When people ask me how the fourth year of teaching went, I unashamedly say, “It was the best year yet!” And they might be inclined to smile to themselves and think, “That’s just optimistic Lydia, always seeing the bright side.”
It is the bright side – I’m not saying that the year was perfect, by any means – but it’s also the truth. What many people don’t know was that last year (the third year) was one of the hardest years of teaching for me – and by comparison, this year was like a beautiful gift. I think it was so for many reasons, but suffice it to say, this sweet group of kids completely stole my heart.
Additionally, the research was correct – the first three years of teaching are the most difficult as you figure out the whole game of teaching and what your role truly is. I felt like I could breathe so much easier going into the fourth year because I understood the curriculum finally, and I could actually focus on my methods of teaching. Things I only knew vaguely in theory my first few years of teaching this ELA curriculum, I solidified and honed in on like never before.
I felt like I finally had time to come home and reflect on my teaching each day – I didn’t feel daunted by all that I was doing wrong; rather I deliberately planned out my methods, carried them out, and then wrote about what went well and what went wrong. I finally felt like I knew what I was doing – and all the things I knew I didn’t know before were finally sinking in and manifesting themselves in my teaching [well maybe not ALL, but a large chunk!].
But all those methods and practices, while incredibly important and valuable, were not the most important lesson I learned this year.
This year, I learned to love my kids like never before.
There is no doubt in my mind that I have loved all of my classes before this one – all three, plus my dear student teaching class. I loved all my students, and I was taught how to love ones that were maybe a little more difficult.
But I must confess: I was afraid of loving them too much.
I was terrified of crossing the teacher/student boundary. I was worried that I might be accused of something horrible [that’s always a fear of mine as a young female teacher]. I didn’t want to be too familiar with them for fear they wouldn’t respect me as the authority.
All of those are still important things to keep in mind as a teacher, and I still maintain and practice those boundaries with students – for they’re not only required, but they’re necessary for healthy child/adult relationships.
And I don’t know that anyone would have known about this fear of mine that made me hold back just a little, for I still practiced building relationships with all my students in the past. I think the only one who knew that I had more to give – was me. And I didn’t fully realize it until this year.
This year, when our morning meetings became so valuable – when we started breaking down boundaries and sharing about our feelings and our hurts.
This year, when I recognized that it was not only a good thing, but a necessary thing to make individual connections with each student every day, whether that was a good morning, a high five, or a hug.
This year, when I shared more with my kids about what it was like for me when I was their age – even the ridiculous and silly stories.
This year, when we did team-building exercises and talked about hard topics, and their trusting eyes looked to me for guidance and compassion.
This year, when I learned to delight in my kids – to love their humor and their creative ideas (everything from creating nicknames for them to having a “Throwback to Kindergarten Day” at the end of the year).
This year, when I discovered that reading one-on-one with them wasn’t just a duty and a checklist of fluency skills, but a shared experience where I validated their enjoyment of their books and we had real life discussions from what they were reading.
This year, when I learned that some of them need my love so much because they aren’t getting a lot of it at home.
I learned this year to actually put into practice things I had said were important, but hadn’t really explored what they looked like.
I learned that building relationships is not a duty or a chore, but rather something that is valuable and that makes the teaching journey come alive.
They were my 22 little canvases – my lovelies, as I called them sometimes – and my little rascals, as I called them other times (especially because they started doing the “Little Rascals” wave under the chin at the end of the day).
And even though they constantly pestered me to tell them which one of them was my favorite, I wasn’t lying when I said they were all my favorites. Every single one of them had something unique that I loved, and I feel incredibly blessed to have gotten to share in their 5th-grade journey. They taught me such beautiful lessons about life and teaching, and I will forever be grateful to them.
I don’t think I’ll ever love a class quite like this one. I’ll love so many other classes, I’m sure – maybe even some more – but this one had a special quality that I’ll never forget.
They were the ones who gave me the freedom to love them fiercely. And it lit up my world in beautiful colors.