The Teacher and the Writer: Do I Have to Pick One?

Exactly 5 months ago, June 5th, I finished my last day of school at McTigue Elementary. The last month in Room 608 was dramatically better but the year took its toll on me: Grams died, Paul still worked crazy hours and I was committed to pack up my stuff and never look back. I was determined to hang up my teacher badge, to never introduce myself as "Ms. Ronau" again. Until I did.

I have been committed to finding a road out of teaching. Although I only teach 3 hours a day with a 48 minute prep period, I only have 7 kids on my caseload, I teach in a very affluent district where basic needs are met and I actually teach, there are still some things I can't let go of, that make me want to do something else, anything else but be a teacher. You know, until I start falling in love with it all over again.

The year started out amazing, like most years do. Everything was so drastically different and the novelty of amazing and new had me beyond hopeful and excited. Goldfish pond in the foyer. Mountain view from my huge classroom WINDOWS. Amazing former special education teacher as a principal. A wall full of appropriate, special education-based curriculum. The kids remained somewhat nervous, not ready to test the waters yet until just recently, and that just means chattier than usual. The lack of chair and desk throwing, screaming, crying, meltdown central had me feeling extremely lucky and grateful and ready to be an actual teacher. Wow.

But the first round of district testing inevitably came around. Then came the pre-evaluation 29-page exercise. Then meetings. Mountains of paperwork. Suddenly my part-time job turned into super early mornings and working through lunch just so I didn't have to take anything home. But I do anyways. Students start to get too comfortable, and although there are still no extreme temper tantrums, instead there is pouting, long pre-teen sighs, a slight amount of whining and a lot of answering questions with rap lyrics.

Honeymoon over, I started looking for a better way to fill my mornings.

Then I made it to my first writing lesson in my 3rd period English Language Arts class. As we had to set up procedures, grading policy, behavior policy, new curriculum and all that other "Stuff," we hadn't gotten to the "good" stuff until last week. I'm not sure why I scheduled my first official teacher evaluation on the same day we started something brand new (on both sides: I have never taught middle school kids the art of persuasive writing), but it just seemed to happen that way. It was also a Friday before a long weekend. I was absolutely dreading it the entire week. But while writing my lesson plans, I realized that this may be the very thing I actually have absolute authority to teach: writing. And why not just teach how I really think to be effective, regardless of curriculum, standards, blah blah blah? (Although I did end up being able to integrate all of that "stuff" because I'm a wizard.)

So I did what I thought was awesome and this is how it turned out.

I started out with a question:
"How do you get your parents to let you do what you want? Take 10 minutes and discuss with your table."
I walked around and listened to their ideas.
"I cry."
"I call my dad "Daddy"
"I call my mom by her first name."
"I bug them until they let me."
We discussed how they already have powerful ways to persuade their parents and applying that to persuasive writing is perhaps second nature.
I then showed a Prezi presentation of commercials. Framing this presentation under 5 aspects of persuasion that we discussed earlier, we discussed how each commercial was effective, why it was effective, who it was created for (audience) and what they were trying to convince of or sell to their audience. The entire class participated, laughed appropriately and went better than I ever thought.

The post-evaluation conference went even better. My principal stated that she had "fun" while in my classroom. She gave me a glowing report, one that she shared with the district superintendent and added that she feels "lucky" to have me on staff. After our break, my students asked, "When are we going to do that persuasion thing again?" something that they haven't stopped asking since.

And I, of course, have no idea what this is supposed to mean.

Am I supposed to be a writing teacher? Can I be a writing teacher? Can teaching what you love and actually getting to teach negate the terrible parts of teaching? Can simply expecting all the good to happen actually allow me to enjoy each day rather than thinking the worst will happen and potentially quit a profession that I am just starting to understand and really, honestly start? Is it completely possible that I haven't started teaching until this very school year?

Since this lesson, Paul tells me he hasn't heard me talk about teaching like this since I student taught with the brilliant Debbie Gensler. I haven't felt like this since I student taught with the brilliant Debbie Gensler. But after an amazing professional development day where I was actually able to apply each session to the right now of my classroom instead of the hypothetical classroom, boundless ideas about my next writing lessons and students who can barely read past a 3rd grade level but are begging to start their writing assignment, I'm starting to believe in the possibility that I can truly start over.

I tend to dramatically declare lots of things as a way to process them and figure them out. I've stated dozens of times that I'm through with this teaching biz, as I scoured the internet for online writing jobs this summer. I'm not sure that I'm finished with declaring that I'm done, especially when grades are due and I have three IEPs to write. But I'm also fairly certain that I'm not finished just yet with Ms. Ronau.

Somewhere, in the depths of my sharpened pencil joy and my love of glitter glue and SmartBoards, somewhere there is a teacher that's either ready to be retired or waiting to be discovered. And either way, I can't wait to find out.