Its the last day of the first semester of my first year of teaching. As the holidays approach, I have mixed emotions that span the spectrum of “Aww, I will miss the kids” to “HALLELUJAH!” Right now I am somewhere in the middle but hey, its only 7:30.
If you asked me a year ago, I would have had a hard time believing I would be here today and if you asked me two years ago I would have scoffed in disbelief and rolled my eyes with apathy. I am more proud and happy than I could ever communicate and even though some days are tough, I can honestly say I am the happiest I have ever been and there is nothing in the world that is a better feeling than success.
All of this joy and smiley stuff has come with many lessons learned. So, here is a countdown of the top five lessons I have learned so far. . .
#5: LOVE THY NEIGHBOR
I have mentioned before that I am in a part of the school that is kind of like Siberia. Its far away from everything else and the only things there are wild animals. A.K.A. the first grade hall. At first, I was apprehensive. I mean, the first grade teachers are a strong team and why would they want to befriend the art teacher (who is a newbie to boot!) But, after many episodes of hilarity and insanity, I have come to know them all quite well (even the teachers whose classes I do not teach.) I feel like I can count on them to help me out and not just because of my conveniently located bathrooms 😉 Basically, it’s important to have someone nearby that you can count on.
#4: MAKE YOUR MARK
This one is kind of braggy. It refers to making my mark on the school. I do this by hanging up current, bright, colorful displays of student work. I want every single human being in the school to see what great artists our kids are. They show creativity that never ceases to impress and astound me. I am SO PROUD of the work my students have produced. I think their artwork deserves to be showcased so everyone knows how wonderful they are. I have carefully staked out several spots around the school and I spend a lot of time putting up and changing out the displays. If it was up to me, every inch of wall space would be covered with children’s artwork. This is not only great advertising of my students but I am also marketing myself.
#3: EXPECT THE BEST
Why do my students create such amazing work? Because I expect the best from them. When I was first offered a position at my Title One elementary school, I was told by many, many people that I would be dealing with a “tough crowd.” In some ways, they were right. There are a lot of tough issues my kids face every day. But that certainly doesn’t mean I am going to “dumb down” the projects for them. I know that they are capable of hard work and that just like any other kids, if they reach for the stars they can achieve greatness. (That rings true for artclass as well as real life!) Sometimes the projects are challenging and sometimes it takes tough love but problem solving and critical thinking are important aspects of academics and skills that are essential in navigating through life. I expect the best of my students because I know they can give me their best if I give them mine.
#2: LEARN TO LET GO a.k.a. CHOSE YOUR BATTLES
I would consider myself a very tolerant person. On a scale from “Doormat” to “Radioactive” I might be a welcome mat on three mile island. A very important lesson I learned concerning classroom management was something said at a training I went to. The presenter said “you have to chose your battles.” Now, this is something I think I always knew in the back of my mind but having it said out loud made me consciously consider — what bothers me? Do I care if a kid is tapping their pencil on the table? Should it matter if nobody else cares? This questioning lead me to observe not only my tolerance but the tolerance of kids as well. They are super tolerant of things that would drive a grown-up up the wall.
So, when a situation arises, I ask myself: Is this bothering anybody else? Will the actions of this student distract, disrupt, or harm any other students? Will my actions escalate the situation? This philosophy on behavior management has saved me many a headache and (I believe) maintained my classroom as a safe place. Obviously, I still have a long way to go with classroom management but I am always learning.
#1: STAY POSITIVE!
We all suffer from the human condition and it can be easy to dwell on the bad stuff and walk around with a raincloud over your head. I used to be one of those people. And for a little while at first I really struggled with the adjustment of having my own classroom and figuring out my bearings. I won’t lie — it was really, really hard. What got me through it (and what gets me through every day for that matter) is putting a smile on my face and having a positive attitude.
I remember a meeting at the beginning of the year where I was asked “What will you bring to our school?” and my answer was “A positive attitude” For me, that was a promise and one I strive to keep every day. Don’t get me wrong — I am not Miss Happy-Go-Lucky walking around without a care in the world. I have my moments just like everyone else. I’m not even one of those “glass half full” people but I am thankful that there is anything in my glass at all and at least it is edible.
But, the secret is to find just one thing every day that makes you truly and genuinely smile. Sometimes its something super weird that a kid says. Sometimes it is a little kindness from a coworker. Every day I chose to stay positive and fill my heart with light and love. Every day I find a treasure in what I do and I am reminded that this is my dream come true and I am at this moment in time, where I belong.
So, with a smile and a promise of more awesome amazing artwork in 2013, I wish you Happy Holidays!!!