I’m not sure if there is much that easy about being a teacher, these days or when I was in a classroom in 1987! That year I was a fourth grade teacher in a Catholic school in Riverside. There were 32 kids in the class…crazy, right?! I got the job the day school started. My sister was working at the bank where the school’s principal appeared regularly to deposit tuition dollars. He mentioned that they were still looking for a teacher; she called me and the next thing I knew, I was Miss Wishart, the new fourth grade teacher.
Lots of kids, lots of needs…lots of papers to correct! When I played “school” as a kid or helped my teachers in elementary school to correct papers, I loved it. I couldn’t wait to be a teacher when I grew up. As it turns out the reality was a far cry from the fantasy–but perhaps that’s a story for another day.
One of the things I tried very hard to do was to create a classroom environment where all the kids felt safe, heard and supported. Whenever I would hear any bickering or potentially mean language among them, I used to say: You may not know what it is yet, but you all have something special about you. You don’t necessarily have to like each other but you do have to show common courtesy and respect for each other. So, how do you know as a teacher if your message is getting through?
On the day class pictures were being handed out it went something like this:
The chubby girl in class raises her hand and says, “I’d like to apologize to the class for ruining the class picture. I look just silly and ugly.”
I hear this and my heart is broken and I have no idea what to say.
Class clown raises his had to reply, and huge taking a risk I call on him, “You didn’t ruin the picture! Look how big your smile is and how colorful your sweater is!”
Wow! Not what I was expecting, but absolutely relieved; and we moved on to the rest of the day as if nothing amazing had just happened.
I’d like to thank that particular group of kids for teaching me that teaching’s not meant to be easy, but the rewards, well, they’ve lasted me a lifetime!