So rather than regurgitate all that I've learned the past 2 weeks, I'm going to make a nice list, as concise as possible.
What I learned this week:
1. My school consists of some of the most positive, welcoming people I have ever met.
I don't have that awkward, uncomfortable "I don't know anyone" feeling you get when you start something new. Instead, people are constantly stopping by my room, introducing themselves in the hallway, and checking in to see how I'm doing. It's clear to me that everyone wants the new teachers to be successful and I am so thankful for that. My roommate told me that when she told a friend where I was working, the friend replied, "Oh she's so lucky, I hear that place is really great for teachers."
2. Charter schools are awesome, and I hope they take over the world.
Not really, but I hope more people start creating successful charter schools and more families enroll in them. For some reason "charter" always had a negative connotation for me. Perhaps this was because the only charter schools I knew were the ones kids went to when their grades were bad, or when they threatened a teacher, or when they got pregnant. In my education this week, I learned that these types of charter schools were the "first wave" of charter schools. My school is in the second wave, a school that is essentially another option outside of the public schools in the area. A lot of charter schools have different missions and philosophies. Some are all about hands-on learning, or seminar-based, or tied to a specific culture. My school is similar to a private school; the students wear uniforms and the curriculum is classically based and rigorous, BUT, unlike a private school, parents don't have to pay to send their kids there. It's equal opportunity, higher level education. Who can argue with that?
3. Positive Teachers = Better Education for Students
This ties in to #1 and #2 on my list. After spending the past 3 years of my college career observing a wide range of classrooms all over Western Wisconsin and Eastern Minnesota, I've seen my fair share of crappy attitudes. And not from the students. From the teachers.
Yes, teachers, the images of optimism and positivity, are some of the most negative people I have ever encountered. Negativity spawns more negativity, and it leaks out like a disease into the hallways. I can't tell you how many lunches I have endured in staff lounges where not one positive comment can be heard. Teachers complain about students, calling them horrible names (often with the ickiest swear words you can imagine). They complain about other teachers and what they do or don't do in their classrooms. They complain about administration, and their lack of support or their emphasized support with something they hate. They complain about not enough books or the wrong books. They complain about everything and anything, and it goes beyond the normal healthy venting session every human needs.
This is not the case at my school. Granted, I have only been there for 2 weeks, and I expect that there will be times the teachers need to vent. But the feel of the whole place is one of a positive environment. Teachers support other teachers, rather than be in competition with them. No teacher has "dished the dirt" to me about another colleague or about the administration. I can usually spot the one bad egg of the bunch, the teacher who rolls her eyes, doesn't listen during meetings or makes comments under her breath. There hasn't been a single one at my school.
And in turn, the school is extremely successful. Our testing scores are roughly 25% higher than that of the state average. I'm sure it has to do with a lot of factors, but I firmly believe that staff attitude plays a major role in this. A good learning environment is a positive one, plain and simple.
4. Kids at my school love school.
Okay, am I making you sick with all this optimism? Trust me, I've wanted to pinch myself ever since I got the job.
Picture this, you are a nervous, awkward 7th grader. You are going to rotate classes for the first time. You no longer have one homeroom teacher with a few specialists, but you have 7 different teachers who teach 7 different subjects. You don't have your best friend in your class. Summer is over. In summary, you are not excited about this new year. Especially not when your Language Arts teacher hands you a list of the 12 books you'll be reading this year in her class.
Okay, now picture me, on back-to-school open house this past Wednesday. I hand out my informational brochure to my students and their parents, and explain the looming reading list on the middle panel. I see eyes light up. Not just from the parents, but from the students. I'm not kidding you, huge smiles on faces, excited comments like, "Ohh I love this book!" or "Ohh I can't wait to read this one." I just about died.
5. Despite this list of amazing attributes at my school, I am still scared to death.
Last night I had my first First Day of School nightmare. It involved me scrambling before the bell was going to ring, trying to put a seating chart together, students filing into class and mass chaos ensuing. I woke up with that gasping sigh of relief that it was all just a dream...like Dorothy groggily coming back from Oz.
I am confident that I will survive, that my first day of school will go well, perhaps not perfect, but close enough. It is just the build-up of it getting there that has me shaking in my teacher shoes until it arrives.
Despite my nervousness, and the fact that last night's dream was probably just the first of many, I couldn't be happier and more thankful to be where I am.
Now it's time to get that seating chart done before it creeps into my subconscious fears again.