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Beginning Again

For the past three months, I haven’t been a teacher. I haven’t created lesson plans or displays for my students’ art; I haven’t had silly conversations with my kids or played with them while they learned; I haven’t felt enjoyment or reward.

I haven’t been going to a classroom every day, but to a battleground.

Back in June, my center went through a lot of transitions – rearranging classrooms and teachers, an influx of new students across the board, and figuring out whether some existing students would do better to remain in their current class with a new teacher, or to transition with their teacher to a new room. I switched classrooms, gained a new co-teacher, and almost an entirely new group of students. There were two kids who I thought would do best if they came with me, to keep some consistency for them – Nicole, who has developmental delays, and Lucas, who was going through some trauma at home due to custody issues.

Understandably, Lucas was scared and tense all the time, as his home situation changed and remained uncertain. He felt a loss of control at home, and reacted by trying to create situations he could control at school. We tried to find the balance to give Lucas what he needed – offering opportunities for control, while helping him readjust to a cooperative classroom where his peers also have a voice; we didn’t want him to force his control on the other students. My co-teacher and I had wonderful support from our director and curriculum coordinator, but our efforts were by and large unsuccessful.

Lucas was so angry, all the time. We could see it simmering, ready to lash out at the least provocation, real or imagined. We tried redirecting with one-on-one activities where he could be successful, or offering the opportunity to be a helper, and these worked at first – but not for very long. Lucas would rage out – kick and punch, try to run away. My boss was instrumental in helping us create a behavioral plan for Lucas – she saw that he needed big movements when we was angry, and we tried to give him that. We would take Lucas outside, and help him calm his body with “big movements” – running, basketball, climbing tricks on the monkeybars or play structure. But before he was able to get into a mindset where he was willing to start calming down, his big movements were made with the intent to harm.

His hands bunched into fists and swinging, pulling and pushing with his whole body to get away, throwing whatever was at hand – toys, bins, chairs – without any regard or even the ability to notice who might be nearby. Getting him out of the room and onto the playground was no easy task. For the past three months, I was physically and emotionally beat-up – I dreaded going to work, where my “Good morning, Lucas” would be met with a “Don’t talk to me!”; where attempts to show caring were met with spitting and curses; where a little boy, so full of pain and anger, would hurt my heart and my body.

I felt powerless. Every day, the same cycle, the same tensions, the same results. We were in a holding pattern – the most we could do was to provide a safe place for Lucas, and try to reinforce the message that we would always help keep him safe, that we cared about him.

Lucas left for a pre-kindergarten program at a local elementary school at the beginning of September – a planned move, before there were any changes at home. And a good change, it seems – he comes back to the center for after-school care, and he always says hello to me, wants to play on the playground. I think the structure of a PreK program is good for him – less opportunities for a lack of control to upset him, a new environment and new teachers where he can start over a bit.

But I’m having to start over as well – I need to start thinking about projects and studies, creating relationships with my students, setting goals for professional development. I need to find my excitement for teaching again. My goal is to bring more science into the classroom, finding ideas and lesson that will pique my students’ interest – and my own. I started with a simple project, and I was surprised at how excited I got! We did an experiment with celery and dyed water – each student made a prediction about which color they thought would change the celery the quickest. They ooohed and aaahed when we showed them the celery midday, and the leaves already had so much color in them! My next project is to have them make watercolors from flower petals – I’m really looking forward to it!

Celery Dye Experiment

What experiences have you had that drew you away from teaching – and how did you reignite your enthusiasm in the classroom?

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