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Shaundalyn Elliott's Diary
The First 180 Days

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Shaundalyn Elliott, a recent college graduate, always dreamed of being a corporate lawyer. Her deep feelings of responsibility to the minority students in her hometown led her instead to a teaching position at her alma mater, an urban middle school in Montgomery, Alabama. Each week during this school year -- Shaundalyn's first year in the classroom -- she will share with Education World readers her thoughts and feelings about her first 180 days!

Shaundalyn's Diary: Homecoming!

Week 9

One of the best things about working at your alma mater is the week of homecoming. This week, I went back to being in junior high, both as a teacher and as a student.

As soon as the school bell rang on Monday, I started looking forward to the end of the week. I was just as excited as the students were -- if not more so! We discussed plans for decorating the front door and for selecting a homecoming court. Probably the most fun part of the week, however, was the student's election of Mr. and Ms. Goodwyn Junior High 2000-2001.

When I distributed the ballots on Tuesday, I informed the students of the procedures. I told them that they were to select one male teacher as their choice for Mr. Goodwyn and one female teacher as their choice for Ms. Goodwyn. All my students had little smirks on their faces when I told them that; and later, I found out why.

As a new teacher, I was appointed to work on every aspect of the homecoming committee. Naturally, I did not object, even though it meant that I had no time for myself during my planning period. During Tuesday's planning period, in fact, I found out why my students had smiled so much during the nominations. After helping another teacher count the ballots, I found that I was among the top three choices for Ms. Goodwyn. As surprised as I was, I tried not to let the students see my excitement.

All during the week, I struggled to keep the children focused on lessons. Somehow, I managed to cover a poem and give three quizzes, but by the time Thursday arrived, I was glad to have them just sitting still!

At a pep rally on Thursday, I went back to my years as a junior high student. My adrenaline rushed, and I jumped around clapping and cheering the team on as though I were 12 again. When the homecoming queen and Mr. and Ms. Goodwyn were announced, I was a little disappointed to learn that I had not won Ms. Goodwyn. (Although it felt good to know that I came in second by only a few votes!) My students were crushed, however.

When we returned to class later, some of them dragged in with heavy hearts. One student really touched me when she said, "Ms. Elliott, are you disappointed? If you aren't, I don't know why not, because I really am." I assured her that I was fine about it, although deep down I was a little sad.

The next day, Friday, a number of my kids again expressed disappointment and asked how I felt. I assured them that I was very satisfied with the result. I also told them to use my experience as a lesson about how to deal with losses. Some of them reluctantly agreed, but most were still disappointed. During my fourth-period class, two of my students made a certificate for me that read, "You are still the best teacher here!"

Everything within me smiled this week, not only because of the festivities, but also because of the kids. I saw some things in them that I had not seen before -- an overwhelming amount of love and respect for me. I used to daydream about what it would be like to be a teacher kids liked to be around. I can honestly say despite the ups and downs of teaching, I never knew being liked could feel so good.

My old math teacher stopped me on Friday morning. "Shaundalyn," she said, "watching you prance around at the pep rally yesterday really brought back a lot of memories. I forgot how much fun you were." It was the funniest thing to hear her say that. I thought about it all day. I learned an important lesson from her that day. She taught me that it is OK to have fun and appreciate your student's personalities. I've told myself over and over that I will remember this week forever.

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Shaundalyn Elliot
Education World®
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10/26/2000