Today is one of those dreaded introspective days. In three months, I will turn sixty and each and every time I think about that I shudder.
As a child of the 60s, I can remember those years as the best of times and the worst of times. I can remember the phrase, Are you going to be part of the problem or part of the solution? The pessimists would shout that there was no way we could change the world, and dont trust anyone over 30!
Well, here I sit, well over the age of 30; however, I still have the dedication to my work, the desire to be useful, and the love of the wonders of life.
I retired from the third grade classroom in July, 2006. Since then, I have worked at the local community college teaching teachers how to engage their students in the wonderful world of mathematics. I find it to be a marvelous way for educators to share ideas and implement them in their classrooms. Private tutoring also keeps me quite busy and satisfied.
I think often of the comments frequently made about the teaching profession. One popular myth is that we only teach for ten months, and our days end at 3:00. Why we can get another job! The comment that most disturbs me, though, is that the work of elementary school teachers is easy -- milk and cookies -- compared to the teaching responsibilities faced by those in the academic world of the upper grades.
Why, when the school doors closed at the end of June, I would review the new curriculum and/or the textbooks that would be implemented the following September. Our district replaced our texts every five years, and we needed to be ready to update our lessons for reading, language arts, spelling, penmanship, math, social studies, science, and health to accommodate the new texts. The primary school teachers would need to find ways to address the learning style of each of the 25 students who had not been in school before. The foundation needed to be set; those students needed to learn to listen, to share, and to be responsible to themselves and to their classmates.
Now that the state requires standardized tests for third and fourth grade students, teachers in those grades need to teach test taking skills as well.
And all that must be accomplished under difficult social circumstances. Many of our students do not come from homes that are conducive to learning. In many families, both parents must work and the children must go to an after school program, a day care center, or become latch-key children. In some cases, children from divorced families spend three days in Moms house, three in Dads, and alternate homes on the seventh day.
Contacting parents has become such a challenge. I have called the home phone number, the cell number, and the work number. I have called parents during the weekday hours, the evening hours, and on weekends. If the conference week schedule is not convenient for families, I have met them before the school day -- or after.
So why teach? It sounds exhausting, stressful, and almost impossible to do well! In fact, we teach because the rewards are outstanding.
When your students tell you at the end of the year that they cant believe how much theyve learnedthat is a reward. When former students, now in college, return to your classroom to get a hug, to thank you for what you did to help them believe in themselves, and to tell your present students what it was like in their daythat is your reward.
I just received a letter from the parent of a former student who is now in graduate school. She wrote that she saw a quote and thought of me. It said, You make a child feel good about himself and thats a motivation to excel. That is a reward.
So, in answer to our questions of the 60s, as teachers, we did change the world. We changed it when we taught children to believe in themselves and to share that knowledge. We changed it by teaching our youngest students to listen, to share, and to respect their classmates and themselves. We changed it by giving our students the tools and skills they needed to change their world. We made this a better world -- one child at a time.
Retired after teaching third grade for 25 years in Vernon, New Jersey. Felicia Arnold now tutors students privately and teaches math workshops to teachers at a local college. She also currently is teaching a workshop on Women in American History. I've loved my career in teaching, Arnold told Education World, and will continue to be a part of it in my new environment as a retiree. I now can enjoy the company of my two wonderful granddaughters, who bring joy and energy into my life.
Article by Felicia Arnold
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