Clayton Early Learning
11Aug/15Off

Celebrating My First Year as a Lead Teacher

Samuel McCabe

“I celebrate myself, and sing myself,

And what I assume you shall assume,

For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”

-Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

 

 

Sometime during my student teaching experience, I read “Educating Esme” by Esme Raji Codell. I definitely wouldn’t consider myself a “Chicken Soup for the Soul” kind of guy, but this book really resonated with me as I began my own educational journey. ”Educating Esme” is an elementary school teacher’s diary of her first year leading a classroom; chronicling the ups and downs of her experience with a sincere, humorous and sometimes sentimental delivery. While I’m not technically in my first year of teaching, the end of this school year has reminded me of Esme’s diary and because I truly believe in celebrating my ‘firsts,' I have written this post to share some personal/professional reflection as I celebrate the closing of my first year as a lead preschool teacher.

Considering that I’m 32 years old and have had a degree in ECE for almost 10 years, this ‘year one’ milestone may not seem like much of an accomplishment and you may be wondering what I’ve been doing since graduating college? I would love to tell you that I’d been beachcombing the Mediterranean, but the truth is that I’ve been on a much more domestic journey; I’ve, in fact, been teaching.

In ten years, I have been a teacher of art to urban students. I taught Earth science and ecology to fifth graders at Glen Helen Outdoor Education Center, in Yellow Springs, Ohio where my classroom was a 1,000 acre nature preserve. I was a substitute teacher of physical education, general education and art for elementary through secondary school and for students with special needs. I taught foster children in residential care and students who were in ‘alternative’ schools at Community House, in Brattleboro Vermont. These students had previously been expelled from other institutions and had been sent to Community House because they essentially had nowhere else to go. There, my classroom was a 150 year-old Victorian house.

I didn’t really have my own classroom in any of those situations; at least not a classroom in the traditional sense.

I hadn’t planned on teaching in such a variety of experiences. After completing my student teaching in a public kindergarten classroom, I was as poised as the rest of my teaching program’s graduating class to begin my first year of teaching in September of 2006. Though I may have been academically prepared to settle into a classroom and begin plugging away toward retirement, I struggled with self-doubt and insecurity about whether I could actually manage and lead my own classroom. I mean, who am I to build up the minds of a future generation?

Like “Educating Esme,” I kept a student teaching journal that I recently revisited. It was back and forth communication between my advisor and me, but also a pretty reflective manuscript of vulnerability. While I had the usual encouragement and support from friends, family and advisors, I was still lacking the confidence to be a lead teacher. Maybe I felt like I hadn’t earned it yet. Sure, I had acquired a B.A., passed the Praxis II and even had a teaching license, but something was missing; something that can’t be taught.

So instead of leaping before I looked, I began with baby-steps into the teaching field; substitute teaching, tutoring, and Saturday art lessons. Little stuff. Safe stuff.

With each successive work experience, I felt myself gaining skills and began to recognize my own teaching rhythm. This was the post-graduate work that couldn’t be taught by a professor. It was hands-on. It was reflecting in a journal that no-one would read and participating in supervision with the person in the mirror each morning. This was educating me. Last year I began working at Clayton Early Learning at the newly opened Far Northeast campus. It was during that year as an assistant (a familiar role), that I realized that I had everything I needed to be a lead. I could do this. I had the behavior management skills, the curriculum knowledge, and the open-mind for new approaches. I also realized that Clayton would provide professional development and training, and a supportive supervisor to reflect on my practice. Most importantly, through my own trial by fire I had gained the confidence to lead my own classroom.

It’s often assumed that a teacher is the end product of their undergraduate studies and graduate work. Trust that there is a formula that can be administered and acknowledged with course requirements and licensing expectations. I would argue that teaching is a quest of personal growth for the teacher. Without reflection, how does a teacher set personal and professional goals? Without experimentation, how does a teaching learn new approaches? Without self-discipline, how does a teacher become a role-model for others? Before I go all Zen, I’m going to make one request, for all teachers, parents and supervisors: Celebrate the teacher in yourself. Celebrate all you did last year. Celebrate the personal growth in your life and set new goals for next year. Celebrate you as I am celebrating me and my first year as a lead preschool teacher

Samuel McCabe

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