[Editor’s note: Little Miss Sunshine is a third-year teacher in an elementary school in Queens.]
Over the last two and half years, I’ve gradually grown to into a confident, effective teacher. After just one year of teaching I took on the role of grade leader. I ran professional development meetings and helped many co-workers learn the curriculum and teaching strategies to help them succeed at teaching kindergarten. Having this role inspired me to continue my education and get my administrative license. When I graduated in May, I thought I would continue with my job as grade leader of kindergarten until I decided to interview for assistant principal jobs. This was my plan, but it certainly wasn’t my principal’s plan. I was told in June that I would be moving up to the third grade.
This September I entered my third grade classroom for the first time and had an overwhelming feeling of agita (an old Italian word for indigestion). I was lost. It was if I traveled back in time to nearly three ago when I was a very new teacher, one who knew nothing, and felt lost all the time. I didn’t know what to do. I was assured by my principal and other members of the staff that I would do great in the third grade and that they had no doubt that the move would be good. As the first few weeks of school passed by I increasingly felt worse about the move. I was no longer that confident teacher who helped everyone else, I was someone completely different, someone I didn’t recognize. I was someone who had developed permanent agita. I knew I needed help, but didn’t know where to turn.
As we entered the third month of school, my principal informed me that she would be coming in to formally observe me in math — admittedly, my weakest subject area — since I would be up for tenure soon. As the day approached, I became more and more nervous. She explained that she knew I could deliver a literacy lesson without any problem and “wanted to challenge me.” When the day of the big observation came, I worried that my class wouldn’t be able to complete the necessary tasks needed to make the lesson a success. Unfortunately I was right. My class was unable to complete the necessary tasks and I bailed on the lesson. I told my students to return to the meeting area and made up a plan B on the spot. I was later told that I needed to get help because it was obvious that I was “drowning” and that it was unacceptable. I was crushed. I was the one that was able to become grade leader with less than one year of teaching under my belt. I never needed help I was the one that helped other teachers with the curriculum, not the other way around. I had gotten used to not asking for help and was perfectly content keeping it that way.
I eventually turned to our schools math coach and learned different strategies for teaching math. I studied books by Marilyn Burns (a well known math guru) and started to try new ways to teach math in my classroom. I can’t say that I am the best math teacher now, but I can say that I am much better than I was in the beginning of the year. The feeling of agita recedes a bit more each day; I can only hope that it will completely dissipate by June. Who knew the cure for permanent agita was asking for help?