While one kid was leaning on his dad, the other would lay on the pew or stand and demand attention the brother was getting. The father would lean down and whisper in the attention-getter’s ear, and the boy would grunt, shake his head, cross his arms in baby-faced defiance. So the father would set one boy down and pick up the other. Immediately, the boy would bury his head into the father’s neck, legs dangling.
The young father did this probably 10 or more times during the service. Not once did he roll his eyes or look back at me with that look that fathers give one another when they just can’t win, that I-wish-I-had-a-beer look. He never sighed and he never raised his voice or pointed a finger. I watched amazed at his juggling act. It reminded me of my life at that moment. Except I wasn’t as calm and collected as this father. It was as if God purposely placed him in front of me, wondering if I’d get the message. Life’s events and responsibilities were much like those two boys vying for attention, vying to be close enough to bury its face in the crook of my neck. Up to that point, I wanted nothing more than to just throw my hands up. I would have placed the boys in daycare that night and enjoyed the service. Place those responsibilities elsewhere. Let someone else do it.
The Friday previous I had the closest thing to a mental break. I sat in a professional development meeting at work. I was supposed to be listening to the latest list of testing procedures that all schools have to undergo. It’s easy to zone out in these types of meetings, but I had been feeling like I had not been much of a teacher.
Ther move to second grade had been fairly uneventful for the first 2 weeks of school. I loved getting to meet the kids each day, their enthusiasm to enter the room. I loved how they were mini perfectionist who wanted to spell every word correctly, wanted every math problem checked for accuracy. They tattled some, sure, but they smiled and hugged their way from hour to hour in an endless dance of joy.
Then the curriculum hit. I’m a big picture thinker, and never having experience with grade 2, all I had to go on was what my 5th graders had been able to do over the last few years. Fifth graders were independent workers, they move fairly seamlessly from one project to the next and they finished their work. Second graders are a much different story. They are one task-oriented type of kids. They lose things. They can’t read very well, at least half my class is reading at a firestorm grade level or below, so independent work takes time and effort. They don’t move seamlessly from one place to the next. They shout sometimes, or they tattle if they even perceive something wrong.
Throwing in a new curriculum for me on top of the stress of testing the kids became much more stressful than I bargained for. Once a child enters our school, we have 30 days to test them in reading and math. This includes one math diagnostic with about 15 questions and a computer based test with 50 questions. The reading test is done one on one and they have a computer based ELA version as well. My desk for 2 weeks was a stack of testing materials, scantron sheets and ungraded papers. Eventually I found myself ditching testing during the day because they kids simply weren’t ready for seat work, which is basically all I could really give them. All my teaching experience was whittled down to busy work while I tested them. As I eased my way back into full teacher mode, I was using my planning time during lunch or art class to get these kids tested. Not exactly an ideal situation.
I felt my expertise slipping away, and I began to question if teaching this young of a student was really what I was equipped to do. My big picture focus mired me in concerns and outcomes I couldn’t predict.
My home life, which typically can be an escape from a stressful day, wasn’t much better. I know dear reader that you are used to me being transparent about my home life but for the sake of this particular blog, I’ll try and keep it focused on work. Needless to say, the encouragement that I wanted to have for my family became more critical. My uplifting tone of voice became harsh and overbearing. I was barely a father and not much of a husband. Any task at home felt like a boulder being pushed uphill.
At one point that day, I found myself looking out the window during lunch at Red Lobster. Our lunch dates have been a 9 year tradition each professional development day we have been together, and alI I could do was look away from her face, unable to bear the weight of my own failure of expectations.
After that weekend, I had to start thinking of what was really important. For every big picture frustration, I began chunking up my day into segments of success. I bore down in the beginning of the day repeating expectations and routines. I front loaded my lessons and then broke off into small groups, applauding their successes and being more patient with their challenges. Little by little I could see the tide beginning to turn. By that Wednesday I had my first evaluation meeting with my boss. He had been seeing the necessary strides in the class and offered a discerning ear to what I was feeling.
And now it’s October. I still have much to do, both at home and at school. While I may not always get the desired results, each day is another lesson I’m learning about myself. I’m working my way out of the negativity and back into the promises that God wants for my life.
So, how’s teaching second grade coming? Today was a win. Even though I had to send a kid out for a timeout because of incessant crying (the first ever in my 16 year career), today was a win. After a day of teaching, I coached my daughter's soccer team at practice for an hour and then watched my son play baseball under the lights on a cool fall evening. And I enjoyed myself. Life is back as it should be. For that, I’m thankful.