Friday, October 04, 2013

This new teacher's goal: Strive to be memorable

From today's Briefing:

I was a fifth-grade nomad. My family moved twice that school year, so I attended three different schools in three different Texas cities.
More than 30 years later, I get a do-over.
I am a brand-new fifth-grade teacher, and I fully plan to finish the year on the same campus where I began six weeks ago.
There’s no doubt that these six weeks have been some of the most exhausting and challenging of my professional life. They have also been some of the most rewarding and soul-satisfying.
In this new career — one that I considered for many years before launching — I am responsible for 47 students.
Each weekday, twice a day, I offer instruction and guidance on reading, writing, grammar, spelling and U.S. history. Plus Internet safety, time management, study skills, conflict resolution, problem solving, hallway etiquette and so much more.
Together we are reading Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell and discussing themes such as loneliness, friendship, courage and fear.
We are analyzing poetry. Memorizing state capitals. Identifying subjects and predicates. Reciting the introduction to the Declaration of Independence. Using multiple sources for research and reporting. Crafting journal entries.
It’s a dreamy world for the likes of me.
On top of all that academic work that feeds my passions for literature and civics, I get to spend time with 47 unique children.
I’m discovering their strengths and celebrating their victories. (I realized last week that I was holding my breath as I graded papers, eager for each child to reveal mastery.)
I’m learning about their passions — cheerleading and hockey, sloths and unicorns, Dr. Who and One Direction.
I’m starting to piece together what motivates and what challenges each child.
I love that fifth-graders have no filter, that they are willing to be goofy, and that they appreciate quirks of others — including me.
My fifth-graders find humor in my awkward dance moves and sketchy singing voice. They are forgiving of my mistakes. They are relentless in asking that I identify them by name in the newspaper and call them “the best class ever.”
Both of my classes are the best classes ever. And yet some evenings I’m still worn out. In those moments, I find motivation by thinking of my original fifth-grade year.
At each of the three schools, there was at least one teacher on whom I could depend.
In Dallas, it was the language arts teacher. She pushed me to think critically, gather, analyze and evaluate.
In Austin, it was the music teacher. She opened her classroom for indoor recess for students like me who couldn’t always face the playground jungle.
In Belton, it was the homeroom teacher. She read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe with dramatic, memorable flair.
Each teacher offered stability and flexibility. They expected success while anticipating missteps. They reflected genuine joy.
They stand among a small crowd of my role-model teachers. It’s a crowd that I like to imagine is cheering for me as I follow their footsteps — just as I’m now cheering daily for 47 young people.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

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