Law school taught me the importance of considering both sides — hearing both arguments. When I started my nonprofit, I attended several IEP Meetings as a Parent Advocate. As I sat on one side of the table, I realized that I knew the law but not the reality of the day-to-day implementation of this legal document.
How do these goals really play out in the classroom?
So I got myself a job as a 1:1 Aide in a Moderate/Severe elementary classroom. I was only going to stay one year, assuming that’s all the research I really needed. One year turned into three — you never stop caring for your students, wanting to see them exceed their goals, and learning about the realities of working within the system of public education.
As there is always more to learn, I now find myself at the helm of the classroom wheel — the teacher.
Being a good teacher is really hard.
It’s only been three weeks and every day I find myself planning lessons, changing lessons on the fly, ensuring I meet state benchmarks, attending professional development meetings, going to extra trainings, instituting a behavior rewards system, revising that rewards system, figuring out which seat works best for which kid, looking for engagement and interaction from my students, making sure each child’s needs are met, cleaning out my inbox, learning how to teach curriculum, changing up the curriculum to better suit my students in the moment, preparing for IEPs, making sure my Word Wall is growing, and building relationships with my middle schoolers, their parents, and my colleagues.
In the last 15 days, I have gone through a Story Hill of emotions. I’ve doubted my choice to sign that contract, had to step out of the room to catch my breath, questioned my 5:30 am alarm clock, eaten the extra cookie and gone to bed thinking about what I could be doing better.
With all of those requirements, pulling at my time and attention, I’ve been thinking a lot about what really makes a good teacher good?
Although I’m brand new to this role, I get the sense that checking off all of the “to-do’s” don’t necessarily make a teacher a good one.
I realize that I’m just one part of my students’ lives, but I hope that at the end of this year, my first year of teaching, I can say with certainty that:
- I walked into that classroom everyday, turned on the lights, and made it a welcomed space for thinking and learning;
- I had conversations and community circles that helped me learn how to tailor those lessons for that individual kid;
- I advocated for their needs at the IEP table and thought about how to write those goals in a way that will challenge my students one step at a time;
- I listened to what my students wanted and gave them the dignity of choosing how to get there;
- I took care of myself so I could, in turn, care for them;
- I recognized our differences and similarities, connecting and teaching in a culturally responsive way;
- I helped them increase their lexile level and celebrated those tough and triumphant moments;
- I taught my students something new that will stick with them throughout life’s journey; and
- I was a person who they could count on.
Teaching is hard because relationships are hard.
That’s what I’m really building – meaningful relationship with each of my students who have various challenges, learning differences, needs, hopes, and dreams.
If I can be a person — as a teacher, an advocate, a mentor, a role model — that provides a brave and safe classroom space, a “Hi, how are you?” in the hallway, or a note of encouragement on a paper, I will have done my job well.
As for being a good teacher, I hope I will be able to work towards that challenge. Maybe that’s the true test, in and of itself.
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Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable and educational nonprofit providing wraparound academic, behavior and advocacy support services for struggling students in southern California. Learn More at TerryTutors.com