Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Reminder of My Younger Self

I can’t believe it used to be my job.

Tonight, I was rifling through several boxes and Rubbermaid crates, searching for an old book, when I came across a thick blue binder. My teaching portfolio! I hadn’t seen that thing in years.

I was a teacher back in the mid-90’s, for almost two years. As I paged through the portfolio, I was stunned at all that I had done as a teacher. I came up with creative lesson plans, organized writing and reading workshops, made colorful bulletin boards, set up science experiments, sent letters home to parents, evaluated student progress, ran parent-teacher conferences, and managed disciplinary problems of many students. All that!—and I was only 22 years old! How on earth did I do that?

In my current job, I have many responsibilities—but my main responsibility is to manage a customer service help desk. That doesn’t seem nearly as daunting as managing a classroom of 20 kids, with all of their unique personalities and learning and disciplinary challenges, and ensuring that their parents are always kept informed of what’s been going on in the classroom.

I know I attended college so that I could learn how to do just that, but still—I am just surprised and impressed that I was able to handle it all at such a young age.

And a couple of other things struck me as I turned over page after page of the dusty old binder:

First, that I did all of this work without touching a single computer, ever. Back then, people were just starting to hear about the internet, and I had only really used it for e-mail. As I paged through my teaching portfolio, I was struck by how many letters and lesson plans that I had handwritten. Full-length letters to parents, talking about what new things their kids were learning, and asking for supplies for science experiments and the like…lesson plans and fact sheets, describing to my students how they would be graded on their “dress like the character” book reports or news radio “broadcasts”…all handwritten—mostly in cursive, although I started to use printing as my main mode of handwriting later on. And certainly there were some typed lesson plans—but that’s TYPED, on a standard typewriter—not on a computer.

For many of the lesson plans that I organized, I had to get the ideas from teacher’s magazines or curriculum aids that I ordered—often with my own money. I remember really loving one magazine where teachers wrote in to share their lesson plan ideas—I think it was called “Mailbox” or something like that. Nowadays, there are probably hundreds (or more) websites with lesson plan ideas for teachers. Man, what I could have done with the internet in those days! I’m sure it would have made some aspects of teaching much easier.

Secondly, I was struck by how young and naïve I was. This became really clear to me when I was reading one of the letters that I had written to parents, requesting materials for a science experiment. At the beginning of the letter, I stated that I really needed a few materials by the next day: 5 empty, clean 8-10 ounce glass bottles; 40 pea seeds; and 30 sunflower seeds.

Now I ask you: Are these materials normal items that people have in their homes? I certainly don’t! Maybe glass bottles were more widely used back then, but pea seeds? Really? Who keeps those in their home? And did I really expect the parents to go out that very night and purchase pea seeds and sunflower seeds so that I’d have them for our science experiment the next day?

That’s what made me think of myself as being young and naïve.

But at the same time, my very young and naïve self managed a classroom of 20 twelve-year-old kids for almost two years. I have to say, I’m pretty impressed by my younger self.

And this was a great realization for me…because so often, when I think back to my teaching experience, I think about all the things that I did wrong—all the discipline problems that I couldn’t fix, the one confrontation with an overbearing, over-involved parent where I should have stood up for myself instead of caving in to her “orders,” the one time I got so angry at my 6th grade class that I think I even swore in front of them (it was either “damn” or “shit”—I can’t remember now)…those problems always seem to jump right into my mind when I think about my teaching days.

But now I see in front of me evidence of my successes as a teacher—the many notes that I kept where students wrote “You’re the best!” and “I really love you as a teacher,” and the one parent evaluation where the parent wrote “Miss Fochs was the best teacher my son has had. She has consistently offered additional help when needed. Because of her help and patience, his grades have greatly improved this last quarter.”

And even more rewarding than that, the many examples of students’ creativity that I saved…the funny haiku that a student wrote about April Fool’s Day, the “Jurassic News” newspaper a student created, wherein she wrote an article about a huge volcano erupting and terrifying the dinosaurs and woolly mammoths, and pictures from the book party that a group of students organized—which included decorations, costumes, food, and a “Pin the Leg on the Octopus” game. So very creative!

So even though it was a very tough job, very challenging and stressful, I am glad that I got the chance to be a teacher in my lifetime. I certainly learned a lot—and many of the skills I learned as a classroom teacher—such as organizational and interpersonal skills—have helped me in the jobs I’ve had since then—even in my current job. Sometimes in my current job, I am called upon to train someone on a particular computer program or process—and I always embrace that opportunity wholeheartedly. I am very comfortable with my teaching skills.

All that being said, I am also very grateful that I’m no longer a teacher. It’s one of the toughest jobs there is, and I very much admire teachers who can maintain their sense of enthusiasm and creativity, for year after year after year.

And I’m also grateful that we now have the internet. It has brought my family and friends closer together, and has put so much information and creativity right at our fingertips.

And best of all, it has brought you all, my bloggy friends, to me. And I’m very grateful for each and every one of you.


poet said...

that, miss healthypants, was a beautiful post. i have to wonder now that we are in this electronic age, how did we ever even function before that. your dusty blue binder is a gentle yet firm reminder of how you did just that, and very well, by the sounds of it. have a wonderful monday...make it GREAT~

Buck said...

Awww. That was so sweet! And you ARE a good teacher. You taught me on that "effin-mess" system years ago. Remember?

Barb said...

Love this well written. They said that the internet would isolate people from each other but in the end it brought us all so much closer and made us all kind of new friends.


I bet you were a nifty keen teacher too. Wish we had some like you now..

Sling said...

It's easy to forget there was a time before the internet.
You did a difficult job well Miss HP,and I'm proud to call you my friend! :)

Mom said...

Teachers deserve far more respect and compensation than they receive. Sounds like you were one good teacher.
Isn't the internet an amazing thing!

Random Thinker said...

Being a teacher is one of the most thankless, difficult jobs there is. I know, my sister is a teacher. I know I could never do it. And, what is a pea seed? Like for a garden? Or the bumps in pea pods?

rosemary said...

Mymy son, daughter in law and step son are all teachers. I admire you for doing what you did at 22. It is a thankless job, more and more "blame' being out on teachers for students that don't can and should be proud.

Miss Healthypants said...

Aww, you are all so sweet! :)

Thank you all for being such lovely blog buddies. :)

Random Thinker--there's another reason why I was young and naive--I didn't explain what a pea seed was very well. And you know what? I'm not really sure what it is. I think we sprouted them, though, so I assume it's just a seed that produces peas? :)

Fantastic Forrest said...

Like you, I used to be a teacher, and like you, I marvel at the energy it requires.

I often ponder the differences of life pre-internet and post-internet. In so many ways, it is even more transformative than the invention of rocketships. Kids these days don't really understand how good they have it. :-)

Maria said...

What made you leave?

MaryRuth said...

What a sweet post! It must give you a good feeling to have made such a impact on youngsters' lives.