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By: Nicole Sanderford
I never wanted to be a teacher. Those around me always said, “Teachers don’t make any money,” or “Teachers hate their job.” I didn’t give a second thought to it. Of course, we all have a plan and somewhere out there, someone says, “HA! Guess again!” to that plan. Well, I went against my better judgment, at the time, and became a teacher despite all the negative thoughts and comments I had been hearing my entire life.
Of course, perhaps those statements could be true. Sure, we don’t make millions. Some colleagues and others have expressed that they would love to have a different career. I wholeheartedly disagree with these thoughts now. I love my career and I have become passionate about what I do. My story is about my first year and a half of teaching. It was not ideal and it was definitely unexpected, but I will not ever regret my decision to become an educator.
My first two job interviews for teaching positions went horribly. The first interview wasn’t so bad, I just never got a callback. The second -- Oof! I was not the type of teacher they were looking for. Let me say this, I was looking for a job in the middle of the school year, I had graduated college the previous December. By some miracle, I actually had a third interview at another school that, as soon as I walked in, felt like home. It was an elementary position in which the grade level I had not yet been familiar with at a year-round school. My interview went very naturally and I was praying and hoping that they would call me to tell me I had the job. The next day, I received a very anticipated phone call that led me to the best school and best school system that I could have ever dreamed of.
My first day included a bunch of observing my soon-to-be students and how things operated in that county, with which I had not been extremely familiar prior. I was nervous and not sure what to do with myself. Despite that, I picked it up as fast as I could and began teaching the following morning. My students were grateful to finally get a permanent teacher, as they had substituted for the month before my arrival. We learned how to work with each other and I built a bond very quickly with these children. Unfortunately, a month after I started and began to get used to the routine, I had to tell the kids to pack their things before they went home on a Friday in March of 2020.
You’ve probably guessed it-- COVID 19 hit. We were told on a Saturday morning in March of 2020 that we could not return to school. I was so distraught and confused as to how I would educate my students online all of a sudden when I had never been trained to do so. All of my colleagues were lost, holding on to the hope that this would pass and we could return back to normal. Sadly, we were all disappointed when this continued into May, June, and then August of 2020.
Our hearts were broken when we learned that this pandemic would continue into the 2020-2021 school year. What we do, just isn’t the same over a computer-- especially with Elementary students. Of course, I do know some awesome teachers that thoroughly enjoy teaching online. Luckily, our county blessed us with Interactive Slideshows and other online resources we could pull from to make a somewhat cohesive plan to execute during the year. My colleagues and I worked ourselves ragged. Developing new ideas, creating lessons, and just trying to keep morale high. We were in charge of Social Emotional Learning and concentrated on that first. As a first-year teacher, I had little understanding of the complexity of all these avenues, but I needed to learn quickly.
Although it may not sound like it, this narrative is not about the bad things, I want to glorify the good things that came out of teaching during this chaotic and challenging time. We worked, oh yes, we worked. But my team grew together much closer than we had in the building. We were forced to rely on each other and work out any kinks. We were faced with challenges we never thought we could encounter, but we conquered them with overwhelming determination. It helped that students were also very patient and flexible. Since it was their first real exposure to online learning, I am so proud of them for pushing themselves to achieve the unachievable.
Thank goodness, though, I was able to come back to the classroom in early 2021. It wasn’t the same, no, but it was enough for me. My students and I were able to learn more about each other and relearn all that they had missed at the end of their 2019-2020 school year. If we thought summer break was too long for the students to forget, could you imagine being out from March 2020 to late January 2021? While this wasn’t the case for all students, and it still isn’t, we made the best of the situation. We socially distanced, practiced hand hygiene numerous times a day, and learned to not talk without our masks on -- which is incredibly difficult for most people.
My students left me in June of 2021 and moved on to bigger and better things, but they definitely grew over the course of the year in a way that we thought couldn’t happen being out so long, missing all the standards and skills from the year previous. We made progress and we learned how to work together again in the classroom. This made me feel hopeful for the following year, which has proved to be a driving force in my teaching career.
I began the 2021-2022 school year with positivity, hope, and perseverance. When my students walked in on the first day, I knew in my heart that this was going to be the year that changed my perspective on teaching. I had a brand new class, in person, that I was able to kindle a relationship with from day 1. I have a small class -- only 15 currently. Many of the students are new to the school and some, new to the country. We have built an amazing community within our walls so fast. My students are friendly, work together, and are truly my inspiration for wanting to be a better teacher for them.
As a result of this newfound community, I have been delighted to allow my students to socialize and make new friends. The students have shown me their resilience throughout this whole pandemic. We have had numerous conversations about how they are making history, which they were so excited to hear. COVID cannot push us, teachers, down. We matter. We are the inspiration for the next generation. We are the hope these kids know that this will not be forever. This is simply an obstacle that we will get over.
I am so grateful to my colleagues for all of the support they have given me. I am absolutely blessed to have found my place in this career. Not all teacher stories should be, “Oh, you will never believe what so and so did!” We need to build each other up. We need to share positivity. We need to be the ones our students look to in these challenging times. Stick together, and not even a virus can keep us down.
All of our lives have been affected and changed by this outbreak. One thing remains the same, we need to provide the best support and education for the students we have agreed to have in our lives. Nobody chooses education on accident. We are all led here by different paths in our lives, and sometimes I believe we need to stop and reflect on why we became educators in the first place. We didn’t do it for money. We didn’t do it for status. We became educators because we care and love what we do, or for some, loved what they do. I encourage you to find that reason. I encourage you to go back to that mentality. Our career can be so difficult, but we all agreed to go into it.
During a training session, we were encouraged to find our Magnolia. Meaning, finding coworkers that we can grow with. We all know a coworker or two that just has everything negative to say. My advice is to just walk away. Find the teachers and other staff members that refuse to give up. Magnolias are great for gardens and allow for growth within other plants, as they tend to keep harmful insects away. It can be difficult, but it is necessary if we want education to still be about educating children and young adults, not complaining about every aspect of our careers.
Good luck and best wishes to all teachers out there. Whether you are in person, virtual, or a hybrid of both, I have the utmost respect and confidence in all of you. We need good educators, especially in trials like these. Find your Magnolia. Find your inspiration for teaching. Remember why you decided to become an educator to begin with. Thank you for reading my story.