Thursday, August 14, 2014

"It was the best of times..." - A Decade of Teaching: Part 3

I'll be honest and say that as I scrolled through my Facebook news feed yesterday morning and saw all of the "1st Day of School" photos, I cried.  I laughed at myself too, but I had actual tears coming down my cheeks looking at pictures of other people's kids headed off to school...

What?!  Why?!

I guess because my day had absolutely nothing to do with school.  I am not teaching, and my kids are too young to attend school.  It was also a day when I watch a friend's little girl, and since we do not have a vehicle that will haul 3 kids around... I couldn't even drive by a school.

Now, I know that sounds like a silly thing to be sad about, but I feel this way because school is a great place!  As I have mentioned in the first 2 parts of this blog series, I have spent most of my life at school.

I didn't cry because I am miserable staying home, because I'm not at all!  We are having a blast, and the days do not fly by as quickly as they did when I worked.  Hours actually feel like hours, instead of minutes!  I love that!

But this was the first time I did not have a "1st day of school" since I was 4-years-old (well, I turned 5 a week after my first day of school).
My first day of school. Kindergarten 1988

Part 1 focused on an overall feeling of what teaching means to me, and how my first year went.  Part 2 focused on some of the worst difficulties I faced in teaching.  Now, I would like to think back on some of the best memories I have teaching.

Granted, some of these best moments could only happen because some hardships happened first, and I would say that is true of life in all aspects.  Some of the greatest years in teaching, for me, were because my students were well-behaved, or because they liked to ask questions and explore for answers.  Sometimes it was because they had great senses of humor and got along well.  Sometimes it was because we had recess at the end of the day, and so there was always something for the kids and I to look forward to every afternoon (and an extra incentive to behave).  And along the way, there were individual students, coworkers, and families that stole a special place in my heart!  Here are just a few:

My first students were actually someone else's who had to have emergency spinal surgery in the middle of the year.  So I got thrown into a teaching position with 3 different classes of 5th graders teaching 2 subjects.  These kids were awesome!  We had mock trials and debates, which are difficult concepts for kids that age.  We had a mock government with Checks and Balances.  We wrote journals and funny stories.  I set up a reward system, and almost every kid would earn recess and treats on Friday because they were so great!

The next year was my first real class where they started with me from day 1.  That was the first time I had ever met 10-year-old girls who owned pink rifles and shot deer.  We made collages of our own silhouettes, and they were to fill their shape with things that let others know about who they are.  There were just as many pictures of dead deer and smiling faces on the girls' projects as the boys'.  We would do "Quick-writes" every day where I or one of the students would present a quote or song or poem, and then we would all write about it and talk about it.  If we had had coffee, we would have been the coolest place and people to hang out with!

Even bad things that usually happen to teachers went really well for me!  The first time one of my students ever had head lice, the girl came up to me as we were entering class first thing in the morning and said, "Miss Kruse, I think I have head lice, can I go see the nurse?"  My answer was an immediate, "Absolutely!"  No one else got it!  The only injury I ever had a student have was when a kid broke his arm on the playground.  He stood up in shock, holding his arm above the break... and the rest of his arm dangled in a scary and disgusting way.  He said, "Do I go to the nurse?"  And my mind had been blank until he said that because I was horrified by what I saw... So I grabbed his best friend and told him to walk the kid to the nurse... see, easy :)

The students wanted me to race them on the last day of school during the first year... (I will always remember this was early in my career, because I came in 2nd place)!  And it kind of became tradition until I got pregnant and slow!

One year there were 2 girls that took a hyperactive boy under their wing.  They helped him stay focused and calm.  He was a mess, but we all loved him!  Whenever he started to get out of hand, the kids would help him refocus and stay on task before I could even say anything!  Years later the hyperactive student wrote me a note that I had been his favorite teacher, but if he really thought about it, it was his fellow students who really made that year special!  He also thanked me for letting them chew gum during tests... I don't know, I guess that really meant a lot to him for him to remember such a thing!

And that was a common sight at school - kids looking out for other kids. I have had students who were in a wheelchair, autistic, hyperactive, or spoke no English... and the other students gladly helped them, many times without an adult asking them to.

The kids helped us the year we got our SmartBoards the most.  Sure, we had trainings and webinars... but we learned quickly that if you don't know how to work technology, let a kid figure it out!  We actually made a student task force who would go help teachers figure out their interactive board issues - the kids LOVED it!

The student who sang in class all the time without realizing he was doing it.  

The student who had a huge crush on me and "proposed" with a ring pop.  I said no, naturally, but he let me keep the ring pop.

Those students who were struggling in Math and Reading, and didn't mind that I kept them in during P.E. so they could reach their goals.  They LOVED seeing their scores go up each week, and they all met their goals.

The students who felt comfortable enough to ask me to pray for them.

The students who invited me to their baptisms.  Church choirs.  Basketball games.

The ones who wrote me thank you letters.  I have kept them all.  And until now they always hung on the wall by my computer so I could reread them on bad days. 

The ones who loved books we read in class, especially if they initially told me they hated reading.

The fun we had at class parties - photo booth fun, "Do You Love Your Neighbor?", the Newspaper game, and chalkprints!

Our Pioneer Day, Incredible Pizza, Skating, Bowling, and BizTown!

When students would say, "I get it!" and smile from ear to ear!

Some of the first teachers I worked with on the 5th grade team became like family to me!  Seriously, we talked about our families, brainstormed ideas for issues we were having in class, and cracked ourselves up.  We were loud when we got together, and it made coming to work so much fun!  Linda and Yvonne were like second mothers to me.  Penny became like my sister.  They made me laugh so much it hurt during lunch for those first couple of years.  The day after Kyle and I started dating, my fellow teachers took me out to lunch (it was an inservice day) so I could tell them The Story!  They threw me a shower when we got married and when I had Emersyn 2 years later.

I had a couple of administrators who helped me when I cried in their office.  They were kind and offered helpful suggestions.  They supported me when parents or kids made false claims or complained about trivial things.

They voted me as Teacher of the Year - for PreK-12th grade during my 4th year of teaching.  Since it is voted on by your peers, that is a pretty good pat on the back feeling right there!

There were so many parents who helped during trips and parties.  They wrote me thank you notes.  They kept me smelling good too with all those Bath & Body presents at Christmas and End of the Year activities.  They also helped me gain some weight... a lot of teachers have the chubbs because kids and coworkers are always bringing cookies, donuts, brownies, etc! 

I have loved those parents who asked to meet with me to seek resources on what they could be doing at home to help their child catch up in a weak area.  The parents who let me sit by them at ballgames and recitals.

One family came and visited me after I had Emersyn - I had had all 3 of their kids in class!

Other team members at Westville came and went who were dear as well.  The mother of 3 who was in her first year of teaching while her husband was in Iraq... and she was still enthusiastic and creative at work!  The teacher next door who loved music and reading, and her students caught her contagious love for learning.  The single mom who never stopped - she taught, ran her own side business (as many teachers have to do to make ends meet), barrel raced, and kept us rolling with laughter at lunch!

My favorite parents have been the ones who supported my classroom management!  I had one mom call me and ask if I threatened to put her son in the closet because he wouldn't stop talking in class.  I answered, "No, I told him I had tried everywhere but the closet and he still hadn't learned how to work first and visit with his neighbor second."  She told me that she wanted him to think that he was going to be sitting in the closet if he didn't focus!  That cracked me up!  It worked too!

At Tahlequah, there were also so many fellow teachers who shared ideas with me and helped me solve difficult cases.  They shared curriculum with me.  They would help me laugh during lunch after a rough morning.  At first I felt overwhelmed when I changed schools because I was the department head of a team of 4 teachers... at Tahlequah there were 12 5th grade teachers alone!  And I had to learn all new curriculum, schedules, campus, administrators, procedures, rules, gradebook and lesson plan formats, etc... but these ladies walked with me every step of the way.  They also welcomed my ideas too, which is hard to find at schools sometimes.  They weren't intimidated by new people and change - they embraced it all!  And they threw me a shower when I had Keegan!

There are so many stories and people that made those years a blessing; there is no way I could mention them all.  But I remember, and I am grateful!

Perhaps teachers get so vehement when people from the outside bring critical comments because school is more than just school... it is more than just a job (which is why teachers have a hard time treating it like it is just a job).  I'm not saying it is better or harder than other jobs, at least not all jobs, but perhaps I am saying that it is vitally important to the very fabric of our families and neighborhoods and towns and futures.

I will say there is a lot wrong with public school, but there are a lot of things right too - and I have met many of them - great kids and loving adults.

The school bus goes by my house twice a day, and my dear friends that are teaching can know that each time I see it I will pray for you!

May the Lord bless you in your efforts to inspire and educate and mold the young minds He had made you stewards of this school year!

Happy Back-to-School!!!

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