I can name every elementary school teacher I ever had. Can you? No, seriously, try. Right now.
My line-up is this:
Kindergarten: Mrs. Jespersen
1st Grade: Mrs. Cass
2nd Grade: Mrs. Post
3rd Grade: Mrs. Hoifeldt
4th Grade: Mrs. Perman
5th Grade: Mrs. Tychson
6th Grade: Mrs. Law
I bring this list up because it was one of the factors that helped me to decide what career path to choose. I can remember each elementary teacher I had. I can remember the classroom, the rules, the activities, etc. I remember the excitement of field trips and assemblies. I remember the lockers, the “spoken for” places on the playground, the lunchroom supervisor that wouldn’t let us get up until we had finished our vegetables and that she knew every place to look to see where we might have hidden them. I remember how I admired each educator that came in contact with my ever-changing mind. I remember feeling safe and cared for. All of these memories impacted my profession choice greatly.
A lot of people have told me (after visiting my own or other classrooms) that they can not imagine teaching 28 ten-year olds every day of the week, that it terrifies them even. I can’t imagine how my job would ever be scary, but then again I would be scared out of my mind to work in a hospital, sell someone’s home, or design a chemical compound to save someone’s life. That’s the beauty of spiritual gifts… they are all different.
I always wanted to work with kids, I knew that was a spiritual gift of mine. There is something I love about seeing that lightbulb go off, or a child being proud of what they have learned with such innocence. The nervousness and excitement of the first day of school, the joy of field trips (or snow days) , stickers, and birthday treats, the sense of accomplishment when figuring out a problem in math. I just love the idea of getting to be a part of children’s lives at such an important time for learning.
The first classroom I taught in was not my own, I took over for someone on maternity leave and ended up staying the rest of the year. It was a kindergarten classroom with a separate morning and afternoon class. I only taught in the morning so I had a lot to cram in to 24 minds in just 3 hours. I had always thought that kindergarten would be the best grade for me to teach. However, after a lot of shoe-tieing, nose-wiping, making jokes the kids did not get, and repeating directions 132 times, I decided that maybe I should shoot for an older grade and leave kindergarten to saints with much more patience than I contain.
It just so happened that one of my kindergarten students had a parent in the same building that taught 5th grade and that the following year there would be an opening in that grade level. I “interviewed” for the position and moved into a 5th grade classroom with so much excitement to finally have my own class and classroom . I cut out a million cute bulletin board pieces and nametags to stick on desks, tried to memorize each student’s name with their picture from the previous year to make them feel more comfortable on the first day, and organized everything from colored paper clips to books by genre. I remembered the first day of school feeling and I wanted to make it a great experience for my new students.
Flash forward over the next 4 years. Being a teacher gets you summers off in most cases. Those who do not have that luxury always remind you of your 3 month vacation whenever you complain about the 100 tests you need to check in one night, the child that just won’t listen, or the millions of things you are expected to teach in one day. The thing is, teaching is not a 8-4 job. I hardly ever left school for the day without something in my bag to review, prepare, or check. I always felt on the clock. My students were always on my mind and I’d see them everywhere I went. If you added up the HOURS of work that aren’t within contract time, I guarantee it would surpass the days off of time in the summer. No one goes into teaching because it is easy. No one goes into teaching for the pay. No one goes into teaching just because they couldn’t figure out anything else they could do. You go into teaching because you love it.
Over those four years I learned a lot. I learned that no matter how much you prepare, something will always go wrong each day, if you don’t learn how to roll with the punches, you will be continually stressed out. I learned that a lot of being a teacher is working with the parents of your students (this could be a whole blog post on its own). I learned how to lesson plan in one minute flat when the current lesson was flopping. I learned how much I love to teach history through games and plays and reenactments. I learned that it isn’t important to be the favorite teacher, but much more important to teach the love of learning. I learned my strengths and weaknesses as an educator and I learned that I really hate meetings, especially when they take me away from my students and I have to type up substitute plans.
Now, as you may have guessed, my love for teaching took a dramatic turn when I became a parent. Not a turn off a cliff or anything, but more like up a steep mountain. I gained a new understanding for wanting each child to be taught individually. I already have fears about our girls being considered a set rather than individuals, and to think that they might be overlooked in a classroom with WAY too many students breaks my heart. I want to pay more attention to this concept in any future classroom. Being a parent also makes me more aware of the responsibility parents have in their own child’s education. Some parents get this, some don’t. A lot of teamwork should be going on between teachers and parents to help children succeed, hopefully parents will listen to this speech from me in a new way now that I have children as well.
When I became pregnant I wondered if I would stay home or keep working. I wanted to stay home, but with teaching jobs so hard to find now, I was worried about losing all of my seniority, license credits, and position by leaving. When we found out it was three instead of one, I knew I would stay home for at least a year, or maybe more. One of the events that changed this happened to be at this past fall’s Valley Homecoming Game. It was warm so we had brought the girls because my Grandfather gives a scholarship to the Homecoming Queen each year in honor of my Grandmother who was the first Homecoming Queen Valley ever had so we like to be there for the crowning as a family to remember her. A student saw me, went and got literally my ENTIRE class from the previous year and came running up the bleachers waving frantically and saying “Mrs. Hardinge! Mrs. Hardinge!!”. They then proceed to all hug me (much to the dismay of everyone trying to see the game). That was all it took. I cried. (not in front of them of course, but later) I hadn’t heard those words from 11 year-old voices in a long time and it made me realize how much I missed students, how much I missed 28 hugs a day, how much I missed teaching.
I love my girls. I have loved staying home with them in the first important and monumental year of their life and I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. However, I also love teaching. Not the paperwork, hoops to jump through, meetings, or drama, but the actual teaching. Tommy and I have gone round and round about me going back to work. He thinks it will be good for me to see adults each day and do something I love, and I can’t imagine leaving my girls everyday. Thankfully we have found a happy medium.
I took a year leave of absence from teaching, which means I am guaranteed a job for next school year. Financially it would not make sense to pay for daycare for three babies if I went back full-time because I would just be handing my paycheck over to the provider of that care. Instead, I will be going back part-time. I will be job-sharing at the same school I have taught at for the previous 4 1/2 years, except in 4th grade instead of 5th. I will teach math, science, and social studies in the afternoon from 12:15-4:15. I will be working with a wonderful teacher who I know will help me along the way and work well as a partner to educate. My mom will be watching the girls in the afternoon which gives me added piece of mind. Not only because it is their grandmother who is caring for them, but also that I won’t be missing too much because they will be napping for most of the time I am gone.
So there it is. I am very nervous and very excited for a new opportunity. I know teaching jobs are hard to find right now and I feel comfort in keeping a spot in the profession I love. I hope Rowan, Jovie, and Sienna will be okay with my decision and I hope I survive the balancing act that will ensue. Trying out Mrs. Hardinge and Mommy at the same time.