Going on a school retreat - #4

[MenTeach Note: We've asked a man who just finished his teaching program to write about his teaching job. We'll post each of his journal entries during the year. Post your comments here for him to read - and of course, wish him luck!]

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As I write this, I am currently laying down in a nice bed, at a resort in the northern part of Michigan. I have spent the past two days up here with the rest of the staff at my school, bonding and doing professional development. Needless to say, the last couple of days have been a lot of fun. A lot has happened the past week, so let's journey back to Monday.

So, as I walked into my classroom on Monday, I realized just how much work still needed to be done to get it ready. Next Wednesday (August 30th), a mere 9 days away, is ‘Meet the Teacher Nite,' which frankly scares the crap out of me. Knowing that Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday were going to be spent up north, knowing that next week, we're in meetings all day, made me realize that I really needed to get my butt in gear. On Monday, I pulled everything off of the shelves and out of the closet as I started a massive cleaning job. There were dead rolly pollies everywhere! The closet was rather dusty, and there was a lot of stuff that I had no clue what to do with! Holy crap!

By the end of the day on Monday, all of the materials that the previous teacher left me were strewn about the floor and tables; all the closets and shelves were clean and smelling good - still I realized that I had a long ways to go. Tuesday was a big day. I don't know if I've mentioned that my Charter school utilizes the American Montessori philosophy (to a certain extent) at the lower elementary level. (I am not certified in American Montessori, however I am supposed to undergo some online training related to it).

Montessori relies on a lot of blocks and beads and other junk that I am pretty clueless about at this point. The previous teacher, who had my classroom came from a predominantly Montessori background, so she had tons of stuff. As I started to go through the learning materials in the room, I struggled to figure out what much of the materials were for and I noticed that they were rather old and disorganized. As most teachers would, I spent quite a bit of time looking at the various materials, thinking about how I could utilize them in my teaching.

Finally, I had an epiphany and said to myself ‘To heck with this crap, I'm going to teach how I know how to teach and not based on what the other teacher left me. I know how to teach well and I'm going to teach well, using what I know works well!" It was one of those really cool moments when everything just hits ya. From that point on, I totally took ownership of MY room because this is MY ROOM! Needless to say, if I didn't know what it was or how I could use it, I threw it out. Once I learn more about Montessori, I may have to re-purchase some of the materials, but at this point, I wanted to go through all of this junk and get it organized... pressure's on! By the time I left school on Tuesday, my room was clean, the materials were organized, and the shelves were set up into centers.... There wasn't much on the shelves, however I felt happy knowing that my classroom was really starting to come together.

Going to a school retreat
On Wednesday a few of us met up at school at 6 am and drove up here to this beautiful resort. The only other person in the car that I knew was the other kindergarten teacher. The car ride gave me a chance to get to know the two other teachers a little better. After a 4-hour ride up there, I was pleasantly surprised that we were staying in really nice houses. Since I was the first one to check in, from my house, I grabbed the awesome bedroom upstairs. This room has a hot tub right next to the bed, a huge shower, and a tv with a dvd player. It's friggin' awesome.

All five schools that were here for the retreat met up for our first meeting at noon. This is the first time that our schools' entire staff was together. It was like a family reunion. I was amazed at how spirited our group is. The returnees had a chant that they liked to do.... It was really cool. A little while later, we had our first staff meeting of the year.

Introductions
The principal had everyone introduce themselves. When I introduced myself, proudly saying that I'm teaching kindergarten, I heard quite a few hoots and hollers. No one before me heard any kind of response like that. I couldn't help but smile and blush a little bit. As the day rolled on, I tried hard to talk to as many different teachers as possible. I got the sense that it was rather a big thing having a male come to teach kindergarten (especially from the returnees). I guess throughout the summer, word spread amongst the staff that they hired a male to teach kindergarten, so I kind of feel like a big deal.

Everyone's been great. At dinner yesterday, I felt a little out of place primarily because the returnees (there are about 17 new folks and 30-40 returnees) were talking about different things and people of whom I hadn't a clue about, but I suppose that's a natural part of joining an already close-knit group. At this point, I still felt like a kid, not yet apart of the group. Everyone in the group is married and/or engaged (of which I'm neither) and they're all at least a couple years older than me. (I'm the youngest person on staff by a full year!) After the meetings, the staff competitions, we had some free time. The majority of us hung out at a few of the houses, playing cards, watching movies, and just bonding. I felt like I was back in college.... It was quite enjoyable. After a while, I went back to my room, jumped in the hot tub, and enjoyed some me-time. What a long day.

The next day
Today was loads of fun (despite having to listen to a speaker for 3 hours in the morning and 2 in the afternoon). As the day moved on, I felt more and more apart of the group. I'm starting to remember names, crack jokes with others, and enjoy my new friends and colleagues. The speaker was great. He talked about lots of good things, although I do admit sitting and listening to anything for 5 hours isn't cool. Luckily, I was able to scratch out a daily schedule for my class, while paying attention to the speaker. After the day's festivities, we all met up at my principal's house at the resort for a get together. At this point, I really felt apart of the group and felt comfortable. It's so great because there's only a few people on staff that are older than 30. My principal is in her late twenties and about 90% of us have less than five years of teaching experience. The majority of the teachers that were at the school when it opened, five years ago (with 150 kids), are still on staff. One of the female staff members asked me what I thought about being the only guy in the elementary wing, I just smiled and said that I'm definitely not complaining about it. She jokingly warned me that I might not enjoy it when they're all PMSing... LOL!

The past two nights, I've felt like I was back in college. I love this group! This group reminds me of when I was in college on housing staff. We all have loads of fun around each other, we all are very dedicated to succeeding as a team overall, and we're very close knit. Needless to say, this is not how I imagined my teaching career starting off. There aren't any ‘moldy oldy teachers' on staff that have been there for 30 years, like I figured there'd be. Everyone is young, we're all full of energy, and we're all about doing the best that we can for our students. At first, I wasn't sure how cool I was with the idea of teaching at a charter school, for a variety of reasons. However, after the past couple of days, I am proud to say that I teach at my school!

I still do not totally agree with the concept of a charter school, however I love how we do things at my school. Yeah, I'm not making as much money as I would at a public school, however I can see myself being pretty darn happy teaching where I currently am. We've got more meetings tomorrow. I'll get my class list and find out who my mentor is, then we'll drive back to Metro Detroit. This weekend, I need to go garage sale'ing to find some stuff for my classroom, so that it isn't so bare for ‘Meet the Teacher Night.' I'm relatively broke, so I'm really going to have to spend wisely. It should be interesting!

I also would like to finish my welcome packet for Meet the Teacher Night, and rest up for a full week of meetings, 8 hours a day, as I continue to prepare for the upcoming school year. Meet the Teacher Night is Wednesday, so Wednesday will be long day, with meetings from 8-3 and then meeting my students and their parents from 6-8. I'm going to miss this place, however I'm looking forward to finishing my classroom, meeting my students' parents, and getting the ball rolling.

Lots of exciting things to write about!

The Kid Teacher