The Difference A Year Makes

Last year, at this time, I was a nervous wreck.

I barely slept the night before. I tossed and turned and hugged my little boy tight throughout the night as he slept beside me in bed. I woke up early and dressed myself and my son and slowly carefully drove the 12 minutes it takes to get from our house to our destination.

It was my son’s first day of school.

He was only going to a two-day-a-week preschool program from 9-12, but it was the first time he had ever been away from me. He had never had a babysitter and I rarely even let family watch him. To be honest, he had never even been with my husband alone for more than 4 hours. The school separation was going to be a huge deal, for both of us.

When I dropped my son off in 2011, he screamed and cried and I finally had to leave him crying there while I walked out under the teacher’s advisement that he would stop crying and settle more quickly if I was gone. This, I knew was true. I used to be a teacher, after all. But it didn’t make it any easier for me to be the mommy that had to leave my crying baby nearly in tears myself.

With mixed emotions of apprehension and excitement, I drove away from the school and went to Starbucks. I ordered a Pumpkin Spice Latte, and made myself comfortable in one of the bar seats facing the window. I watched as people scurried to work or shopped at the outdoor mall. I felt pangs of quilt and frivolity for the luxury of being able to people-watch on a Thursday morning when most people were working or in school. I felt unencumbered and oddly uneasy with my new-found alone time.

After trying to enjoy my latte and spending a little too much time in my own head, I decided it was time to leave Starbucks. Except it was only 10:15. And so I drove to my son’s school and sat in the parking lot until noon, anxiously awaiting pick up time. I just did not know what to do without him for that long. I felt like a piece of me was missing.

This year, at this time, I was ready.

As it turns out, I got pretty used to my two mornings off a week last year. I spent most of last year re-discovering my identity outside of motherhood and I felt pretty exhausted after a long summer with very few breaks from constant toddler care.

The night before, my son slept in his bed while I slept in mine, (for the first half of the night anyway).

This year, my son is going into the three-year-old class three days a week from 9-12, but with extra curricular activities of soccer, art and gymnastics after school each day, so I will be picking him up at times ranging from 12:30 to 1:00pm. His school is no longer a new environment, but a trusted and nurturing one.

We were both excited for school and I may have driven a little over the speed limit to get us there.

I walked my son in and dropped him off in his new classroom. Though he was a little hesitant and a bit nervous when we arrived, he became distracted with washing his hands in the new (to him) big boy bathroom in the three-year-old class. I gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, said, “Mommy loves you,” and slipped away with no tears from either of us.

This year, I went straight to Starbucks, ordered my Pumpkin Spice Latte, and drove home to my house where I set up my laptop, lit a candle, and spent some time enjoying the fall weather, listening to music, blogging, and soaking up every second of my blissful alone time.

This year, I may or may not have been a few minutes late to pick him up.

What a difference a year makes.

First Day of School Pics

Noah’s first days of school. Left: 2011, 2 years old, apprehensive. Right: 2012, 3 years old, attitude.

Noah playing with play dough at school Left: 2011 Right: 2012

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Mission Possible

Before I became a mommy, I was a kindergarten teacher. I poured my heart, time, energy, and personal money into my profession. The first school that I taught at often left me coming home crying. The administrative staff was un-supportive and unappreciative. It seemed like they were not aware of the demands they placed on us as teachers, and varied in their approaches from too hands-on to too hands-off.

At the end of that school year, I switched to a different school. This time, the administration was amazing. I had a lot of autonomy in my classroom. My principle was supportive if you had a problem, but mostly took on the attitude of  “as long as there are no complaints, you are doing a good job.”

I loved working at my second school. I felt independent and not over worked. I felt confident in my abilities as a teacher because my principle was not constantly on me to change my teaching. I felt much less stressed than in my previous environment where I had to write all of my own lesson plans and come up with my own materials. At my second school, all of our lessons were scripted; right down to the list of what materials to use. It was not easy, but it took the hard work of creativity out of my teaching. I felt comfortable there.

What I did not feel, was that I was challenging myself or my students. By the end of the school year, I had gotten all of my students to “benchmark,” the level used to measure progress at that school. This was a huge accomplishment, and I was proud of it. But I did wonder if perhaps I could have done more.

Kindergarten is a challenging year, because students come in with such varying abilities depending on what kinds of exposure (or lack there of) they have experienced at home. Pulling all students up to a benchmark level is a grand achievement, but it is also a leveling of the playing field of sorts. I was able to bring up my students who came in with limited knowledge to benchmark level, but what about the students who already came in with some reading knowledge? Were they challenged enough? Did I stretch their minds enough? Was school stimulating for them?

The thing was, these were not my questions to ask. I didn’t need to worry about the answers, because the real goal of the schools was to pull everyone onto the same level and to teach according to the scripted lesson plans. So I did my job? Great. I could do it again in the future. There was no real room for improvement if you had already met the pre-determined standards.

I look forward to re-joining a profession in the future, but I am not sure if I am interested in teaching anymore. The chance for stagnation with in the teaching profession is high. Repeating the same tasks daily can be exhausting and draining. Lack of creativity and the chance for improvement makes teaching a profession that can easily become monotonous. I have also faced huge disrespect in regards to my teaching. I have been referred to as a “glorified babysitter,” a comment that is as insulting as it is ignorant. I have also heard comments about how great it must be to have summers off, which people use to justify their belief that teaching is a profession that shouldn’t garner as much respect as others. The chance for stagnation combined with the facts that teaching is very often disrespected in our culture as well as under paid, and it’s amazing that the teaching field still draws in qualified candidates.

Even though I am out of the work place, anything involving education still pulls at me. When I got the chance to read Mission Possible: How The Secrets of the Success Academies Can Work In Any School, I jumped at it. My future career path my be uncertain, but my dedication to the quality of education my son will receive is unwavering.

Mission Possible details the success academies located in New York City that have been featured on the documentaries The Lottery and Waiting For Superman. These schools take a radical approach to teaching that highly contradicts what is done in many public schools. The book goes into detail about the components of the THINK literacy curriculum, which places a high emphasis on the reading and writing skills of students. The thing that struck me as most progressive in the management of the Success Academies is the level of respect with which they treat the students. Children in this environment are treated as equals. They are called scholars and referred to as the class of whichever year they will graduate college. College is often mentioned during their school day. The constant goal is to prepare these children to go to college, not just meet the grade level benchmark. If the bar is raised for higher goals, then the daily teaching must be raised to met them. And those high goals are set in Kindergarten.

The book also includes a CD with video clips of actual lessons within the Success Academies. I was impressed with the high level of student discussions that took place within these classrooms. Those are just not scenarios you will see in a traditional public school setting.

If you are a principal, a teacher, a parent, or just a person with a highly motivated interest in the education system, you might be interested in reading this book and looking for ways to implement some of these ideas in your own school system. Here’s your chance to get this book for FREE!

To win a copy of the book Mission Possible: How the Secrets of the Success Academies Can Work In Any School, please leave a comment below. Why do you think this country treats teaching so differently than it does other professions?

A winner will be picked using random.org. UPDATE: Giveaway has been extended to August 10th, 2012!  Leave a comment to enter!

For more information about Mission Possible, head over to http://readmissionpossible.com/.

*I was compensated for this post through the SITS Girls Community. I received two copies of Mission Possible, one to read, and one to give away to my lovely readers. All opinions and life experiences are my own.*