“Teachers don’t poop…”

I just started my 14th year in the classroom. Even in that time, teaching has changed so very much. I work, on average, 10-12 hours a day. I’m typically buried in paperwork. The requirements and demands coming down from the state are endless, and often make no sense. The academic, physical, and emotional needs of my students are draining and more often than not keep me awake at night. This career is exhausting.

But…then there are the kids. My absolute favorite part about my job is the kids! There is never a dull moment when you are working with tiny humans. They tell me jokes that crack me up. They wow me with their creativity. My students shower me with daily hugs and stories about all the things that are important to them.

They get crayons stuck in their ears. I have heard myself say, more than once in my career, “Please don’t lick the windows.” They are squirrely and sassy at times but also have moments that melt my heart. Some days they will NOT stop talking, and others they are the most captive audience around. They are certain that ice from the nurse can cure anything. They will crawl on the floor picking up every little speck of dirt for the promise of a piece of candy.

I love the energy that they bound into school with. I love that they can still leave me speechless with the things they come up with. Today was one of the conversations that I will probably never forget. While standing in the hallway taking a whole class bathroom break, I asked one of my “responsible” students to monitor the class and hand out Dojo points so that I could go to the end of the hall and use the restroom. When I returned approximately 37 seconds later (as a teacher you have to go fast) one of my students said “Mrs. Taylor, what do you do when you go to the end of the hallway?” I replied, “Ummm…I use the bathroom.” Another student chimed in and said “D’uh…teachers pee too!” A third student chimed in, rather loudly, “And poop!” By this time the whole class is mesmerized by the topic of my bodily functions. A fourth student jumps into the conversation to proclaim, “NO! Teachers don’t poop!”

I didn’t really want to explore my bathroom habits with twenty-five nine and ten year olds…so I just quietly shook my head (as I often do) and went on. I mean really, what is there even to say at that point. Just move on. Did I even for a moment to expect that we would be discussing my bathroom habits today? Nope… Tomorrow I am sure there will be something else that catches me by total surprise.

I love these kids so much – already. We are building a classroom family and they bring me more joy than I could ever express. Even when I’m sending one to the nurse for jamming a crayon in his ear. Even when I have to try to explain to one why “No, I will NOT smell your hand.” And even when I have seen my thirty-second wiggly tooth of the day (and my stomach is lurching).

So yes, teachers work really hard and often feel underpaid and disrespected. We sometimes feel we are being tasked with the impossible. We are tired and overwhelmed and burned out. BUT, we do love the kids, and we are so blessed to get to do what we do! We can be frustrated and still love our jobs all at the same time!

I wish my teacher knew…

This time of year is always bittersweet for me. I love the lazy days of summer. No schedule. No alarm set. Slow quiet mornings sipping coffee contemplating the biggest decision of the day – which bathing suit to wear for another day by the pool. But as much as I enjoy sweet summertime, by the time August rolls around, I am ready for routine. As a child, the start of a new school year was so exciting to me. And it still is as an adult. The newness of everything feels so good. As a teacher, it is the prospect of 50 new little lives that I get to watch grow, pour into and love on.

I have worked non-stop since the first of August getting ready for this brand new school year. Countless hours have been spent setting up my classroom with a new look for the year. Name tags and lists. Materials and labels. Pencils and copies. It has all consumed me for the days and weeks leading up to the first day of school.

The first day has come and gone and I have enjoyed each moment getting to know all 50 of my students (25 in my homeroom, and 25 in my teaching partners room). I often have to tell myself that this part just takes time. I want to get to know their strengths and weaknesses, their personalities, their fears, and their interests. I want to know how they each learn best so that I can help them each grow to their full potential in the 177 days that I have them to teach.

Each year, each new group is so very different from the one before. I am loving the eagerness of this group of kids to learn. They are not afraid to try the hard things and already seem to feel safe enough in our little classroom family to make mistakes. They are helpers, jumping in to help a classmate who is struggling. They are storytellers, rushing into the room to share news of a new pet or football game. They are dreamers, talking of future careers as paleontologists and veterinarians. My desire is to foster all of this in all of them each and every day.

The responsibility of teaching and growing these little minds is not a burden, but rather one of the greatest blessings I could imagine. In my room I have an “I Wish My Teacher Knew…” jar. I encourage students to leave me a note about the things that they would like to share with me but are maybe not ready to say to my face. The first few days of school the jar would be full of little notes saying “You’re the best teacher,” or “I love school.” But it was on day four that a lone note in that jar reminded me just how important this responsibility is. This note said “I wish my teacher knew that I am dum.” I saved that note. I have not stopped thinking about those words. They have kept me awake at night. I think about them as I am preparing lessons and activities. I am thinking about them when I pray each morning before my students arrive. I will carry those words with me every day this school year. They will be the force that pushes me to do anything and everything I can for this group of students.

I have always believed that relationships come first in my classroom. I tell my students – my kids – that I love them. I listen to them. I hug them. I shower them with positive affirmations. Relationships before tasks. I firmly believe that if a student feels loved and safe, they are more willing to open up and take chances in their learning. My prayer is for each one of my students to believe in themselves and in their abilities.

And by the end of our time together I hope that they can say “I wish my teacher knew that I feel loved…”

My teacher heart

I have said from the very start of this school year that our students are going to remember it for the rest of their lives, so let’s make those memories amazing! Well this past week, my students did just that for me. I teach fourth grade. In all I have 60 students between the three homerooms. We have asked so much of these babies this year and they have risen to the occasion better than some (many) adults I know. They came back to a classroom setting that looked very different than any they had experienced in their short academic career. They came back after the trauma of missing the last part of the prior year and essentially living in a lockdown during a global pandemic. When they walked through our doors they couldn’t see our smiles and we couldn’t see theirs. They were not seated next to an elbow buddy or at a group table, but rather on their own little island that was at least 3 feet away from all classmates. Yet through all of that we have built a classroom community like none other I have ever had. They are kind to each other. They feel safe in our little room. They are caring and sweet and so very funny.

This past week my students had to spend two days taking our state standardized tests. Yet nothing about this year has been anywhere close to standard. The state felt it was the right thing to do to add just a little more pressure on these little minds by having them sit for tests that they may not be prepared for. It seems the state must have forgotten that these babies missed an entire quarter of the prior year and while we worked so hard to “close the gap” (I would be fine if I never heard this tag line ever again) we need more time. We didn’t need more testing. I don’t need test data to tell me what my kiddos need. I can tell you that from having spent every day with them since August.

Obviously, I did not let my students feel my disgust over them having to be tested. We chose to call it a “Celebration of Learning” – our chance to show next year’s teachers how hard we had worked all year. I was absolutely blown away by how my kids showed up and worked so hard. They made this teacher so proud. As I babbled and gushed about how proud I was to them when they were finished, one of them asked “Mrs. Taylor, is your teacher heart happy?”

Yes…this teacher heart is so very happy. I cannot express how much I love this group of kids. They make every day brighter in an all too dark world. And while I still completely disagree with the state’s decision to test them, I am celebrating with them for all that they have learned. And all that they have taught me.

Lucky Duck

I recently saw an idea on Instagram from one of the many teachers I follow about using a rubber duck to reward students and to give them special privileges. I’ll be honest, at first I thought it seemed a bit cheesy and didn’t think that my students would respond to it at all. I honestly didn’t dig any deeper into how she used it, because I just didn’t think it would be something that would “work” with my kids.

Yesterday, though, while in line at Meijer, I noticed some small rubber ducks in the checkout line. They were part of the last minute, impulse buy section right where you checkout. They were only .59 cents, so I grabbed one and decided right then to try it for the month on March in my room (March – lucky…kind of works). When I got to my room I sat that cute little duck in the front of my classroom and just waited for the questions. Of course, as soon as the students arrived the questions started. “Why is there a rubber duck in our classroom?” “Mrs. Taylor, whose duck is that?” “Does the duck have a name?” “Is it a boy duck or a girl duck?” I just love 4th graders!

I explained to my students that he was a lucky duck and that one of them would be his caretaker for the day – which made them a lucky duck too. Being the lucky duck means that that student got to be my errand runner for the day, first in line for lunch and recess, and anything else that might come up during the course of our school day. They were ALL IN! I told them that during our morning work time I would randomly choose a student (ClassDojo) and IF that student was on task and getting their morning work done, they would be the Lucky Duck of the day! Now I really had their attention. I chose the Lucky Duck and set our new little rubber friend on that student’s desk. All day when I needed a little help, my real life Lucky Duck would jump up and do their job! It was the cutest thing I have ever seen. Y’all, this cheap little rubber duck brought new life into our classroom today!

It’s been a long, rough school year, not only for teachers but also for students. I started the year by saying that these kiddos will remember this year forever, and I wanted to make those memories happy and ones that they would talk about for a long time. Who knew that a little rubber duck could help me do that?!? I’m so blessed to get to spend my days with such energetic, loving. amazing little humans. I truly believe that I am the LUCKY DUCK!

This is not my job

This school year has definitely been different than any other in my career. Many days I feel like I am a first year teacher again. I feel like I am having to create new ways to do things nearly every day. Most days I feel overwhelmed and completely flustered. I am exhausted before the day even starts. I spend early morning hours in my classroom trying to find new ways to teach – to reach all of my kiddos. I spend all day behind a mask hoping that they can see the smile they bring to my face. I study their eyes – searching for a glimmer of understanding. I miss seeing the smiles that I know are there, but are masked. Creating engaging, cooperative lessons has become a difficult task. Sharing learning and ideas from three feet apart somehow just isn’t the same.

I come home at night, carrying a load that is much heavier than the stacks of papers in my bag. Did I even speak to her? Was he okay today or did he seem sad? If I could have only spent more time reading with them. Finding the balance between work and home is even more burdensome this year than ever before. As I lay my head on the pillow (or the couch, sometimes even my desk) my thoughts drift to tomorrow’s challenges. Do I have the energy for one more day of this environment? How am I going to reach them? And keep them safe? And listen? And show them how much I truly care – from three feet away?

But here’s the thing…I LOVE what I do – even when I’m doing it in the middle of a pandemic. I love my kids (my students carry the title of my kids). I love that they are so resilient and they handle every day of this crazy school year like seasoned veterans. They are still kids. They still laugh and play and have fun. They bring me so much joy when they draw me pictures or write me notes (even when the spelling is a little off). Yes, it has been a really tough, deflating year trying to make things feel normal when they are anything but. The pride I feel when I see how amazingly my kiddos are navigating all of the chaos – well, it makes every minute worth it.

I might be overwhelmed and allow myself to complain about the day to day details of the “job,” but the reality is, I love my “job.” I feel blessed that I have the opportunity to pour into these little lives each day. And the best thing is that I always get so much more from them that I give. My burdens may feel heavy at times, but my heart is always full. Teaching is not my “job.” Teaching is my passion.