In April 2013, I interviewed for my first teaching position. Student teaching in 1st, I *knew* that I would be a primary teacher. Primary Land was for me. Hands down. No other option.
The morning after the interview, the principal sat me down and offered me a classroom….in 5th grade. As a first-year teacher, I accepted the position because quite frankly, it was a job. In reality, I was devastated. It was easily 6 weeks (around the end of June) before I could think about 5th grade without crying. Friends, I completely understand this sounds ridiculous and dramatic, but I’m an extreme planner…almost obsessively. I really don’t love surprises, and I really do like straight lines. So, this 5th grade curve ball, was devastating.
I stayed this distraught until mid-June, transitioned to ambivalent until August, became hopeful after the 3rd week of school, and was swept-off-of-my-feet in mid-September. 5th grade was made for me. As someone who loves to learn, my desire to learn was satisfied. My inner traveler was fulfilled as I introduced kids to countries and cities they had no idea even existed. The word-nerd in me could rap with the best of P Diddy and Jay Z (maybe I’m taking liberties here). This was it. 5th grade was my home – a place where I could be the best me. It was a place of amazing growth and learning. My biggest lessons this year –
- Relationships are important to me. Friends, this is honestly, my biggest take-away from this year. I’ve always enjoyed having a few close friends and being friendly with many others. Honestly, though, before this year, I would have been very comfortable teaching in my own little world, by myself. I never really though I needed people before. Naive? Yes. Ignorant? Yes. Prideful? Probably. But, it’s true. I find being around people exhausting. If you met me in person, you’d never know, because when I’m “On” it’s game time. Rarely have I so intentionally invested in a group of people, in the way I interacted with Jill, Kelly, and Dianne – the 5th grade team. This group of women allowed me to be all-the-way me and so willingly accepted my quirks. They taught me to laugh at myself and they taught me to be more flexible than I ever wanted. And, they taught me to be fun. They pushed me down the halls in a rollie chair, they fake-punched me (requiring me to fall on the gym floor) during an assembly, they dressed me as a minion, they taught me all about free-pie Wednesday. They taught me when I try something that is spontaneous and outside of my ‘box’, I can be fun. This year was amazing because of these women. It wasn’t the learning or the administration or the books, it was Jill, Dianne, and Kelly who loved me, invested in me, and showed me how important people are.
- 5th graders are still little, but they want to be big so badly. I loved my kids. Loved them. But, they are not big yet, and they shouldn’t be treated like they are. When kids turn’big’ there is a feeling like they need to be taught ‘hard lessons’ and ‘learn the hard way’ and ‘shutdown quickly.’ If we consider them little, we are willing to give second chances, willing to take time to explain, and willing to say ‘You’re right, and I was wrong. I’m sorry.’ How do I know 5th graders are still little? Their hearts can be crushed by us [teachers] in a single call-out, in a single hallway-conversation, in a single note home. We should keep our 5th graders little. It’s better for all of our hearts.
- An excitement for learning can be orchestrated. When you give me a costume or a microphone (i.e. Expo marker) or an auctioneer’s voice or a tall chair, I can convince any 5th grader to read any book and be excited about it. Easy peasy. Done. I’ve got you’ve covered. 5th graders want to see that you’re absolutely, ridiculously excited. When you’ve done this, you’ve won their hearts. Remember, their hearts are still crush-able or mold-able or win-able.
- 5th graders smell, and giving the “Your bodies are changing” talk does nothing. Nothing. Also, around mid-October 5th grade teachers become immune to the smell only to be reminded of it by teachers who do not teach 5th grade.
- The testing pressure is real. Student teaching in primary, I had no idea. None. It may be different in different schools (and goodness, I hope so), but the pressure to perform on standardized state tests is significant. It negatively impacts our classrooms, our teachers, and our students. Words such as “On the test in May…” “On KPREP….” “When you take KPREP” came out of my mouth this year, friends, and I felt like a traitor. I felt as if everything I taught before these moments was void. It made makes me feel gross and frustrated and I want to see the alternative. Accountability is necessary, absolute necessary…but it’s can’t be like this.
- 5th grade is a really interesting social experiment and teachers are privy to observe it. There may never be another place where so much awkwardness, odor, desire to fit-in, and curiosity exists. From this social experiment, 5th grade teachers have the best stories, the best sayings, and the most reasons to laugh.
After I stopped crying and fell in love with met my 90 kids, 5th grade was phenomenal. It was a challenge (please note – challenges are my favorite!). It was exhausting. Many days, it was beyond frustrating. Ultimately, this year was both satisfying and fun – two things I never expected or even wanted to say about 5th grade. And one day, I would love to return.
Early in June I had the opportunity to interview for a classroom at my dream school (outside of the Ron Clark Academy) – a brand new (only 2 years old), Light-House school with a young and energetic staff, fantastic leaders, and in my hometown. Signing my contact Friday, I’m comfortable saying that I’ll be moving to 1st grade for the 2014-2015 school year.
If there is something I learned this year, it is that change can be phenomenal and it is the best learning tool. I promise I have shed zero tears this year, and I am truly thrilled. Without a doubt, I will dearly miss 5th grade. I’ll miss the content, the sassy-ness of the kids, their smell desire to be big…but I am happy for 1st in this moment.
It is going to be wonderful. I am at a school where every teacher I’ve met has said to me, “You are going to love it here.” What a statement! Friends, I’m so excited. I feel like I’m a first-year teacher again and am terrified, but this time, I already know it will be great. There will be a learning curve and some failed ventures, but 1st is going to make for a joyful, loving, and happy 2nd year.
For my friends in Intermediate Land, I’d love for you to stay tuned-in for my adventures. I still have several more intermediate resources in-the-works and several lessons I’d love to share throughout the year. Plus, tech tricks transcend all grades, right? Primary friends – get ready! It’s going to be a whirlwind of a year, and I cannot wait to share my 1st year in 1st with you. 🙂
So, here is to learning and challenges and positve change