Thursday, September 20, 2012

No Superstar

Norman, one of the pocket-sized 6th graders I inherited this year, is a friendly face in the crowd. Literally.  If you happen to lock eyes with him, even accidentally, you are probably in for an ear-to-ear grin and frantic wave. Even if it is a manifestation of extreme social discomfort, it's so precious.  Norman is also the only student on earth to ever fist pump at the mention of a math test. Even his weirdest quirks are adorable.  During his weekly meeting with Brandon, the Social Worker, Brandon had to step out for a moment.  "Okay," Norman replied. "I'll just wait here and do my favorite thing in the world." "What's that?" Brandon inquired. "Talk to myself," Norman answered matter-of-factly.

And talk to himself, he does.  I was fortunate enough to eavesdrop on one of these intimate conversations between Norman and Norman this week as he was creating a title page for a paper.

"Let's see," he pondered, mulling over the directions on the proper format for the title page, "should I put my last name?"

"Yes, yes," he replied, confidently. "I should put my last name. I am NOT a superstar."

Oh, Norman. So wise. If only every middle schooler was as self aware as you.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Getting Mine

To this day when I am reminded of my student teaching semester, nearly 6 years ago now, I nearly vomit in disgust.  I h-a-t-e-d it with a vengeance. After becoming quite the professional at acing papers, and being surrounded by fellow teacher candidates all getting our hands held through fake teaching experiences, I was spit out of the cozy college life back into lousy Lake County all by my lonesome to get my first true taste of the teacher life.

It sucked. I was thoroughly overwhelmed by big, scary, confusing projects on top of attempting to play teacher to kids who were as little as TWO YEARS younger than me in a student teaching assignment that really was not conducive to my program requirements (Way to go, Uni. STILL holding a grudge on that one.)  I'll never forget the post-observation conference I had with my supervisor, when she shared with me that as far as my written knowledge of the teacher profession went, I was solid.  What I needed to work on was the teaching component.  In other words, what I had set out to do all along was not working so well for me.

Okay, she wasn't exactly calling me a failure; and looking back, I'm sure I looked terrified up there, still in the mode of perfectionist honor student, rather than passionate educator.  But I remember being so frustrated at the discrepancy between the potential others saw in me and the potential I knew I had.  I was so confident in my calling and so self-assured in my abilities that it felt like total injustice to be told I just wasn't that great.

I survived student teaching, but my pride wasn't done taking severe blows.  Next, it was the administrators at several schools who failed to see my potential and passed me by on employment.  The only school who seemed willing to take me--my first career experience--was so hard up for teachers they would have hired an armless chimpanzee if it had a valid teaching certificate. Meanwhile, I watched old college classmates who had exerted far less effort and seemingly far less teaching potential, score jobs in really great districts, and my one person pity party continued.

When I was going to get MINE?!

Then, my shining moment came.  I was finally deemed a good fit for a wonderful district and the skills and quality attributes I knew I had to offer were finally put to good use!  I pinched myself to have gotten something so good, and I felt so spoiled that I was content to be low on the teacher totem pole, watching my P's and Q's and playing by the book so as not to lose the best thing that could have come along.  Being employed here was reward enough.

I have to say it really wasn't until very recently, under the perfect combination of achieving tenure and the right supportive administration I finally felt acknowledged. Originally, I intended to come here and gush about how affirming and refreshing and encouraging it is to be told by someone who really counts how valuable a teacher I am; how satisfying the reward is for honest-to-goodness hard work.

Then, I got served a couple helpings of humble pie in the form of two sermons from two different pastors in one day...two weekends ago. 

The first message painted a metaphor of our earthly struggles as an Olympian's grueling training and pursuit of a medal. The only difference: ours is one that can't be earned in this lifetime. The second message was a call to evaluate our lives and identify the aspects that we tend to claim as ours, knowing full well nothing in our lives is truly ours to own--tangible or intangible. To me, the message was loud and clear:  forget the reward, Miss T.  You aren't in line for one this side of heaven. 

I've been so preoccupied with achieving my personal success story in the teaching world that I've failed to remember that it's pretty meaningless as far as my worldly existence is concerned.  And my current circumstances are proof of that fact. Has the figurative pat on the back from administration made me any happier? Has it made my life any more easy and care free?  Nope.  As well it shouldn't. 

The approval of man can only get us so far, and I set out long ago on this career path seeking something far greater than the acknowledgment of others or even myself.  Pride and selfish gain just seem to get in the way of the truth from time to time.

Thank goodness for the "little darlings" in my classroom who remind me quite frequently I'm not so magical as I may think.