Posted on August 4, 2016
When you are a first year teacher, you are doing everything you can to
survive. Survive not just the teaching day, but survive: “pop in” administration visits, parent phone calls and emails, new curriculum, managing student behavior, professional development days with new strategies (that need to be implemented immediately), and all of the other tasks that are expected of teachers daily. I believe every first year teacher has a light bulb moment, this is mine.
Who would believe teachers need to have training as a nurse, crisis manager , psychologist, and exterminator before returning to their classroom in September? those are just a few of the many hats we as teachers are expected to wear each day. So there I was trying to survive my first year teaching. All I truly wanted was to get through the day without crying, leave the school building before 7:00 pm, and help my students become their best selves. It was about the third week of school, and I rarely felt like I was accomplishing any of the three.
At this point, I had a few conversations with my mentor teacher and was in awe of her knowledge and experience. For the sake of this paper, we will call her Mary Poppins. Now, Mary Poppins has everything to do with my lightbulb moment. You see, she is the only reason I survived my first year teaching (and the years following). She showed me what can happen when a mentor and a mentee connect and have the same common goal. She taught me everything I needed to know about teaching that first critical year.
Student behavior problem? She provided me with strategies I could use to answer the cry for help that I was too inexperienced to notice. Difficulty running a writer’s workshop? No problem – she modeled multiple lessons for me to observe. Was I running out of time to complete running records? Mary was there to read a book aloud to my class while I worked in the back assessing a student. What about when it was time for progress reports and I had no idea where to begin? Mary was there to help me craft comments that I could use to help portray my students’ strengths and weaknesses. She also taught me that a touchstone book can save any lesson. Always have a touchstone book within arm’s reach.
One afternoon after school, Mary and I were having our weekly meetings. During these meetings we would talk about a variety of topics: school, weather, weekend plans, school, past experiences, school, family, and did I mention school? Having a mentor that cared about me as a whole person and not just a teacher was just one of the reasons why I credit Mary for being responsible for my lightbulb moment. During that meeting she had asked me how my week was going. Going? My week was barely moving. My math lesson that day had flopped, and I had so many papers to grade I wasn’t sure when I was going to be able to go home. She asked me if all my students left my room smiling today, to which I responded, “Yes.” Then Mary said, “Well then today you did your job.” This simple sentence from this wise and gentle teacher made everything come into light. We as teachers have a job. To teach our students, to make them better than they were before, and to make sure that they go home happy. There is no light that can’t be turned on with the right guidance.