Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Teacher Prep: It's a Continual Journey, Not a Year in College

As I woke up on the morning of September 11, 2001, I was so excited for the day that awaited ahead of me!  I eagerly put on the clothes that I so carefully laid out the night before, ate a hearty breakfast, and sat down to put on my make-up and fix my hair with the Today Show with Matt Lauer and Katie Couric on in the background.  I was giddy with excitement!  This day ahead was to be my first day as a student teacher in my teacher preparation program.  I was so excited to meet my kindergarteners and to work with my cooperating master teacher!  That day was the day I had been anticipating for four years.  Then, it happened.

The Today show coverage immediately went to the scene of the what was thought to be an accidental plane crash at The World Trade Center.  It was unreal.  I couldn't believe my eyes.  Sitting from the safety of my room in San Diego, I just thought of what a horrific accident and how so many people must have just lost their lives.  My mind also shifted to Marva, my reading/writing methods professor, who was originally from New York and was a former public school teacher and librarian there for years.  I was going to see Marva later that day in class.  Mentally, I took a note to talk to her after class to see if she was doing ok that day.  Then, it happened again.

I panicked, and immediately called my father.  I sensed the deep sorrow and fear in his voice as we talked.  He reminded me that today was an important day in my life and that I still had to pull myself together and go to school.  So, I did.  Barely anyone was on the freeway that morning in San Diego.  While driving down the freeway from my apartment in San Diego to my new school in El Cajon, I knew that our world had just been changed forever.  This is how I started my year of teacher preparation.

San Diego State: Where I earned my
California Teaching Credential
This is the year that prepared me to be a teacher.  This is the year that taught me that teacher prep shouldn't be about assignments and tests, rather it's about conversations, student-teaching in the classroom, discovery, trial and error, and hard work.  It was about relationships.  I mostly remember our deep conversations in my reading/writing methods class.  I learned so much from Marva and my fellow student teachers.  We problem solved and brain stormed together.  We discussed student work and best practices.  We learned how to be teachers in that manner.  Honestly, I do not remember anything about my specific assignments or exams.

I truly hope my year of teacher prep isn't judged solely on my professors and instructor's syllabi or the assignments that I had to complete.  This is what the recent  NCTQ Teacher Prep Review Report appears to be mostly based.  My most influential experiences as a student teacher that year came in the forms of discussion, collaboration, and time spent teaching in the classroom under the leadership of two strong cooperating master teachers.  How can that be effectively judged or assessed?

Contrary to popular belief, one year in school does not prepare anyone to become a teacher.  No one goes into their first day of their first year as a teacher thinking, "This will be a piece of cake!  I am so well prepared!"  Quite the contrary.  It's terrifying!  How can one possibly prepare for solely being in charge of 20 plus children looking for emotional guidance and an education six or more hours a day for 180 plus days?  There is no correct answer.  Experience, collaboration with peers, and continual on the job learning through professional development and other means are the only close answers I can honestly give.

I was so fortunate to attend a stellar preparation program.  It definitely prepared me for most of the academic situations I faced within my first few years of teaching.  However, it was the people, not the assignments, that made it effective for me.  Although I was academically prepared, I was not prepared for other situations I faced in my first year of teaching, nor everything I face today as a 12 year veteran.  Over my 12 years, I was not prepared for many things...

I was not prepared to discuss the first anniversary of September 11th with my third graders.  I cried along with my students that day.

I was not prepared for this question from nine different parents after the first week of school, "How is my child doing?"

I was not prepared for hours upon hours of IEP, SST, Staff, and other meetings after school.

I was not prepared to console my second grade student when her mom died after a long battle with cancer.

I was not prepared to pass out in front of my class during my second year of teaching and have our wonderful school secretary rush me to the hospital.  That was scary.

I was not prepared to have a violent child in my classroom.

I was not prepared to have that child threaten me.

I was not prepared to have my entire class vacate the room for safety... multiple times.

I was not prepared to have a child with an electric wheelchair in my classroom, but after moving a lot of furniture around until 8PM after that first day, I became prepared!

I was not prepared for that child to have three different one to one aides that year until one (amazing woman) finally worked out.

I was not prepared when the wires on that electric wheelchair shorted, sparked, and smoked.

I was not prepared when a classroom parent responded to her son's anger issues by saying, "You know, I think he has PMS.  I think boys can get it too."  She was serious.

I was not prepared when I had to make my first Child Protective Services phone call.

I was not prepared to talk with my fifth graders after Newtown.

I was not prepared to be scared at school.

I was not prepared to talk with my class after an entire family of four from our school was killed in a car accident.

I do believe in accountability, but I do not think any program can prepare anyone for what teaching truly is.  My job is not about teaching academics.  It's about teaching people.  People, especially our children, have complex lives.  No syllabus, assignment, test, essay, or observation can prepare one for the career of teaching.  Teacher preparation is not about one year in college, rather it is a continual journey that I am still on.