for not being on the same exact Math Journal page as my colleagues was disappointing but I tried to hide what I was doing a bit more so they wouldn’t notice.  And the glitter, well that just followed us around all day and I apologized to our custodial staff whenever it was apparent that the glitter had been out and heavily used.  I could not be like everyone else and as I began to own that, life as a teacher became a bit easier.   

It took me a long time to recognize that it wasn’t me that was broken, it was the mold.  The mold felt constraining and restricting, but I never let it stop me from pushing forward to try new things, no matter how hard it got.  And I will keep pushing for my students now and those to come.   I will continue to learn. 

PS. It took me 10 years, but I did finally get rid of my teacher desk and I haven’t missed it for one second!


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