California Educator

September 2016

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"To make your life in teaching is largely to find your own way." — William Ayers, To Teach: e Journey of a Teacher M O N D A Y , 6 A . M . My lone car in the dimly lit parking lot. An uncommon silence on the damp blacktop. Invisible bird chatter emanating from the motionless sycamore trees dwarfing the upper-grade bungalows. A yapping mutt standing in the strewn yard of a house behind the school's chain-link fence. ese are the moments when the stir of life's details collides with what lies ahead of me. During mornings like this, I can believe anything is possible. I will persuade Luis to finally stop yelling out during lessons. Noe will say he had a fantastic weekend at his dad's house. Yvonne will win the district speech contest. We can even finish th e read-aloud we st ar t ed thre e weeks ago. And I can actually leave at the end of the day, knowing I've taught every standard the district wants my students to master this month. But the only part of this scenario that truly happens as planned is the walk from my car to the classroom. e rest is part of my daily mission items on a never-ending to-do list. I see myself as a boat — moving forward on an unpredictable lake — leav- ing a wake behind my stern. The wake's wat er i s d e e ply af fe ct ed by th e b o at 's movem ent, but e ventually each ripple arrives at its own destination. Teaching is terribly imprecise despite the claims of staff development "experts." The day 's plans are constantly gnawed on by phone calls asking for students to go to the office, last-minute schedule changes on the lounge whiteboard, the whims of the district technology server, and the moods of the stu- dents (just to name a few). Th e n eatly-typ ed l e ss on pl an s w ith administrator-requested standard num- bers next to objectives are merely that: plans. Teaching is not about following them, but persevering in achieving the goals. My job i s to guide th e bow of th e boat w h eth er th e wat er i s smo oth , choppy, shallow or deep, and adjust th e direc- tion accordingly. Such a daunting task sends many well-meaning beginners to the ranks of educators who make up the dreaded attrition rate. Those who stay and continue to find meaning in their mission learn to rede- fine the obstacles by relegating them to the status of minor details. Phone call from the office during a lesson? Assign a student to answer the phone and pass on the message. Surprise assembly noted on the lounge whiteboard? Flip the language arts lesson until after the assembly and postpone the district-mandated character education lesson. Server down? Teach the math lesson without the brand-new online publisher's presentation slides that all teachers in the school are expected to use f luently. Students restless and resistant? Have everyone stand up and do five min- utes of calisthenics in a foreign language. Teaching is intuition applied to tech- nique; a nonstop exercise in professional judgment honed by persistent resilience. If you lose the original motivation you had to teach in the first place, it's all over. It will then be very difficult to give in a way that the profession demands. To s a y t h a t I h a v e n e v e r f e l t a sense of dread as I walked across that p arkin g lot in th e pred aw n h o u r s w o u l d b e a li e . Te a c h i n g , but more importantly continuing to teach , takes faith : faith in the i d ea and practice of a m eanin g- ful exchange within a system that inspires the teacher and learner all too rarely. Against this backdrop, my mission becomes crucial, and that is why I will con- tinue to accept it until I can no longer do so physically or mentally. Anything less feels like caving in to those who would like to see this great public experiment fail. So, it's on to tomorrow at 6 a.m. Leslie Young is a member of the Anaheim Elementary Education Association. A National Board Certified Teacher, she is a sixth-grade G AT E t ea ch er a n d Positiv e B eh av i oral Interventions and Supports coach at James Madison Elementary School. Reflections of a Veteran Educator By LESLIE YOUNG Your Voice Have something to say about life as an educator or the art and science of teaching? Tell us a story (no more than 650 words) that illustrates your experience or opinion, and it could be published here. Send to with "Your Voice" in the subject line. Submissions subject to editing for clarity and space. "Teaching is intuition applied to technique; a nonstop exercise in professional judgment honed by persistent resilience." 17 September 2016 your voice perspectives

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