Today was Wren’s last day of preschool. It feels like I was just worrying about her first day. Would she cry? Would I cry? Would her teacher love her? Would she be happy? Like most of my worries, they were mostly unnecessary. But reflecting on her first day picture and last day picture did get me thinking about how much she has grown- physically, socially, and academically.
I then just thought of growing, which lead me to thinking about my demo lesson in Westport, right after graduating college. It was probably around this time of year, 12 years ago. I was doing a math lesson in a first grade classroom. The classroom teacher said that the kids were great with money. “Do a lesson on making change.” Had I heard that right? I think to myself now. My 22 year old self didn’t question it. Instead, I went to work- planning, creating, revising.
The day of the lesson, I set up before five elementary principals from the district. I looked out into the unfamiliar faces of the six and seven year olds clustered in front of me and delivered a mini math lesson before sending the students off to “make change.” After all, their teacher had said they were great at counting change. “Forward and backwards” still rings in my mind. Did I imagine that? Misunderstand? Could she have set me up?
It turns out that counting coins and making change was tricky for most of those first graders, just like it is for most first graders- as I have learned from experience over the years. It was clear within minutes that kids were lost, confused, and frustrated. I did my best, which at the time meant sitting with a few students and coaching them through the work as the administrators around me did the same, rescuing those poor kids and the mess I had created.
I wanted to run. To hide. But there was a follow up interview. I walked into that conference room, lugging my bag with my student teaching portfolios and those damn coins I bought just for the lesson. The principals were already seated around the table. Had they already had a good laugh about the lesson? Were they too wishing that they didn’t have to waste their time with the interview?
“How do you think that went?” one of them opened with. This moment has replayed in my mind a million times. I looked down at that fake wooden table, trying to hide the tears threatening to spill out of my eyes. “Not well,” I said, a sob catching in my throat, the tears no longer just a threat.
The rest of the interview is a blur. I remember calling my parents on the ride home and crying and telling them I had never been more embarrassed in my life, that I’d never step foot in that school again, that there was no chance they’d ever call me back.
Well they did call. It turns out that despite my tears and botched lesson, they appreciated my reflective nature. Even though I said I would never step foot in that school again, it became my home for the first ten years of my teaching career. Yet, I still look back on that first lesson and replay it in my mind. What would I do differently today? How much I have learned since that day, way back when…how much more there still is to learn.