"I'm done," I could have said. "Finished."
I felt I had potential as a teacher during my master’s degree coursework. "You have the building blocks to make a difference in the lives of children," one of my professors wrote on an assignment.
For two years, I have used the building blocks of compassion, courage and creativity to build my classroom.
But there were moments of uncertainty when I thought I wasn’t meant to be a teacher. The first quake came on my first day in class. I gathered my second-graders on the reading rug around my rocking chair to read aloud to them. In the transition, one of my students climbed up on a desk, jumped on another student and wrestled him to the ground. I wrapped my arms around the attacker, pulled him over to the intercom button and called the office for help.
"How can I teach children who jump off of tables and attack other students?" I asked myself.
The second quake came during my first formal observation at the beginning of my second school year. My observer came unexpectedly during a guided reading lesson. Some of my students were above a second-grade reading level, some were on grade level, some were below and some couldn't read at all.
I was struggling.
"You didn't meet the requirements under the ‘instruction’ and ‘environment’ parts of your observation," wrote my observer.
"I'm trying as best I can!" I yelled out to anyone who would listen.
Thankfully, someone listened. My principal spoke with a seasoned teacher who had witnessed my struggle. She volunteered to help. Day by day, she came into my classroom during her planning period and watched me teach.
"I use these math manipulatives when I teach that standard,” she said. “Would you like to borrow them?”
"Why don't you set up your desks this way?” she advised. “It helps all of my students hear and see me."
"You're not alone,” she reminded me. “We're all in this together."
Because my colleague listened, I am not done. I am still going.
Do experience and accumulated wisdom make better teachers? I think so. I lived for three years in a village in the West African country of Mali. In that village, the elders were the teachers. What do you do when a baby has a high fever and there is no doctor or pharmacy nearby? What do you do when the rains don't come and there isn't enough food to last throughout the year? They knew the answers to these questions because they had experienced them, lived through them. And they knew how to help others live through them, too.
As teachers, we need to help each other live through the questions that cause so many of us to say, "I'm done." We're not certain what our politicians and our communities will say and do about education. But we are certain about what we hope for. We hope that our compassion, creativity and courage get passed on to our students. The only way this can happen is if we keep on teaching.
I hope to stay in the classroom long enough so that the heart of learning and the empathy of life seep into the foundations of my students’ lives.
Because my colleague heard me and helped me, I can.
Barton is an elementary school teacher in South Carolina.