By Marlene Kimble
As a late bloomer in this profession – having stepped into a classroom for the first time at thirty five – I sat with a room full of bright- eyed 22 year olds fresh out of undergrad sitting at the district office eyes glazed over while the HR lady reviewed official documents and we signed on dotted lines. If you asked any of us why we were there, it would probably be a familiar response: I want to make a difference in the lives of children. It was true for me too. I was a mother and wife; I had been home for a number of years; and there didn’t seem to be any job important enough for me to leave my kids so I went back to school to do the job of teaching.
In those earlier years, I’m sure I made a difference in some of the lives of my kids, but I was surprised to find that there was a big difference between being a teacher and actually teaching. That fantasy of smiling in front of the room – cute dress, high heels, calling on kids with hands raised, encouraging them while they did their seat work, grading papers – wasn’t quite what education had in mind in 2005.
There was constant talk of No Child Left Behind and pacing and following the script and making “adequate yearly progress.” I didn’t know so many kids struggled! What about all those lesson plans I wrote in grade school? Why aren’t the kids thrilled to learn about compound sentences? And why are there some kids that can hardly read in fifth grade? Back then we had a packaged curriculum and our assignments (and days, and marking periods) were mapped out for us. I did what was required of me, but had to find ways to modify lessons and incorporate more writing. I began to see the curriculum as a starting point for my students. And I began to see my students.
Every student struggles in some way. Some of the struggles that happen outside the walls of my classroom always find a seat in my room, too. Every challenge a student faces forces me to adapt my plans, change course, think more, and work harder. It isn’t the administration, the school board, or the state. It is my students. They are the reason I stopped wearing heels to work.
Each year the talk becomes more intense: standards, assessments, accountability. Many things have changed, but one has not: my students. They are still ten years old. They still struggle in many ways. They still challenge me. Each year I need to find new ways to reach them where they are so each year I find myself learning new technology, reading and writing strategies, classroom management techniques. I find myself on my classroom floor. I find myself exhausted. I find myself.
When asked why I teach, my answer is not noble and idealistic. It is selfish. I teach because I want learn more about myself. I want to see how much more I can grow. And I want my students to teach me.
Reprinted with permission from the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project.