Last year during my annual review and conference with my bosses, I walked in and cried. Literally, I walked in the door, sat down and started bawling. I was pissed, and hurt, and frankly, done with teaching. Honestly, I felt like I had sacrificed an entire year of teaching for nothing – and it had sucked. I didn’t expect to cry. I really didn’t even know what I was going to say. Maybe, “I quit”? I’m so glad I didn’t.
Last summer, as everyone knows, because I talk about it any chance I get, I was a fellow in the Greater Kansas City Writing Project’s summer institute. It was, quite literally, what saved me as a teacher. I left the SI and went back to the preschool classroom determined to give early childhood education one more chance. I was determined to harness all the creativity and the strength and the validation I got from the GKCWP summer institute and put it to good use in my classroom.
I am telling this story because I just sat down last night to fill out my self-evaluation for this year’s annual review. I’m happy to say that there will be no tears at this review…at least sad ones. This year has been amazing. And, I teach preschool…I have stories upon stories of things that have happened this year that weren’t amazing, but those stories are nothing in light of all of the good things that happened in my class this year.
Last summer’s self-reflection taught me that I owe it to everyone to stand back and let children learn without my guiding every single moment. I’ll add my own little caveat here: I don’t do this as often as I should in my own home. I don’t know if it’s because I have control issues with my own kids, or if sometimes, at the end of a long day with other people’s children, I just need things to go my way? I’m not certain. But I will say that the Dinosaur kids have had some pretty amazing experiences this year. I’m guessing most parents will rank field trips and special visitors as the top “amazing experiences” but I’d like to tell you what I think was amazing, if I may…so here’s a list, in no particular order:
We created jobs and each chose one daily. We made a “helpfulness board” and our “kindness catcher” watched for kind acts that we documented and posted on our bulletin board. We baked and cooked and ate lots of new and different foods. We were the authors and illustrators of our OWN stories – and we know what the authors and an illustrators actually do (!!!!) We grew vegetables and plants and flowers. We hatched chicks. Out of eggs! We watched caterpillars turn into chrysalis and then butterflies and we set them free. We learned how to have gentle hands and also how to tell our friends about our feelings. We learned when we need some “safe” time…if only everyone would recognize when they need those moments! We painted with all sorts of different mediums. We wrote in journals, we drew with crayons, pencils and markers. We scooped and shoveled, and dug and sorted and counted and patterned. We passed out lunches to each other. We learned to sit in a circle and listen to a story together and how to guess what the story might be about and even what might happen next. We were really LOUD some days, and other days we needed things to be quiet. We taught a teacher, who was thinking this might not be her calling, to hang in there and to absolutely LOVE what she does.
I’m not certain what the future holds for me, but this class of kids has encouraged me to be my best: every. single. day. And not maybe the best I could be, but at least the best I could be for that day, for that child. And, really? Isn’t that what early childhood education is all about?