September 22, 2014

The English Teacher

by Michal Clayton

Michal Clayton worked at D'Abate Elementary School in Olneyville for five weeks this summer as a teacher at D'Abate Summer Camp. 

There is nothing that can prepare you for the fear of being completely in charge of a classroom full of children. Children who need to use the bathroom every ten minutes. Children who have to tilt their heads back to look you in the eye. Children who care exactly what you think of them, who want to please you, and who are trying to figure out how.

Five weeks of being completely in charge of a classroom of children is what awaited me at William D’Abate Elementary School this summer. I, along with twelve other equally passionate and equally inexperienced Brown student teachers, worked at the D’Abate Summer Camp, which provides free all day care to K-6th grade children in the Olneyville area of Providence.

Over the course of the camp, I taught English Language Arts to 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th graders five days a week. I designed and implemented a curriculum of three units: memoir, poetry, and short story. I wrote four lesson plans per day everyday. I created 68 documents of worksheets, reference sheets, games, and draft booklets. I also had to buy a new pair of shoes because my flat sandals couldn’t take the heat (figuratively and literally because there was no air conditioning).

Succeeding as a teacher at D’Abate was the most difficult task that I have ever set out to accomplish. There were days when I was so tired that I couldn’t leave my bed after work and days my voice was hoarse from repeating instructions. There were weeks when Friday simply could not come fast enough.

But then there was the day my student, Jake* looked up from the creative story he was writing about a superhero dog and said with a half smile, “you know Miss M, I’m really starting to like writing.”

And there was a day my academically and behaviorally challenged student sat in his seat for the entire class and completed an acrostic poem all by himself. His eyes glowed as he looked up and announced, “I did it!”

There was the day two fourth grade students of mine asked to stay in during recess and work on the couplet poems they had not finished in class that day. One of these girls liked her poem so much that she asked me to make copies of it so she could present her masterpiece to family and friends.

Then there was the day one of my third graders took the time to tell me that I did a “really good job” of planning spirit week, something I had been prepping for (and stressing over) for quite some time.

And there was the day one of my sixth grade students who spoke almost no English wrote me a note to let me know she wanted to be an English teacher like me when she grew up.

So yes, there is nothing that prepares you for the fear.

But even more so, there is nothing that prepares you for the love.

*Names have been changed.

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