Tuesday, April 6, 2010

How does one become a teacher? Frantically! (Part 2)

In my last posting on this blog I said I was the worst fifth grade teacher ever.  While I am embarrassed to say so, it was true.  Perhaps not surprising though....

I had just returned from several years in the military and was looking forward to being a teacher once again.  Because I was a returning veteran the law said I could have my old job back.  But I also knew that my district was building two new elementary schools and we would have need for at least two elementary music teachers in a short while--so I suggested to my superintendent, "why not make me a classroom teacher for a year or two--it should make me a better music teacher with that experience behind me."  They were having difficulty finding elementary classroom teachers so my suggestion was quickly accepted.

I was placed in a brand new elementary school in a growing bedroom area for Renton and Issaquah (state of Washington).  New principal as well who handed me some keys to my classroom, a list of students who would be in my class, a lesson plan book, a green grade book and he wished me well.  Told me when the first teachers' meeting would be held--right after the district wide teachers meeting.

I remember walking from the office up to my classroom.  This new elementary school was built in the form of eight large circles with each circle being cut into quarters and each quarter was a full size classroom.  In administration parlance, this was a sixteen teaching station school.  No library but a multi-purpose room that served as a gym.  All the buildings (office, multi- and circles) were separate but connected by covered walkways  Playgrounds were between the buildings.

My classroom was in the back of a circle up against a hill side and there were three of us teaching fifth grades.  I remember unlocking the door and walking in for the first time.  All desks were pushed into one corner and the chairs piled high on top of the desks.  Off in another corner was a small teacher's desk and a folding table.  We had blackboards then, two of them and one wall was primarily a soft wood intending to be a floor to ceiling bulletin board.  Over the front blackboard was a clock and a speaker box of which the principal could listen in to me teaching my class.  Without me knowing!  

In the cupboards were books, reading textbooks (several levels), social studies, arithmetic, and if I remember correctly a health/science textbook.  No maps, no paper for students or me, no paper clips or staplers, no office supplies.  I quickly found out that the experiences teachers had already gone down to the storage room and had retrieved what they needed knowing that there was never enough supplies to go around.  Oh, yes, they had gotten a good share of the ditto masters.  This was part of becoming a classroom teacher.  There was no college education class that taught you this.  

Over the next few days, I put my classroom in order.  Oh, I forgot.  There was a directive from the principal--whenever we were in our classrooms we male teachers had to be in white shirt and tie. Jackets coming and going.  So there I was moving thirty some desks, chairs, a table and a teachers desk around in slacks, shirt and tie.  Then I removed the books and sorted them out on the table.  Not enough to go around if everyone on my list showed up the first day.  I asked the office for more books but the word was I had all I was going to get. I was learning to be a classroom teacher.  

I met some of my follow teachers--most of them experienced teachers.  One of them was Jo Tyliia, the ex-nun, ex-military officer, but unfortunately not an ex-alcoholic.  But at the time she hid that fact well.  And she took me under her wing; probably saving the education of a bunch of fifth graders that were under my auspices.

There was also no curriculum--a guideline for what we were to study that year.  Experience teachers had a curriculum but the district was revising them and would get one to me later on when it was completed--they didn't have any of the old ones left.  

The principal had said to me that my lesson plans were to be in the red lesson plan booklet that he had given me with an hour by hour outline of what I would be teaching my students.  And that lesson plan booklet was to be placed on the left hand corner of my desk so that he could review it.  Dear Reader--that lesson plan book was about sixteen by sixteen inches and when opened fully would show a series of boxes from 9 o'clock to about 4 o'clock...and across the top the days of the week.  I was to have my lesson plans done a week ahead of time and listed in those boxes.  If I wrote small I could put in the subject, page number and a reminder of an assignment.  That was all.  But this was required of me.  I don't think the principal ever looked at my lesson plans--ever.....

This was the environment in which I started teaching fifth grade.  I remember the kids lining up outside my door on the first day of school.  I also had a few parents show up but they left fairly quickly.  I remember opening the door and telling the kids to come in, don't hang up your coats but just find a desk and a chair and sit down.  I had more kids then were on my list.  I didn't have enough chairs and desks.  I remembering to tell some of the children to sit on the table and they promptly told me that their fourth grade teacher told them never to sit on the table.  Right!  Just do it.  It is still a blur but we finally got coats and lunch boxes into the right cupboards and everyone finally got a chair and a desk but not before I sent a note to the office DEMANDING more desks and chairs.  

I also remember one little girl who asked, "would you like to me take lunch count and money?"  Oh lordy I had forgotten all about that.  Yes, please.  That was also sent to the office.  We spent the day getting the right sized desk to right sized child, books checked out, paper and a pencil to each child.  Names collected of those that were not on my list.  The kids knew where they should be but the office must have lost their names over the summer.  Before I knew it I had to serve lunch to those that had order it.  I didn't know I had to serve lunch too.  I know that I was not a happy camper by the end of the day.  I knew I had not done well in organizing but I hadn't know what to organize.  My students were very forgiving and in many cases knew more about what should be done then I did.  I remember saying something about the rest rooms, which ones were for the girls and which ones were for the boys and someone saying, "we know all that, Mr. Blackwell.  We're fifth graders."  Right!  

At the end of the day I was in a black frame of mind.  Very unhappy with myself but also put out with the school.  Why couldn't there have been enough desks at the beginning?  Why was I missing textbooks?  I was not in a good mood and when I came back from taking my kids to the school busses at the end of the day, the principal called me aside.  His words:  "I forgot to tell you that all male teachers at this school do something extra in their assignment.  Would you like to be school boy patrol advisor..or the Audio-visual man?"  I remember thinking that the school boy advisor probably had to come in early to check if the boys with the flags were at the crosswalks and so I said, "I'll take the audiovisual position."  "Good," he responded.  "Would you collect all the equipment from all the rooms and store it in your classroom before you go home tonight?"  

This was my first day as a classroom teacher.  I was ready to go back to music in a heartbeat.

Thanks to all those teachers who help the new ones in the building.  Without you us beginners would never make it I'm sure.  Thank you.

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