I never pictured myself teaching kindergarten.
I came into the field of education in baby steps: volunteering first as a reading buddy at a local school, then tutoring part-time at a handful of non-profits, and then leading my own classroom of students as an After School Educator at Aspire Firestone before finally applying to the Residency Program. Most of my experience had been working with third graders, and they were hands-down my favorite. When I found out I would be a Resident in a third grade classroom for the 2014-2015 school year, I was elated. How perfect!
But when the time came to apply for full-time teaching positions in the spring of my Residency year, options were limited. I had a big question to answer for myself: Was it more important to stay at the school I had come to love, or to stay with the grade I was comfortable and confident teaching? I couldn’t have it both ways.
So I thought about my year and everything I had learned. I had learned about Doug Lemov and Lee Canter’s behavior management strategies. I had learned about constructivism and how to create a 5E lesson plan. I had learned how to analyze DRA data and scaffold reading instruction and teach about invertebrates and fractions and contractions. I had seen all of this unfold in the world of third grade, and it worked. It clicked.
But I also learned that I can handle more than I think I can. I learned how to ask for help. I learned how to fail, and do so gracefully. I learned how to love feedback, because it made me better. I learned how to be uncomfortable, or nervous, or frustrated, or unprepared — and to teach anyway. To love and care for my students anyway.
I was able to learn these bigger, more important heart lessons because of my mentor, Rachel Grimes, who walked by my side throughout an otherwise impossible year, making me feel understood, valued, encouraged, and strengthened every step of the way …and because of my Resident cohort, a precious group of kindred spirits who somehow always understood exactly what I was feeling …and because of my colleagues at JCA who supported and encouraged me from day one, despite my being “just a Resident.”
So I decided to take on the challenge of a new grade. And OH BOY, was it a challenge. Teaching kindergarten my first year called into question so many ideas I had formed of myself as an educator. Am I really cut out for this? Can I handle this many 4- and 5-year olds? Why isn’t my positive narration working? Did he really just put an eraser in his mouth? Has anyone seen my sanity?
But it gets better.
If you know yourself, and you know the people you can count on – it gets better. This is what the Residency taught me. Soon, the tears of frustration start to fade, the moments where you want to crawl under your desk and hide come less frequently, and you start to love your kids like they are really yours. They bring you their rock collection (a.k.a. an envelope full of pebbles) and say, “For you, Ms. Ko.” Or you’re a few minutes late to class one day and you hear a chorus of “I missed you!” (and also, “I love your rainboots! I think you are beautiful!”) Or you watch quietly as one of your kids who didn’t know the alphabet the first day of school is now sounding out and writing the word “mwnstr” and you realize – because you are now a real kindergarten teacher – that that is the word “monster” and that is amazing progress.
You know you’re in the right place.
Heading into the third month of my first year as a full-fledged teacher, I can say without a doubt that I am glad I stuck it out. Each day, I am only more grateful for the uniquely immersive experience I had as an Aspire Resident and the relationships I built along the way. I know I have found what I love and am learning every day what I am capable of, and I am surrounded by other educators who are doing the same.
Written by: Emily Ko
Aspire Junior Collegiate Academy