I think it is very common for teachers to believe that it would be impossible for them to teach any grade other than the grade they teach. When I meet elementary school teachers, they tell me that they could never teach teenagers, I tell them I could never teach little kids, and then we both laugh and agree we could NEVER do middle school.
I’ve spent five years building my solid identity as a high school teacher, and four of those were as the teacher of primarily juniors and seniors. During my first year, I developed a firm belief that anyone under the age of 14 was perpetually sticky.
And now, those sticky kids are my responsibility, too. Oh, my! As the K-12 Coordinator, I have all of the students this year, and it was scaring me to death. The elementary students scare me more than the middle school students, since I had worked with three middle school classes once upon a time. While they are a little strange, they don’t seem quite so foreign to me. Strange as it may seem, I decided to start overcoming my fear of working with the under-14 crowd by diving in to the more terrifying grades first.
As far as I was concerned, my observations of elementary students from walking around the hallways at school weren’t helping to calm my fears. They push, they shove, they kick, they pull each other’s backpacks, and they follow my service dog with a strange chorus of adoration. If you want to know where I am in the building, just stand quietly and listen for the high pitched cooing… that’s the bubble of Mia and me passing through an area! They talk, they fidget, they squirm, they yell, they ask impertinent questions, and in many ways they aren’t that different from teenagers, if I was honest about it. Some of them more energetic, but not as different as I might have thought.
Unable to put it off any longer, I decided to pull students in small groups for Advanced Learning Plan (ALP) meetings. I was terrified. I didn’t sleep the night before. Pathetic, right? Big, bad high school teacher (with narcolepsy, I might add!) intimidated by a bunch of 10-year-olds.
Anyway, I was nervous about their reaction to me, because I know they’ve had a lot of change in the program. I’m the third new GT teacher they’ve had, and I wanted them to feel like I had a plan for them, and that it wouldn’t be just another boring year. I wanted them to see the whole picture, where I work with their teachers to make class more interesting, I work with them in GT class, and they get an overarching project to present at the end of the year. I wanted them to understand the role of the new and improved goals that they would get to create, and the better ALPs, with social-emotional growth as well. I was fired up with everything I was going to tell them!
As it turns out, the little ones totally got it, and were so excited about everything I told them! They kept asking me a thousand questions about everything, and are thrilled with my new direction! They really seem to like me, too, which will help the process along. Perhaps it was letting them use colored pens when they can only use pencil in class, or telling them I was gifted, to which they all replied, “You, too?”
I was surprised to discover that it was easier to work with them than I thought it would be. It required as much patience as I expected, but I didn’t need to dredge up any extra childhood memories or child-friendly stories. I just worked with them the same way I work with my older students. I treated them with respect and dignity; spoke to them honestly and genuinely. I realized somewhere along the way that these kids were just like me 20 years ago, and all I really need to do is be myself, and they will respond.
Somehow, by the end of an hour with each group, we seemed to get along, and many of them were disappointed to go to recess! I was so excited to have overcome my fear of working with elementary school students, and I would be lying if I didn’t admit to a bit of happiness at their personal acceptance as well.
Has anyone else faced their biggest fear at school? Did it work out as well as mine did, or could you use a virtual hug from the community for a rough time? Does anyone need some encouragement to face a particularly difficult fear ahead of them?