I am a new teacher. I say that because the past few months I have been trying to convince myself that I am not. I haven’t lied and said that I have been a teacher in the past, but I always take time to explain to them that I taught English a year in Spain. Yeah, I know. Why Makenna?
I thought maybe the reason was that I am embarrassed that I am twenty-four years old and am just now having my first teaching experience. But, much like a lot of my easily excused theories, I think that’s mierda.
I am not exactly sure the reason why I always have to explain my story to people who ask, but I can assure you whatever the reason, I have to stop. Because let me tell you—I have never taught like I am teaching now. I am a new teacher.
A mere 9 hours after I landed in the good USA after being gone for a year, I started working. I was given a classroom with a list of thirty-three students that I was to meet in four days. Then 48 hours later, I was given an oversized closet of a room and a list of twenty names (lowkey—not complaining about the change!) that I was supposed to meet in two days.
On top of adjusting to a school district I have never really heard of in my life, a school whose rules and procedures were unknown to me even throughout the first weeks of school, and a staff who seemed to know exactly what and where they were supposed to be at all times as I was stuck in a the bowels of the school in my oversized closet unaware of it all—I have also been struggling in every other aspect of my life as well! I am making new friends at the slowest rate I have ever in my life. I have a new baby nephew who is beautiful, but is still in the NICU. My younger brother who used to be my partner in crime is off at school for his new adventure. My parents are away on a 10-day 30th anniversary love-cruise while I watch their two pampered pooches. Trust me, the list can go on and on.
I am not going to lie and say that I have been handling it well. I haven’t. I have cried many times. I have come to school and my kids have told me that I looked exhausted (aka I need to go a little heavier on the makeup). I have ignored phone calls/texts from friends. Stayed inside when I knew going out would have made me feel better. I have even had a panic attack while walking my dogs. It hasn’t been pretty. What I was afraid of happening as I was saying goodbye to Spain, happened. I have not been readjusting well.
But with all that said and with the truth that I am feeling better—yet I don’t know if I am back to normal, I did want to share a story from this past week at school. Let me preface that during this entire time that I have been trying to figure things out, school has been my escape. My students have been my sanity (even on the days that they have driven me insane) and my coworkers have been my grace.
This past week in school, I have been trying to teach my students about deriving meaning from text. This means I want them to interpret good literature and critically analyze what they have read and pull out the meaning. Yes, I am aware they are fifth graders, but don’t underestimate them!
I had no doubt they could handle this higher level of thinking and as I read from our read aloud book “Home of the Brave” (strongly recommend to anyone) they were giving me what I was looking for. They were showing empathy with our main character, making connections and creating theories about how it must feel to be an immigrant in the United States.
However, much like a lot of our discussions in our class, it shifted. A particular curious student asked a question about race. In my class I have told my students that we don’t shy away from the hard questions. We open it up with respect and from the lens of trying to understand. We have built a classroom culture where this is possible. The conversation started and the conversation ended (a post on more how we handle these topics in class to follow soon!)
At the end of the conversation, one of my students, who is not afraid to ask those hard questions, approached me. She told me that she feels comfortable asking the questions that make her stomach feel funny. The ones that she isn’t exactly sure are ever supposed to be asked or the ones where she feels like she is offending someone. She then proceeded to tell me it was me who makes her feel comfortable.
“…Ms. Schrader it’s you who makes me feel safe to ask my questions even when I just want to know the reasoning behind certain things.”
This isn’t much. But as a new teacher who is trying to teach at least one thing to her students’ everyday…this was something I was elated they picked up on.
My goal as a teacher this year has been to create a classroom culture that isn’t afraid to talk about what is going on outside of our little over-sized closest. My biggest fear was that my students were going to end up the typical middle class stereotype of fluffiness. By opening up those discussions whenever they are brought up, taking time to research and bringing evidence of our thinking—my students (for the most part) feel comfortable in the class and are learning how to be better global citizens.
It’s a stretch and it’s a small moment, but for some reason, it made my worries about my personal life, my fear that I made the right decision to come home, and the constant stress of keeping up with curriculum, seem just a tiny bit less.
My point is that I have worked hard to become the person that I have become. It has not come without tears, downfalls, or stress, but I know I can trust in it. I can trust that regardless if something might not have been the right decision, I can make the most of it. A smile can go a long way when making friends. And connecting with students has never been my weak point.
My advice is to find the things that you are doing day to day that you know you are good at. Capitalize on it for a day! We do wonderful things from our day in and day out that we don’t even realize are making the difference. Trust yourself that if your goal is to make a difference, you will.
Sending love and grace to everyone,