[Editor’s note: Miss Endurance is the pseudonym of a fourth-year teacher in an elementary school on Staten Island.]
It’s never a good sign when your principal calls during summer vacation.
In the summer of 2010 my world was turned upside down with seven words: “I have to move you to kindergarten.” Here I was, with just two years of teaching under my belt (teaching fourth and fifth grade), being forced to move to the “dungeon” (which is how the upper-grade teachers lovingly referred to the kindergarten floor). I panicked — I didn’t know the first thing about teaching four- and five-year-olds! But I really had no idea that a year later I’d be looking back on my kindergarten experience with fondness and a sense of accomplishment.
I felt ill-equipped for the job. I never considered myself a very patient person, and the idea of having to deal with things like “Johnny took my pencil!” and “I want my mommy!” made me break out into hives. I’m artistically challenged, and I dreaded kindergarten art projects. My biggest fear was selling my students short — it wasn’t their fault they had a newbie teacher.
On the first day of school the little ones looked about as scared as I was. I had done my best to prepare myself — I learned circle songs and absorbed as much as I could from the veteran teachers on the grade. Nevertheless, feelings of inadequacy haunted me every day.
Then, slowly but surely, I started to get into the swing of things. Arts-and-crafts projects were no longer so daunting. I became addicted to the affection my young students showed me. And I was in awe of their thirst for learning. Everything just seemed so exciting to them! They weren’t as jaded as some older students can be, and it made teaching them such a joy.
The defining moment came when I realized that my little ones, who could barely write their name when they walked into my class, were reading books! Watching the top students use the strategies I taught them to move from one book level to the next filled me with pride.
This school year my principal moved me back up to fifth grade. At first I was ecstatic. I was back where I always said I belonged! I would once again have students who were capable of working independently. I wouldn’t have tears or tantrums or bathroom accidents. But I also wouldn’t have hugs, cards and pictures drawn for me daily, or the little smiling faces looking up at me, eager and excited to learn.
The other day, as I was walking through the first floor (a.k.a. “the dungeon”) I couldn’t help but pop my head into the kindergarten classroom of a colleague. There they were, sitting beautifully on the rug. When Ms. Jones introduced me to the class, they all looked on with quiet curiosity. Then one of the boys raised his hand, turned towards me and said, “You just have to tell me if you have my big brother. He’s in fifth grade and he always gets in trouble!” I smiled that familiar smile and shook my head.
Maybe I am better suited for fifth grade, but I will never forget the lessons I learned from kindergarten. I kicked and screamed for part of the year, but now that I look back, I’m so glad I was pushed into a move I never would have made voluntarily. Next year, who knows where I’ll be. But I do know that wherever I am, I’ll come away a better teacher for the experience.