Hello, blog old friend. I realize that a lot has happened since my last post in August, and I’ve been in such a whirlwind that I haven’t had time to sit down and write! This post is going to skip over some beginning things (I’ll talk about those in my next post), but I had such a fantastic revelation about myself today that I needed to write it down and look at it.
Important background for this post: I’m a teacher now! About 3 weeks after moving to Portland, I was hired as lead teacher at a childcare/early education center; the center serves families with kids 6 weeks to 5 years old, and I work with an adorable preschool class of 3- and 4-year olds.
I had a meeting with LT today, who is an early childhood mental health consultant. She works for a child and family services group in Oregon, and serves the children at our preschool. Part of her job is also to do observations and feedback for the preschool teachers for our center. We were talking about goals and strategies for my room, and some classroom management ideas that I could use to rein in some of my more energetic kids.
My class ranges from young 3-year-olds to almost 5-year-olds, which means there is also a range of emotional and behavioral levels. Some of my students can be highly active, but know when it’s time to settle down and sit (mostly) quietly on the carpet to participate during our circle time. There are a few students who consistently need extra help to refocus their energy or attention in a more positive or respectful way, and there’s one student in particular who I feel like I butt heads with a lot. I have tried extinction – ignoring the behavior, so he sees that it doesn’t get him the attention that he wants – but he can keep it up longer than I can ignore it and still keep the rest of my kids calm! Removing him from the active environment (e.g. sitting in a chair if he’s too distracting on the carpet) will sometimes work, but he often works himself up into a tantrum that’s just as distracting as his negative behaviors.
He’s not the only child that acts this way – these are 3- and 4-year old kids, after all. They are still learning how to behave and react – when it’s okay to run, and when it’s time to be quieter; how to accept “no” or “not right now” as an answer; how to be respectful. And although he struggles more than some of the others to control his behavior, he’s certainly not the only one who is having trouble regulating physically or emotionally – I definitely have a few other students who need about the same level of redirection and intervention as he does. But for some reason – there’s no other way to say this – he just gets under my skin. And that makes it hard to sympathize with him. It’s tough to dig down for that little extra bit of patience and understanding that he needs.
But today, when I was talking with LT about my classroom goals, it hit me – a sudden flash of insight, like a lightning bolt. It was totally unexpected, and it staggered me. It’s not really that this student is so bad - it’s that I look at his negative behavior, and feel like I’m a bad teacher.
Time for a deep breath. I found this thought entering my mind, and then saying it almost simultaneously. And as soon as I said it, I knew it was right. When my kids are participating during circle time, or discovering and playing during centers, and this one student is yelling or talking back or running around – I see that one and feel like I’m failing. If I was a good teacher, wouldn’t all 20 of my kids be on task? If I was good at classroom management, wouldn’t I be able to get this one student to lay quietly during nap time, or sit quietly on the carpet? Wouldn’t I be able to have a more lasting impact on helping this one student turn his negative behaviors into positive actions? I have been letting the behavior of one student dictate how I feel about myself as a teacher.
As soon as I said it, I felt relieved; a weight lifted off of my shoulders – off of my heart. I hadn’t even known that I’d been feeling this way, but somewhere in the back of my head, I had felt like I was failing. LT and I talked about it some more, and her feedback helped me realize that I’m not failing, not a bit. I’m a first-year teacher working her butt off to reach all of my kids, and help them to learn and grow as best they can, and I’m actually doing a pretty darn good job. And now I can do even better when I go in tomorrow, with a fresh head and heart. Without the pressure and guilt taking up space, I have plenty of room for the extra empathy, the little bit more of patience and understanding that this student needs from me.
I’d love to hear from other teachers – what “aha” moments did you have during your first year of teaching? What are some experiences in the classroom that helped you focus and improve your teaching style?