During the spring of 2009, I became an elementary teacher...totally and completely against my will. I was just fine teaching 8th grade history when I found out my school was about to be transformed into an "upper elementary" and we would be welcoming only 5th and 6th graders the following fall. On paper...I WAS an elementary teacher. I am certified K-8, but never had ANY intention of teaching anything but middle school. But...I was given no choice...so just like that...I was about to be a 5th grade teacher.
I did NOT know what I did NOT know! I watched a lot of my MS colleagues resist the transition and attempt to hold onto the structure and organization of a middle school. I decided to do the opposite and go ALL IN. It wasn't going to change and I had a choice to either be sad and miserable or become an elementary teacher. I chose the latter. And it was the best thing that ever happened to me as an educator, and the reason I feel so strongly about teachers as leaders.
I have to break some news to my secondary teacher readers and friends...we don't do the same job that our K-5 counterparts do. There may be some people mad at me for saying this...but it is absolutely the truth. Elementary teachers do a job that the rest of us cannot understand. I doubt that I will ever have firsthand experience to back up my next statement...but I would contend that Kindergarten and 1st grade teachers work the hardest. I think they should get paid double. I really do. I am clear that they do a job I could never do. One of my favorite teachers always says that secondary teachers should spend a week with first graders for professional development. I completely agree.
Before we opened our doors as an upper elementary we hosted ice cream socials for our incoming 5th graders. I helped to organize the events and can remember standing outside while kids ate ice cream thinking..."Why did everyone bring their little brothers and sisters? We may run out of ice cream and there are little kids everywhere." And then I realized...those ARE the students. I trembled in fear. What in the world was I gonna do with a bunch of little kids?!? It took me months to come up with an answer to that question, but I finally did. What am I going to do with them? Teach them. I embraced my new life as an elementary teacher and never intended to look back.
Until I had to.
Just like that...after six years of teaching reading, writing, and social studies (I even taught science and math for a year or two) my school was about to be transformed again. And I returned to my life as a middle school teacher. I love middle school. I love middle school kids. But I can see now what I am missing and just what elementary teachers do.
Here is my top ten list of things every teacher can learn from elementary teachers:
1) We teach KIDS. Not curriculum.
2) When they don't get it...you have to teach it again. And again. And again.
3) The kid that challenges you the most isn't leaving when the bell rings. There is no bell.
4) Going to the bathroom is a luxury that you can never take for granted.
5) Parents are a second full time job. And for good reason. We teach their babies.
6) Your planning time WILL get canceled.
7) It's OK to stop everything to sing and dance.
8) You teach everything: math, science, reading, tying shoes, sneezing etiquette, how to cut paper, how to make friends, how to write letters...you get the point.
9) It is entirely possible that the kid hanging off of his chair, upside down, is also fully engaged in your lesson.
10) It doesn't matter what assessments/interventions/paperwork get added to your plate. It WILL all get done. You can't let it take you away from the real work: the kids.
Becoming an elementary teacher against my will was the best thing that ever happened to me. I learned the most important things about teaching. My favorite people are all elementary teachers. if you are a high school or middle school teacher overwhelmed by teaching three different preps...well...what can I say? Elementary teachers just call that school.