I believe that getting hired in my current school district was a defining moment in my life. It was not a glamorous moment.
Before graduating college, I had attended a job fair in the district and had made it past the screening phase. Right after graduation, it was time for a demo lesson. The school principal gave me a first grade teacher’s phone number to get the details for a math lesson. All the of the district’s principals would be observing.
I hadn’t had much experience with first grade math. I had just finished up 16 weeks student teaching in a fifth grade inclusion classroom, the majority of the time focusing on long division. I called the classroom teacher, who told me that the class was studying money, they were really strong and could count money forwards and backwards. “How about a lesson on making change?”
Not knowing any better, I said that sounded great and got to work preparing. If you’ve ever taught first grade, you probably know where this is heading…disaster.
I arrived to my demo, with my freshly designed math mats in my teacher bag. I had glued pictures of items on the front of construction paper along with a price. I added a dollar bill and asked the students to figure out how much change they would get back if paying with the dollar. I placed the answer on the back of the mat, so the kids could check their work. I had also purchased plastic coins for the class to use, unsure if there would be some I could use in the classroom, knowing how important manipulatives were.
As I sent the kids off to work, I knew almost instantly that the kids couldn’t really count change forward and backwards. Had I heard that correctly when talking with the teacher-a question I still ask myself to this day. I did my best to work with small groups of kids, teaching them strategies. Many of the principals joined in to rescue the students. I wanted to disappear.
As I wrapped up the lesson, the principals exited and I gathered my materials. A few minutes later, I joined them in a conference room. One them said, “So, how do you think that went?”
I hesitated before answering. “Not well,” I said and I let out what has replayed in my mind, over and over again, as a sob. They gave me a few minutes to pull myself together, when really I was using all my energy to not let myself run away…far far away.
I remember finally getting to my car and calling my mom and dad, once again sobbing. “Maybe it wasn’t as bad as you thought,” my parents tried to reassure me.
“I can never show my face there again…”
The next day, I received a call from one of the principals. I debated not answering. “We thought you were reflective. We need some more time.”
As I recovered from my debacle of a lesson, I got signed up to teach summer school in the district where I had interviewed. I spent most of that summer in the bathroom, cheering on students who had summer IEP goals that involved potty training. My eyes as a teacher were opened to new challenges and new joys. It was through this summer school experience that I met Dr. R. The man that ended up going to bat for me for a third grade classroom position. “You can’t let her go,” he told them.
I believe it was Dr. R that convinced the principal of my first school to give me a chance as a classroom teacher. He saw something in me that perhaps other’s did not. Despite telling my parents that I could never go back to that school again, I did go back…every day for ten years.
This chance is something I try to pay forward to the students I work with, each and every day. I try to see in them what other’s may not, what they may not see themselves. Sometimes, it just takes one person to see. To give you a chance.