"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"...no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." – Thomas Jefferson

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Lifetime of Elementary Schools -- Part 2

In the fall of 1975 I was assigned to Sunnymede Elementary School in Fort Wayne for my student teaching. It was a split assignment. I would spend half the semester student teaching in kindergarten...and half the semester student teaching in first grade.

That was thirty-six years ago...plenty of time to forget a four month educational experience, however I haven't forgotten everything.
1. The kindergarten teacher: Mrs. L was a strong teacher. She kept her students focused on their tasks gently, yet firmly with a combination of personal strength, psychology, and a keen understanding of children's needs. 
One of the things she needed from me was a "male influence" for one of the boys in the class. The boy was a difficult behavior problem...because of a difficult home situation. He is the student I remember most from the class. He had a "deer in the headlights" look...and was starved for attention. Each day when he came in he latched on to me and hung on me most of the day. During read aloud time time he climbed on me -- even if I was the one reading. I remember that he was not a very good student and spent most of his time trying to get someone to pay attention to him. 
 I also remember the advice she gave me about "difficult days." They were frequent during student teaching. Mrs. L was adamant...the difficult days don't go away, but they do become less and less frequent...and less and less painful. We all have them in the classroom, but as we grow professionally we learn how to analyze them for clues on how to improve our performance. Those "difficult days" become the basis of our education practice...the focus of our development as professionals.
2. The first grade teachers: I student taught with Mrs. M, but they were a team of 4 superior teachers. My time in kindergarten taught me about children...but student teaching in first grade gave me an insight into how a team of teachers could work together, building on each others' strengths. I also spent time observing one of them, Mr. J. There were very few men teaching primary grades (K-3) in those days, and I was impressed with his ability to relate to young children. An interesting aside: Mr. J retired this year after 37 years of teaching. That means, that he was in his third year...more experienced than I was, but still a newcomer.
3. Classroom management, organization, a caring approach to discipline...those are things I learned about. Some of them I improved upon as I grew professionally...classroom management was always difficult for me...large groups of children still scare me!
4. The biggest eye-opener was the vast differences in children's behaviors and abilities. I saw that in the classrooms...and in the halls. One of the most vivid memories I have is of another kindergarten teacher carrying a student to the buses every afternoon because the child was throwing a tantrum...every day. The child cried when she got to school every day...and cried when she had to leave. Transitions are difficult for some. 
5. After I student taught I did some substituting before I got a job teaching kindergarten.  I will never forget the first time I substituted. I walked into a fourth grade classroom at Sunnymede and spent about 40 minutes trying to figure out how to read the plan book. I was beginning to panic...realizing that I had absolutely no idea what any of the plans meant. Five minutes before the students arrived I was saved. The man who had student taught in that very classroom during the same semester I was there walked in. He knew how the class was run, what the teacher wanted to do, and most important, how to read her lesson plans. He spent about an hour with us...got me started...and things went smoothly after that.
Education classes, internships, student teaching...those are just the beginnings of the process of learning to be a teacher. Good teachers grow each year...focusing on where they need to improve and never letting go of the goal of improvement. The attitude of the greatest teachers is "I still need to learn how to do this better." Becoming a "master teacher" includes acknowledging weaknesses and working to improve day after day...year after year.

Sunnymede Elementary closed its doors a few years after I left. I found this yearbook on the web. Many of the sixth grade students shown in the yearbook were in Mrs. L's kindergarten during the time I was there.


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