If you know me, you KNOW I L.O.V.E. what I do. I've always loved it. No matter my role in education, I bloom where I'm planted. I think this is because (like many of you) education is not a job for me, it's a calling. I live and breathe it. It's not a 7-4 job. There are no hours that limit my time doing what I do.
But I have to be honest with you, the year I transitioned from a classroom teacher to an ESL teacher who pulled students out and co-taught, wasn't all roses. I struggled...a lot. So if this is your first or second year out of the mainstream classroom and working as an ESL specialist, pull out teacher or co-teacher, you may be able to relate.
To begin with, I was extremely excited about being honored with my new role. I had co-taught previously with an ESL specialist and had many ELs in my mainstream classrooms. I, myself, was an English learner as a child. English is not my first language. The excitement of this new role filled my heart and mind over the summer. I planned and researched. I attended professional learning opportunities and thought I was ready for the journey!
As the school year began, I started to experience some unexpected feelings.
I didn't have a regular classroom to myself. For years, I had spent days setting up my classroom. So as I started seeing classrooms go up, I felt a bit envious. Yes, I did have a "space" to take small groups. But it wasn't the same. It was a shared space for one. At times there were four of us in the same room. Also it was small. It wasn't a typical classroom. There were years when our space was a portable building outside. (Which posed a unique problem when newcomer students were frightened by us taking them out of the building for class.) Anyhow, of course I organized and set up the space I had, but it wasn't the same.
Meet the Teacher night took on a different meaning. While this used to be an evening where I welcomed my families to our classroom, now I seemed to fly around the building feeling I didn't have a place to call home. I used to truly feel that my classroom was like a second home. Suddenly I felt very left out.
The first day of school hurt. While I watched teachers bond with their classes and students build relationships, I felt my heart sadden that I wasn't experiencing these first day moments. In my role, the first day was filled with supporting classrooms, supporting first day procedures, and making sure that everyone got home safely. These were important things, but there seemed to be a hole in my heart because I knew what the first day was like with a classroom of students.
As the year went on, I began to settle in. But there still were times when I longed to have my own group of 20+ students who looked up to me as their classroom teacher, who would remember me forever as their (third)grade teacher, who called me mom by accident some days. I missed having a classroom of my own.
Don't get me wrong, there were definitely positives about the new role. I think the feelings above just shocked me. I was ready for them.
I think in general change is difficult. Adjusting to a new role takes time. Finding your place and a new reality can be challenging.
Here's what I learned from the experience:
1. Find value in what you do daily. Each day that I walked into the building I kept the students and their families at the forefront of my thoughts. This was not about me. The work I was doing was about serving others. Keeping the perspective helped me to focus on what was most important.
2. Remember your why. This is similar to the first point, but also different. Everyone's why is different. I became an educator because I wanted to help all students grow and learn in safe, happy environments and I wanted to make the world a better place for all of us. I know, the second part is big thinking. But it's true. That's what I want. And I really feel like I can make a difference by serving students and families and educators.
3. Build strong relationships with the classrooms that you co-teach in. Start with building a relationship with the co-teacher(s). Ask for a space for you in the classroom. Meet with the co-teacher before school starts (if possible) to share your visions of what co-teaching will look like. If you're like me, you won't want to feel like a helping hand in the classroom. You'll want to feel like two teachers working in partnership. And that means the students will need to see parity in workspace and instruction. Think ahead about how that will look and sound like. Once school starts, maintain the relationship so that it's healthy. Keep your end of the bargain. Come on time, plan, attend parent teacher conferences, etc.
4. The first year is always the hardest. There are so many unknowns. But next year will be easier and the next will be even easier and so on. I learned to give myself time to learn. When I transitioned out of a mainstream classroom, I had many years under my belt. I knew what I was doing like the back of my hand. I could do it blindfolded. But now, in a new role, I was uncertain. I had to be patient with myself.
I wrote this because I know there are many of you that recently transitioned from the classroom into a new role as and ESL teacher and I want you to know that the feelings you may feel are normal. You may not experience the feelings I had. Yours may be totally different. Give yourself time, find your new groove and don't give up.