Thursday, March 30, 2017

SOL #31: What I Know About Myself as a Teacher

This March writing challenge is organized by Two Writing Teachers

Last year, I wrote a SOL post (actually, two posts)  about what I know about myself as a reader.  (I found this out because on this, the last SOL post of the month, it finally occurred to me to look back and see what I wrote about last year.)  That inspired me to try to write about what I know about myself as a teacher.

1. This is going to be a lot harder, because I feel much more vulnerable talking about my professional life than my favorite hobby.

2.  I did not always want to be a teacher. Specifically, when we had a very nice student teacher in chemistry, and everyone treated him terribly DESPITE liking him just fine, I resolved to NEVER put myself in that situation.

3.  I got into teaching because I really wanted to live in Eastern Europe after graduation, and it was a way I could afford to do that.

4.  My first students were four years younger than me, and I had no idea what I was doing.

5.  That first year I started jotting notes at the end of each day about what had gone well, what didn't work, what I needed to think about differently.  I only did that on paper for that first year, but I am so glad I stumbled into the habit of active reflection.

6.  I once wrote "bowel" on the board when teaching an adult ESL class about "things in a kitchen."  One young man looked up from his dictionary a few moments later, with furrowed brow, and said, "Is that the right word?"

7.  I am not a scary teacher.  I have to work very, very hard to be stern when it's appropriate.  As a younger teacher, I would be nice and nice and nice, then lose my temper, slamming the door or raising my voice.  I'm better now at being forceful before I am enraged, but students usually describe me as "chill." I am aware this can be code for "pushover."

8.  I have learned most of what I know about poverty and racism from observing the lives of my students.  Some of the things they've told me and some of the things I've seen have permanently affected the way I view our country and society.

9.  I taught overseas for four years, then taught ELD in one district for ten years, then moved to my current district nine years ago.

10. For a long time I thought I'd peaked in years 8-10 of my previous district.

11.  My last year at my old job, I fell off the stool in front of the class one day, and not one kid laughed.  My first year at my new job, someone went behind my desk, unzipped my backpack, got into my purse, and stole my wallet.  Also, my old principal cried when I told her about my new job, while my next principal gave me the first "basic" ratings I'd gotten since my first year of teaching.  So you can see why the transition was rough.

12.  I loved the 17 years I spent teaching ESOL.  I never felt sure of myself in the four years I spent teaching ELA.  I've loved the past year and a half of teaching reading.

13.  I hate standardized testing.  My grad school program didn't give grades, and I'd love it if we could do that k-12 as well.

14.  I wish I had a teacher voice.  One year I got to use a voice amplifier, and I really liked it.

15.  I am really bad about enforcing things like dress code and bathroom passes.  If you are in my class and doing what you're supposed to be doing, I don't really care what you're wearing or if you need to take a three minute break.

16. I love collaborating with other teachers on the planning end, but I don't like having to stay in sync with what other teachers are doing.  This is one reason why I do better when I'm in charge of the entire program (ELD, reading) instead of part of a department teaching the same curriculum (ELA).

17. There are nearly 2,000 books in my classroom library.  I got a grant last year for about 500 of them, and now I can't stop adding to it.  My family wears thrift shop clothes and shoes so I can buy books for my classroom.

18. I'm really bad about setting up routines.  I don't think I've ever made it through a whole year using notebooks.  I always peter out mid-year.  I brought in alternative seating last year, but I do a terrible job at setting my expectations, so my pillows are always getting torn, the couches are always getting hogged, and it's just not what I know it could be.

19.  I used to pride myself in my ability to connect with the difficult kids.  Now that I have a difficult kid in my family, I sometimes have to take a step back so I don't transfer my feelings from home to school and back.

20.  Since adopting my kids my eyes have been opened to the number of students in trauma I have.  I wish this also meant I was an expert in helping them, but it doesn't.

21.  Middle school students make me laugh.  Sure, they're not cute and eager to please like younger kids, nor are they capable and relatively calm like older kids, but they are funny every single day.  In a lot of ways, I feel like middle school teachers can have a huge impact on kids' lives.

22. Some teacher friends made me sign up for twitter four or five years ago, promising that a "PLN" would be transformative.  I didn't get it.  At all.  This year I finally started to see how twitter and the connections made there can improve my teaching.  So many great minds to learn from!

23.  Some of my best times with my students have been on field trips and hiking trips.  You see a different side of many of the kids who don't thrive in a traditional classroom environment, and both teacher and students get a chance to interact as just people.

24.  I love it when I have a student who likes to read, who talks about books, who asks for and offers recommendations.  I really love it when I hear something like, "Mrs. Gassaway, I don't even LIKE reading but I can't stop reading this book!" or "I'm not a reader or anything, but this book is actually really good."

25.  I believe in a semi-superstitious but also totally serious way that I am healthier and happier when I teach in a room with windows.  I've done six without, four with, three without, one with, four without, and one with.  I really hope I get to keep my window room next year too.  (Why does anyone design classrooms without windows?!?)

And so we come to the close of another glorious month of writing and commenting, of noticing and bearing witness.  I hope everyone here got something they didn't even know they needed.  And I hope to see you again, on my blog and yours.


  1. I taught in Eastern Europe in the same time period I think. Where did you teach? I was in Slovakia (then Czechoslovakia) in 1990 to 1992.

    1. I was in Latvia from 1992-93 with Education for Democracy, then returned from 1994-96 with Peace Corps.

  2. #6 made me laugh. My mom was a teacher, and I could never do her job. I’d probably crawl under the desk and cry all day. My grad school didn’t give grades, either. We got written evaluations. If I screwed something up, they made me do it over, and over, and over until I got it right. Congrats on finishing this challenge!

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

  3. #21 - I could never teach anything else. So interesting reading through your list - you've had such a varied teaching life.

  4. Love how you shared your professional life :) #5 Most important thing we can do: “I am so glad I stumbled into the habit of active reflection.” #6 Too funny. I love teacher stories about misspoken or miswritten words. Been there, done that myself. #11 After all that, I’m glad you did not leave the profession! #17 Me too! My husband tells people that most women buy shoes, but his wife buys books. #25 I’m definitely a window person, too. And in PDX, it is a killer to walk into a windowless room on a sunny day. :)

  5. I've loved following your posts this month! This post was so awesome! So much of what you said applies to me as a teacher as well. If I ever get out to Portland (which I would love to do), we MUST meet!


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