Getting started

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hI’ve always been a straight A student. As a child, a big part of my self worth derived from that and to be honest, to some extent, probably still does. For the record,  I’m not totally proud of that. There are times that that status and the perceived necessity to be “excellent” stopped me from taking risks or opening new doors. Now that I’m older, I’m recognizing some lost opportunities, for I’ve taken the safer road a lot. I’m working on recognizing that thoughtful risk-taking can offer enormous benefits and that being perfect isn’t possible, isn’t always fun, and isn’t necessarily desirable. If I try something new and the outcome is messy and less than perfect, that doesn’t mean it’s a failure. In fact, it can be a tremendous opportunity for learning and growth. I know this, intellectually, and I recognize the value of making mistakes and learning from them, but there is still part of me that shies away from that vulnerability. With school beginning in mere weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about this as I’ve chosen to move from teaching first grade to teaching fourth grade.

imgresI recently read an essay in How to Be The Teacher You Want to Be. In this essay,”The Journey of a Single Hour: Exploring the Rich Promise of an Immediate Release of Responsibility”, Katie Wood Ray writes about the skillful work of teacher Lisa Cleaveland. This teacher positions her kindergarten students to be decision makers on their first day of school and to build their identity as bookmakers. In a nutshell Ms. Cleaveland spends some time reading a book with her students and then shows them 6-page booklets and tells them they’ll be making books. She does not list step-by-step instructions detailing how they will do this. After a moment one student asks, “Well, how do you make books?” She responds, “What else do you think we’ll need?”, turning the question right back to them.

As I read this, I considered how I feel, even now,  when faced with an undefined task before me. Even as an adult, the inner-I-want-to-be perfect part of me squirms with discomfort. “But tell me what to do!” I want to cry.  I want the blueprint. I want the step by step instructions. They’re safer. I feel a lot like Heidi, the little girl in this essay who finally says, “But I don’t know how to.” Then her wonderful teacher says, “Well, you’ll get started.” And after a bit Heidi says, “But I can write my name.” She figures out an entry point. So as I head into teaching a new grade, I’m thinking about Heidi and about what I already do know about teaching. What I have learned and can do. How do I build off that foundation to move into new areas?  As I prepare, I’m striving to become comfortable working amidst a field of questions and recognizing that they won’t all be answered. Not even by the end of the year.

This past spring I read  Julie Falatko’s blog post on Two Writing Teachers. I was struck by this line: “Because you can’t be proud of something you got handed. You can’t be proud of it if your final finished product didn’t take any work or skill on your part.” A big part of me does want all the answers now. I want my new colleague to say, “Here, this is exactly how we do it, step by step.” But while there’s safety in that, there’s limited opportunity for growth. I opted to change because I  knew it was time for some growth. I need to dive in and do what I can do, use what I do know to get started. I’m sure it will be tangled and confusing and convoluted and there will be times when I regret making the change and am overwhelmed by the challenges. But I know that if I work through problems, over and around obstacles, I will persevere to achieve something worthwhile, even though it may not be perfect, and I can take pride in the struggle, change and growth, as much as in that finished product.

Despite my best efforts this summer, I can’t read every middle grade novel and relevant picture book. I can’t know the curriculum inside and out. But I can work from the base of what I do know and learn to revel in the unknown aspects–to walk the walk that I expect my students to every year. To make mistakes, to learn from them. To ask for help, to open myself up to criticism, trusting that it will be constructive and will help me move forward. So, I’m taking a deep breath and preparing as best as I can, knowing this could get messy but stepping forward anyway.  In the words of Ms. Cleaveland, I’m getting started. Wish me luck!

22 thoughts on “Getting started

  1. Cindaroo42 says:

    Just read Forty Rooms by Olga Grushin it is about a woman’s identity and has beautiful poetry- a tad depressing but immensely thought-provoking! I highly recommend it for you- especially after this post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent ! Good luck! There’s so many books out there that have to be read !

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Amy Warntz says:

    Of course I will wish you luck, but you don’t need it. You are going to be awesome! I understand that element of being perfect. It definitely has its pros and cons but I can tell you are going to embrace the messy moments.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Alice Nine says:

    Wishing you luck! But also wishing you a colleague or two along the road, ones who will take the road with you, together growing, changing. Those who have walked the not-so-safe roads with me, though miles apart, are my dearest friends. Here’s to your great year ahead!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Trust in yourself and your students. Have faith that things happen for the good, even the bumps and stumbles and outright disasters. “Life is not a test; it is for learning and healing.” Pretty good, n’est-ce pas? I got another goodie for you. “You are not preparing your fourth graders for fifth grade. You are preparing them for life!” I’m tapped out and that’s all I’ve got!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. cvarsalona says:

    Molly, we share three connected words today: persevere, struggle, and messy. As a reflective practitioner you are ready to start school with a positive attitude to guide your students on with their journey. Go for it!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Molly, there were moments as I read this that I wondered if you had somehow tapped into my brain. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve not taken risks or opened new doors. I love that, despite “knowing this could get messy,” you’re “stepping forward anyway,” willing to learn and grow from the experience. Can’t wait to read more about your 4th grade adventure! Best of luck to you!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m so glad you found inspiration in Julie’s words. Wasn’t her post just lovely?

    It’s impossible to be the best all of the time. We can only be our best selves. (At least that’s what I tell my daughter.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • mbhmaine says:

      “It’s impossible to be the best all of the time. We can only be our best selves.” Another powerful mantra! I’ll remember those words and I’m sure your daughter will as well. Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. If you were perfectly polished just imagine how intimidated the kids would be. Kids need to see us make mistakes, roll with it, learn from it and strive for better next time. Just keep your sense of humor. At least, those are my strategies for parenting. I think they apply across the board.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Cathy B Clark says:

    I know you can. And, I am looking forward to seeing you again…loving it all. You have wonderful support…and remember, if you need me…….

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I sent your blog to my friend Paul and he had some wisdom in return. “This piece reminds me of the “maker” classrooms that are all the rage these days. A room full of (small scale) building materials, art supplies, and odd junk, becomes a workshop children use to build things useful and whimsical, with only the suspicion of adult supervision involved. Independence, interdependence, confidence, and creativity are all byproducts of this type of operation. On a broader basis, it’s like the old adage that my teaching pal John Carter mentions frequently: “More of them and less of us.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • mbhmaine says:

      “More of them and less of us” are surely wise words to live by! I’m familiar with the general idea of “makerspaces” but don’t know much more than that. Something else to explore! Thanks, Dan (and Paul)!


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