It’s been a couple months since I finished my last extended term sub posting and I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised as to a) how much I enjoyed being in the elementary school and b) how much I learned. Indeed the experience was very much humbling and I saw my work there as an extension to my studies as a graduate student. In many cases, the classes on early childhood development and students with disabilities came back to the forefront of my brain as I engaged with the students in that manner. While my passion will always be teaching history and everything that entails, I found myself thoroughly enjoying my time with the elementary age kids, especially the ones who were on the younger side.
My role as a librarian in the elementary school was drastically different from my time in the high school. At the high school, I was mainly working on administrative tasks such as shelving books, check in and check out and various other tasks. It was a rarity for me to teach a class or even enter a classroom. For the most part, students came to me with inquiries and I did my best to assist them. At the elementary school, my day was filled with classes. Each day had on average five 40 minutes (or in some cases 60 minute) classes. On Monday thru Wednesdays, I mainly met with the younger classes, which included Pre-K, K, 1st and 2nd grade Classes. For those classes, I usually read a book (of which each grade had its own unit), followed by book discussion and then check out. On Wednesday afternoons thru Friday, I met with 3rd, 4th and 5th grade classes and was supported by another technology specialist. For those classes, Library class usually meant technology literacy. During the three months, we mainly worked on video editing and filmography with those students. Library time in the school was often seen as a classroom teacher break, which meant I was usually the only teacher in the room (especially for the first three days of the week).
When I wrote about my first day as an elementary school librarian, I was shell-shocked and frankly overwhelmed. Writing on this blog gave me a way to express what I was feeling and process that day. With each passing day, I realized that the students were just as thrown off as I was (with a new teacher), and I needed to be flexible and to learn who they were and what they were like. I began to make very conscious choices to do so, such as stand on the staircase and greet each student as they walked into the school or having every student wear a nametag so I could learn their names as quickly as possible. As I began to know them, I started to encounter students who reminded me of my coursework at Tufts. I became acutely aware of how important my pedagogical choices were as I reminded myself how foundational early childhood development and education matter. Specifically on the way information is presented and how they interact socially to process it. I also started to see students who were just being diagnosed with mild to moderate learning disabilities or who were actively working through them. As a high school educator, I always found a disconnect between my coursework on learning disabilities and my time in the classroom. A great deal of the literature describe situations where students are beginning to process their diagnoses. In this environment, I was able to finally make sense of how important support came for students at this age (whether from myself or other teachers) and how the opportunities for self-advocacy and ownership really play into their future potential. For me to witness students starting to understand or even comprehend their diagnoses was humbling.
Besides the students themselves, I was greatly appreciative of the faculty and staff at my school who immediately welcomed me into their family. I had a great deal of fun working with and getting to know these teachers. Many of them would offer support or advice for a young teacher, both in the field of elementary school and in general. It was funny how surprised they were when they found out I was one of the youngest faculty on staff, including those of the interns. I am especially grateful for the librarian teacher I was taking over. She prepared months of curriculum ideas and suggestions that I was able to utilize and execute for the students’ benefit. Some of the suggestions she had that I really enjoyed was reading books that challenged stereotypes. It was an amazing unit paired with some of the most amazing books out there. Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress, Red: A Crayon Story, and It’s Okay to be Different. All of these titles were designed for students to open up their minds and give space for alternative ideas and to teach students how to be accepting of their peers who may be different from them. It was an amazing time to read those books and then discuss them. Another favorite unit I did was a unit on international folklore, where I got to choose and read folklore from around the world, and open the students up to whole new worlds where they could find stories from other populations and relate them to themselves. Finally, in the last month or so, I collaborated with the technology teacher to create a new unit for fourth graders called: “Explain it to me with Scratch”. Essentially giving students an opportunity to teach their classmates about a subject or something from their interests using the programming tool Scratch. Students were able to take ownership of this project and then present it in a unique way. While I wasn’t spending a great deal of time creating my own curriculum, I did find that just spending time to read a book or a story to kids was rewarding enough. Who would’ve thought that my theater background would come in handy in reading titles such as: Punk Farm.
As I stated earlier, I was surprised by how much I learned and loved my time working in an elementary school. One thing I often remarked to my friends was how revitalizing it was to see students with the joy and passion to learn. In the high school, there are often times when the students have no desire to be in a particular class and it shows. At the elementary school, I saw students running up to class every morning eager to learn and explore. I loved seeing that energy and pure joy and it made me feel excited to be an educator. I want to say, thank you to all those who supported me at the school. It was so much fun to be there and it showed me that if high school doesn’t work out, I would be welcomed in an elementary school.
In terms of next steps, I am currently working at Buckingham Browne & Nichols Summer Camp till mid-August as a Head Counselor. I essentially lead a 3rd grade class everyday to various activities held on campus and off. So far it has been a blast and I love coming to work everyday. I have had the pleasure of seeing some of my former students from the elementary school as attendees to the camp and so it has been great to see them again and interact with them in this new capacity. As for the fall, I’m pleased to publicly announce for the first time, that I will be returning to Cambridge Rindge & Latin School this fall as another Extended Term Substitute, albeit this time a full semester and finally teaching history. I’ll be working with 11th graders in Honors US History 2 covering the time period between the Gilded Age all the way to the 2000s. I’m extremely excited to be back at CRLS and can’t wait to see some of my freshmen students that I worked with as a student teacher two years ago. Thanks to those who have followed my journey as an educator and I look forward to sharing more in the future!