Second Grade or Bust

It was 9am in mid December, 1991.  I was going to visit the school where I would be student teaching in January and meet the teacher that I had been assigned to.  I had been told her name was Kathy, and that she was a second grade teacher.   I was also told she was 29, which made her much younger than I thought anyone willing to accept a student teacher should be.

The idea with student teaching is that you learn the nuances of the craft at the hands of an experienced teacher, kind of like an apprentice.  There were a million and one little tricks that a teacher employed in a classroom, and they varied from grade level to grade level.  Almost none of them had been taught to me in my methods classes.

I wasn’t entirely pleased with my second grade placement; I intended on building my career in later elementary or middle school.  But since I’d already taught in a sixth grade classroom and a fourth grade classroom, second grade was the logical place to go for my K-8 degree.

Upon entering the school, I immediately started comparing it to my other two assigned buildings.  Even though this school was actually in the same school district where I’d attended school myself, this was the most affluent district I’d taught in.  My previous experiences had been in an inner city school and an inner ring suburb.  For the most part, our school district was middle class, with some more upscale enclaves.  This particular building was older but in good repair; the hallways were covered with carpet, not the cold tile I’d seen in the other two buildings.  In the previous school I’d been in, the desks were old, the buildings had seen better days and were crowded.  As I walked down the hallway here, colorful decorations were affixed to the walls and hanging from the ceilings; the other buildings had been less decorated, and more stark.  This building oozed warmth and welcoming; there were desks and the odd chair or two in the hallway with parents working with children or cutting out laminated letters.  I’d not seen any parent volunteers at either of my two previous schools.

I knocked on Kathy’s door.  I had been asked to come during her preparation period, when the students were at music.  This left her with half an hour to speak to me before she had to go pick up her students.

“Hi, you must be Amy,” she said as I stood in the doorway.  “Come on in.”

I fell in love immediately with what I saw on the other side of the door.  The room looked comfortable and cheerful.  There was more artwork affixed to the walls and hanging from the ceilings; holiday decorations.  The desks were grouped in small groups of four.

“Yes, I am.  You must be Kathy,” I responded.  She was young, definitely.  But she had a take charge attitude and an easy mastery of the job that she had been doing for the last six years.  She told me she’d done exactly what I was doing; taken a position student teaching in this building, and it translated to the position she had now.  She talked to me about the math and science concepts we’d be studying in January, and how she tried to make every lesson in the day translate to these concepts; if they were studying the water cycle, they did math problems about water, read stories about underwater adventures, took field trips to the water treatment plant, etc.  I nodded eagerly, taking notes.

She was eager to know about me, so I was honest with her about the fact that I had a young son but lived at home with my mother.  She was polite and interested, but didn’t ask intrusive questions.  I told her about my GPA and my previous experiences, where they had been (“Wow,” she said as I recounted Highland Park to her), the things I’d already taught.  When I told her about my pen pal unit, I told her that the teacher I’d worked with actually taught at the high school here, and that he was already interested in working on a “book buddies” type of pairing between his classes and hers.  She seemed impressed that I’d already thought of things to do with her students, and offered to allow me to walk with her down to the music room so that I could meet them before I left.

As I walked down the hall with Kathy, I could feel my old excitement bubble up in me.  I couldn’t wait to come here and get started teaching.  The building brimmed with enthusiasm and energy.  I could picture myself here next year, with my own kids and own classroom, hanging up the students’ artwork after school and checking my mailbox in the office.  It was nearly here; soon, I was going to start the rest of my life.

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