A New Adventure
By Mindi Rench, 3rd Grade Teacher, Northbrook, IL:
This year I made a huge professional change. After twenty-two years in a middle school, I made the jump to third grade. I was feeling a bit stagnant, in need of shaking myself up. I knew I didn’t want to move into administration, so my option was to move to an elementary building in my district.
I spent my summer planning, dreaming, and agonizing over whether I could teach third grade. I was afraid I wouldn’t know how to connect with such young kids. I was afraid I wouldn’t know what to talk about in conferences when they were reading books that were so different from the young adult literature I had immersed myself in for years. And I was terrified of teaching math.
As summer drew to a close and I was able to get into my classroom, the anxieties began to lift. There, in the familiar environment of a school, surrounded by my new, carefully curated classroom library, I began to feel my groove. On Meet the Teacher Day, when I saw two of my boys dancing with joy as they flipped through my book baskets, I felt lighter. And on the first day of school, when several kids asked when they’d get to fill their book bins, I knew I was right where I was supposed to be.
I’ve felt that way all year. My classroom is a joyous place to be, both for me and my students. In many ways, this has felt like my first year of teaching all over again. I’ve had to get to know new colleagues and learn new curricula (literacy, math, science, and social studies). I’ve had to get used to new policies and procedures. But unlike my first year of teaching, I know the rhythm of a school year. I know how to ride the ups and downs that every teacher lives. I know what my classroom management style is and how to build relationships with parents.
I enter my classroom looking forward to the day ahead. I sit in the front of my empty room and think about the stories my students and I will build together over the course of the day. Who will lose a tooth? Who will arm wrestle over the new Who Will Win book from the book order? Who will ask to share a piece of writing during literacy studio? Some things are nonnegotiable — our shared class reading, at least a picture book or two, students working on a collaborative piece of writing over in the corner, others reading Harry Potter together at their desks. There will be a quiet hum of conversation punctuated with the clicking of keyboards and the turning of pages.
Books and words are at the heart of our days. My students have learned that if they ask for a book, I will probably buy it. They know that if they are caught up in a chapter, I’ll let them finish it.
My students have taught me as much as I have taught them. They have taught me that if I give them time to read and write and the freedom to choose, they will grow as readers and writers. They have shown me time and again that they will rise to a challenge when given the opportunity. They have reminded me that it’s ok to be silly and smile and laugh. They have re-awakened my inner nine-year-old. They have worked their way into my heart.
Several weeks ago, my principal asked me if I’d like to move to an opening in fifth grade. I didn’t even hesitate in my answer. “No thanks. I’m a third-grade teacher.”